How to recognize and handicap key NFL betting numbers

Jul 6, 2017 |
How to recognize and handicap key NFL betting numbers
The most likely final margin in a football game is three points. Nearly nine percent of all favorites win by exactly a field goal. This is because there are so many final score combinations which land on this margin.
Photo By - USA Today Images
The most likely final margin in a football game is three points. Nearly nine percent of all favorites win by exactly a field goal. This is because there are so many final score combinations which land on this margin.
Photo By - USA Today Images
Football is an unusual sport in regards to how scoring occurs, mainly with 3-point field goals or 7-point touchdowns.

Other sports such as basketball, baseball and hockey have consistent scoring with either one or two points at a time and this leads to final score margins that are consistent across all numbers. This is not the case in football as certain margins of victory are more likely to occur than others.  

This is especially true in NFL football where the games are more competitive, with closer final scores compared to college football which has less parity. Here’s a look at the key numbers and how sports bettors should handicap the key numbers around the NFL betting odds:

Three is the magic number

The most likely final margin in a football game is three points. Nearly nine percent of all favorites win by exactly a field goal. This is because there are so many final score combinations which land on this margin: 17-14, 24-21, 31-28, just to name a few. The combination of 7-point touchdowns and 3-point field goals throughout a game often bring these common final scores to fruition.

Lucky 7

The second-most likely margin in a football game is seven points. Nearly six percent of all favorites win by exactly a touchdown (technically a touchdown + PAT): 21-14, 24-17, 31-24, to name just a few possible combinations.

PAT changes


The NFL has implemented recent rule changes to the PAT (point after touchdown), such as the 2-point conversation and more recently the longer 1-point kick. Despite these changes, the key scoring margins of three and seven have remained.  

This is because the 2-point conversation allows teams to get back on track when down by one or five points and re-establish a three or 7-point margin. One change has been a recent increase in final scores landing on one and 5-point margins since some teams miss a late 2-point attempt near the end of a game.

Other key numbers

While three and seven are the mostly likely final score margins, there are several other key numbers such as four, six, 10, and 14. Favorites land on these four margins combined in nearly 14 percent of the games. Combined, approximately 29 percent of all NFL favorites win by either 3, 4, 6, 7, 10 or 14-point margins.

Betting strategy


Football bettors must pay attention to key numbers when betting football, especially in the NFL where games are more competitive and close.  

Shopping for line value is extremely important and why it’s smart to have access to at least two or three different sportsbooks. Being able to get +3.5 when other spots have only +3 or lay -6.5 when other sportsbooks have -7, will substantially increase your long-term win percentage.  

When creating power ratings or handicapping games, you have to realize that the difference between -6 and -7 is much greater than the difference between -11 and -12, which are not key numbers.

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