How To Bet On Totals
For the average game on the sports betting menu, there are a handful of standard betting choices that attract the most action. You can place a bet on the moneyline and just worry about which side will win, or focus on the point spread and pick how much a team may win or lose by.
There’s also a popular choice that has nothing to do with the outcome of the contest. Totals betting allows you to focus only on how many points, runs or goals the two sides will combine for.
A benchmark number will be there for you to place a wager on. You get to decide if you like the total to be over or under the total set by oddsmakers. There are odds attached to both choices that can vary depending on how the betting market sees things.
Totals betting can be lots of fun and potentially profitable. We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know to get involved right here.
What are sports betting totals?
A total is an estimated number of points that two teams will score once a game is in the books. Oddsmakers set the number, and bettors get to decide if the actual total will be over or under that number.
People often refer to totals as over/unders, and the two terms are interchangeable. The bet type attracts a good deal of action, and it’s a focal point for many seasoned handicappers as a result.
You can glean a good deal of information just by looking at your standard set of odds. Beyond seeing which side is favored and by how much, you can also get a sense of what kind of game you might see.
The totals market provides insight into which games are expected to be high- or low-scoring and which ones are expected to land in the middle. Oddsmakers are quite good at what they do, and the projections are sound as a result, but that doesn’t mean they’re always on point.
Therein lies a good deal of the attraction for totals bettors. There will be times when they come across a number that seems to be off the mark, and then pounce as a result. Additionally, public betting action can move the market, so opportunities can pop up at any point in advance of game time.
Totals are a great tool to have in the sports betting arsenal. As with all types of wagering, practice and knowledge go a long way toward making it particularly useful for your situation.
Totals betting examples
Whenever you come across a new concept, gaining an understanding of what you’re looking at helps to quickly shorten the learning curve. For totals betting, that means understanding how it works for each of the major team sports.
NFL totals betting
The majority of NFL betting totals fall somewhere between 40 and 50 points. For games involving two stout defenses, it’s possible to see a number in the 30s. When it’s a potential shootout, then you’ll see a total in the 50s.
- 30 (-110) O
- 30 (-110) U
People watch the over/under market for the NFL closely. When you factor in the spread, these two pieces of information help point you to a ballpark score for both sides in the contest. That’s a useful piece of intel for both handicapping and fantasy sports purposes.
NBA totals betting
The scoreboard is constantly in motion in the high-scoring NBA, and leads can change in an instant as a result. Totals are in the triple digits, with potentially lower-scoring games under 195 points and the possible high-scoring affairs at 210+ points.
- 200 (-110) O
- 200 (-110) U
For over/under bets, there are a number of useful pieces of information to consider, such as average points scored and allowed for both sides, and historical matchup data between the two teams involved.
MLB totals betting
While MLB is lower scoring than the first two sports on the list, bettors still give plenty of attention to totals. The odds board can help to point out the day’s pitching duels and potential slugfests.
- 5 (-110) O
- 5 (-110) U
You’ll find that many MLB games are set with a total between 7.5 and 8.5 runs. When a game is set at seven runs or fewer, you can interpret that as a potentially good pitching matchup. Game totals that hit nine runs or more point to potential fireworks shows.
NHL totals betting
For totals betting, the NHL is pretty distinctive in that oddsmakers set nearly all of the games at the same benchmark of 5.5. There will be some outliers at 5 or 6 here and there, but you’re looking at the same bar most of the time.
- 5.5 (-110) O
- 5.5 (-110) U
Naturally, not all NHL games will be of the low-scoring variety. As with all other forms of totals betting, the trick lies in figuring out which from a slate of games will fall on each end of the spectrum. When you’re not sure, there’s nothing wrong with passing on the contest.
College football totals betting
Totals betting for college football is similar to the NFL. Each week, there will be potentially low- and high-scoring games, as well as plenty in the middle. However, totals can creep up even higher when two high-powered offenses are involved.
- 40 (-110) O
- 40 (-110) U
Just like the games on the field, offense may sell the tickets, but strong defense helps to separate squads from the pack. Keep that in mind for totals betting, as the general betting public can err to the side that calls for lots of points to be scored.
College basketball totals betting
While similar to the NBA with totals — as in numbers that reach triple digits — less time on the clock for college basketball games means that the numbers you’re looking at will be smaller by comparison.
- 150 (-110) O
- 150 (-110) U
As with all of the other sports we have mentioned, once you scan the college basketball odds board a bit, you’ll get familiar with the average totals and general range. For a guide, consider that the average men’s DI team has an average score in the high 60s per contest.
Odds for totals betting
The range of odds for totals betting is like what you’ll find for point spreads. At most sportsbooks, the standard is -110 on both sides of the equation.
At least that’s the way it is upon the initial release of lines. Once the public has its chance to get in on the action, you may see a shift in the odds, as well as the posted over/under itself.
For example, let’s use an NBA game between the Pacers and Detroit Pistons. As the oddsmakers see it, the game will be in the average range of scoring, so the initial lines may look something like this.
- 180.5 (-110) O
- 180.5 (-110) U
As bets start to come in, the public is leaning toward the over. Oddsmakers respond by adjusting the odds a bit in a bid to level out the action more to their liking.
- 180.5 (-115) O
- 180.5 (-105) U
That may have the desired effect and it may not, but you can be sure that the sportsbooks will remain on point and adjust as needed. In addition to the odds, it’s not uncommon to see them move the bar a little higher or lower depending on which way the winds are blowing. For this game, there could be a 1-point shift if the situation warrants it.
- 181.5 (-110) O
- 181.5 (-110) U
At the end of the day, sportsbooks are aiming to limit the liability on their end. Lopsided action raises the potential for losses if the public is on the money, so oddsmakers have tools at their disposal to attempt to influence opinions.
As with all other types of sports bets, the odds and totals aren’t always created equal at every sportsbook. There could be some ticks of difference on both the odds and the over/under at certain outlets.
To spot these differences, handicappers can practice what is known as line shopping. That simply means that you are comparing the numbers at multiple operators in a bid to find the most appealing prices.
In this day and age, it’s not all that tough to do. Leading operators, including those that service the state of Indiana, make the lines easily accessible to the public online and via mobile app.
It’s worth taking the time to shop around, as you can sometimes find very appealing situations that align with the way you were leaning to begin with.
Sticking with our NBA game, let’s say you liked the under 204.5 on the Pacers versus Celtics at odds of -110. After a little shopping, you find that the total has gone up to 205.5 at one operator. What’s more, that operator is offering odds of -105 on the under.
This is a perfect spot for you to pounce. While one point of difference and a shift in the odds may not seem that huge, it can absolutely add up.
Consider the potential return on $100 bets at both of those price points.
- Winning $100 bet at odds of -110 returns $190.90.
- Winning $100 bet at odds of -105 returns $195.20.
By doing a little shopping, you now have a chance to earn an additional $4.30 for your efforts. That’s not enough to get excited about in and of itself, but add that amount up for a number of bets over the course of a season, and your sports betting bottom line will thank you.
Handicapping totals bets
Handicapping games and totals are different kettles of fish. While you may be looking at some of the same ingredients, the ultimate goal is different for the two recipes.
In individual games, you’re looking to determine the outright winner and/or the margin of victory. For totals betting, it doesn’t matter which side wins or loses. All that matters is the amount of points both sides combine for and whether you made the right call.
That doesn’t mean you should disregard the winner and loser of the contest. In fact, that can be a valuable piece of the puzzle as you look to determine the total. If you have a good handle on which side will win or lose, then projecting how the game will flow becomes that much easier.
Let’s say that you have done your due diligence on an NFL game. The Colts are 3.5-point home favorites over the Carolina Panthers, and you like the home side to get the job done. You may place a point spread or moneyline bet based on what you have found.
It’s now time to move onto the total, which oddsmakers have pegged at 49.5 points. That’s in the range of being potentially high scoring, so you immediately have a sense of what to expect.
First things first, you can benchmark the game by using the spread and totals. Here’s a step-by-step way to do it.
- Take the total of 49.5 points and divide it by two.
- The result is 24.75. Consider that the base for both teams.
- Factor in the spread of 3.5 by dividing that number by two for a result of 1.75.
- You’ll add that number to the favored Colts side: 24.75 + 1.75 = 26.5.
- Then subtract the number from the underdog Panthers side: 24.75 – 1.75 = 23.0.
- Check your math by adding the two scores together: 26.5 + 23.0 = 49.5.
- That’s the same as the oddsmakers’ total, and you now have a benchmark score for both sides.
A ballpark score in mind for the contest, you can move on and explore the matchup in even further detail, considering things such as:
- Average points scored and allowed for both sides for season-to-date and last three games.
- Home/away splits on the same metric — average points scored and allowed.
- Records on the over/under for both sides this season.
- Historical matchup data between the two teams.
- Odds and totals movements, which may indicate public betting preferences.
As with all types of handicapping, the more times you work through the process, the easier it becomes. Additionally, the experience you gain along the way can help you to perfect your own system by adding and subtracting pieces of information you deem most important for figuring out the end result.
Key takeaways on totals betting
Along with point spreads and moneylines, totals are one of the standard betting options for individual games at sportsbooks. Also known as over/unders, these are wagers that revolve around the total amount of points scored in the game.
Oddsmakers will set the benchmark, and bettors then decide if they like the final number to be over or under the set total. Both sides of the bet will have odds attached, which may fluctuate based on market action or other developments.
To find the most appealing prices, handicappers can line shop by checking out what different sportsbooks are offering on the game. As for the actual handicapping process, it takes a few additional steps beyond simply breaking down the game.
Totals betting is quite popular and attracts a good deal of betting action. The bets can easily be used as a focal point for a bettor or merely serve as an additional option to consider when handicapping a slate’s worth of games.