When you visit one of the many online sportsbooks out there, most games display three betting options by default. Everyone hears about the most are the moneyline and point spread, but the total tends to fly under the radar.
Totals, also known as over-unders, involve betting on the combined score of the two teams in a given game. Betting on totals is a great alternative for those who aren’t sold on one team or another, and it has the potential to be lucrative for those who can find an edge when it comes to predicting pace and scoring.
Whether you’re a novice bettor who is just getting started or a veteran who regularly bets on totals, we could all benefit from a little guidance. So check out our list of over under betting tips to keep in mind before you place your next totals bet.
Eight Totals Betting Tips To Remember
1. How Does Totals Betting Work?
When it comes to totals, bettors are simply choosing whether the combined score of a sporting event will go over or under a predetermined figure set by oddsmakers.
If you take the over and the two teams combined for more than the total, you’re a winner. If you bet the over and the total stays below the total, the bet is a loss. Let’s use the following NFL odds as an example:
- Rams-Seahawks Over 48.5 (-110)
- Rams Seahawks Under 48.5 (-110)
A wager on the over requires 49 or more points to be scored in the game. A combined score of 48 points or fewer would result in a win for the under.
What is vig?
Similar to a point spread, there is juice, or vig, attached to an over-under that can be used to calculate the potential risk and payouts. With negative lines, bettors must risk whatever the juice is to win $100 in profit. So at -110, you need to lay down $110 for every $100.
The juice is the sportsbook’s way of taking its cut and keeping an edge on the betting public. It’s baked into every total that is set, and it is the price of doing business when betting on sports.
Our example has -110 for the over and the under, making the math equal on both sides. Though many totals do start around -110, it’s common for the two sides to have slightly different prices attached to the over-under. These lines will fall in the -125 to +100 range depending on how sportsbooks respond to how the game is being wagered on by the public.
Most sportsbooks also offer options for team totals or an over-under for individual periods, quarters, halves, or innings. The totals themselves are naturally a much lesser number if only accounting for one team or a specific part of the game, but the juice is similar for these wagers.
2. How The Total Is Set
An over-under is set the same way as a moneyline or a point spread. Oddsmakers have tons of data at their disposal along with customized algorithms and mathematical formulas along with power ratings that each team is labeled with.
The ratings cover several important categories for ranking each team and is meant to provide a sense of which side should win. This remains important even when betting over-unders, because the quality of the two teams and their styles of play will play a major role in what the eventual total will be.
After all of the numbers are crunched, oddsmakers have an initial idea of what the line should be. From there, odds are adjusted based on additional factors such as where the game is being played, the recent form of each team, injuries and lineup chances, specific player vs. player matchups, and even the schedules of each side. Once an opening line is put into place, it gets released to the public.
3. Why Totals Odds Move
The goal of oddsmakers is to set an over-under that will see equal action on both sides of the total, which will eliminate liability. Inevitably, action is sometimes one-sided and sportsbooks are forced to alter the line.
For example, if a large amount of the bets and money is coming in on Over 48.5 (-110), the line could shift to Over 48.5 (-120) and eventually to Over 49 (-110), adding a half point while resetting the juice to where it began. This process repeats itself from the time odds are posted until the game begins.
Sportsbooks are also taking into account where the action is coming from, and not just the amount of it. There are two sections of the betting public and many of them are casual or recreational bettors. A small number of them are professional bettors, also known as sharps, who win at a high rate and bet large amounts of money.
Sharp bettors are more respected by sportsbooks than the Average Joe, so oddsmakers are always attempting to decipher the action being taken to see which side the pros are on. This helps them in deciding how much the line moves, if at all. Sportsbooks also know that if they overreact to the betting data or misplace a line, sharps will be able to spot the value and capitalize off their mistake in a way a casual bettor likely cannot.
4. Line Shopping For Totals
Line shopping involves comparing odds at multiple sportsbooks and choosing the line that offers you the most value. Bettors should be shopping around for lines before placing any wager, but it could be even more important when it comes to over-unders. Sportsbooks don’t set totals in concert with one another, and there can be quite a bit of variance from site to site.
Even if the total is exactly the same, the juice can vary and lead to value at one place over another. If you want to bet the under and BetMGM has the total set at 48.5 (-120) while DraftKings has it at 48.5 (-105), there’s value in going with the second line with considerably less juice to pay. The ability to line shop is one of the main reasons that many veteran bettors have accounts with more than one sportsbook.
Another way that betting totals is similar to point spreads is that bettors have two numbers to take into account: the over-under itself, and the juice that comes along with it. When the total is equal at multiple outlets, the point of comparison can be the juice alone. But when the total and the line accompanying it are both different, things can become more complex.
Let’s say you want to bet on the NBA and take the over. One site may have the total at 214.5 (-110) and another could have it set at 215.5 (+100). The second option offers a better payout, but requires an extra point to be scored in the game. The first option offers a bit more margin for error with a lower total, but is also a worse line.
Bettors should take both the total and the juice into consideration while shopping around for lines to get the most advantageous odds possible.
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5. Tracking Line Movement
Not only should bettors be comparing lines from multiple sportsbooks, they should be looking into the history of a line since the time it was posted and track that line movement. This gives bettors an indication of which direction the odds are moving and it can help in the decision-making process.
Although reliable data with public betting information can be difficult to locate, having an indication of which side the majority is on is vital information. Compared with the line movement, this can let bettors know how big of an impact the public backing has had a given total.
Just as the case with spreads and moneylines, reverse line movement could be present in totals. This takes place when the public is on one side but the odds move in the opposite direction. For example, most of the bets are on the Over 48.5 (-110) but rather than the total increasing, the odds shift to Over 48 (-110) or eventually Over 47.5 (-120).
6. Do Your Pregame Research
Oddsmakers have a ton of data at their disposal, and it gives them a huge advantage over the recreational bettor. The only way to close the gap is to be as educated on a matchup as possible, and that involves some research. Injuries, roster changes, current form, and the schedule are all among the things that can impact how much or little scoring takes place in a game.
When you listen or read about betting on totals, a common buzzword is pace. Betting on moneylines and spreads is about picking which team will win out in the end. But for totals, it’s about predicting what the pace will be. In most cases across many sports, fast-paced games will lead to more points and slower-paced games lead to fewer points.
Bettors need to be aware of the kind of pace both teams generally play with and any relevant trends related to it, such as home and away splits. And it’s not only about how strong the offenses and defenses are as individual units, but how they’ll match up with one another.
This information is already baked into the total by oddsmakers but it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the factors surrounding a game because it can provide an understanding of how the total wound up where it is.
And you know what? The weather matters too. Well, maybe not for basketball and ice hockey it doesn’t. But for football, baseball, and soccer, the weather plays a significant role in the pace of the game and the amount of scoring we see. It’s already present in the line to some degree but weather can also surprise us with sudden changes. So if you’re on top of it, you may gain some value on a line before the sportsbook is able to alter it.
7. Look For Key Numbers
When betting on football, being on the correct side of key numbers can be the difference between winning and losing a bet. There are key numbers for totals just like point spreads. The difference is that key numbers for over-unders are the most common combined score totals that we see.
In the NFL, there are several key numbers for totals starting with 43, 44, 41, and 37. After that is 51, 47, 40, and 33. Depending on whether you are taking the over or the under, it’s important to cover these numbers in the appropriate direction. Obviously, not all key numbers can be covered for every game. But the goal is to cover as many as possible to give yourself the best percentage chance of winning the bet.
Bettors are allowed to buy and sell a half point at a time at most online sportsbooks, which opens the door to many different alternate totals. But in many cases you’re within a point of the nearest key number and depending on price, it could be worth it to pay a little extra and cover it.
8. Bet Overs Early And Unders Late
Based on industry trends, it makes sense to bet overs as soon as possible while waiting until closer to game time to bet on unders. The public tends to bet late and skews heavily towards the over because casual bettors prefer to root for points. This can result in totals being inflated, creating value on the under just before the game begins. For the same reason, anyone betting an over would want to do so before the public can drive up the number.
Sports with totals betting
Over-unders are so synonymous with sports betting that you’d be hard pressed to find a sport that doesn’t offer totals of some kind to wager on. All of the major sports including football, baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey have totals at the forefront of their betting options and also have totals for various props as well. Tennis, golf, and mixed martial arts are just some of the other sports for which bettors can find totals odds.
Totals Live Betting
Live betting, also known as in-game betting, is the process of wagering on a sporting event after it has already started while odds are being continuously updated by sportsbooks as the action progresses.
The rapid growth of live betting, which can be directly attributed to the expansion of online sportsbooks to many different states, isn’t limited to just moneylines and spreads. Live over-unders see huge amounts of interest from the betting public and in-game totals allow for a seemingly endless number of opportunities to wager throughout a given contest.
There are a few different strategies being employed by bettors who wager on live odds. In some cases, they represent an alternative option for those who aren’t interested in or able to bet before the game. But others purposely bet live lines with the goal of eliminating a piece of the sportsbook’s edge by avoiding pregame lines. So how does that work exactly?
Keep in mind that the sportsbook’s biggest edge may not even be all its relevant data. The most important thing the oddsmakers have is time. Time is needed to crunch all of those numbers and use the information that casual bettors don’t have to figure out what an accurate line should be. But when the game is ongoing, sportsbooks are forced to react in real-time to the events taking place and no longer have the benefit of time or mathematical formulas unavailable to most of the betting public.
Parlays are popular wagers which allow bettors to combine multiple sides into the same bet, resulting in boosted odds and a larger potential payout than a straight bet. Recreational bettors enjoy parlays because they have the potential to earn a large profit from a small investment, and also provide a rooting interest across multiple games.
Parlays must contain at least two selections but can include up to 15 at some sportsbooks, including BetMGM. Let’s look at an example using NBA odds featuring two standard full-game totals and one alternate line:
- Bulls-Pacers Over 221 (-110)
- Nets-Celtics Under 234.5 (-120)
- Kings-Jazz Over 210 (-230)
Once you add all three of these together, the odds become +402. The top two options combine for +250 on its own but the addition of a third side (albeit a heavy favorite) boosted the odds to pay more than four times the total investment.
Bettors can also combine totals into parlays that include moneylines and spreads, although it’s possible some sportsbooks won’t allow combinations of both from the same game. Alternate lines, like the one we see above, can also be used to hand-pick the exact total you want regardless of the juice.
Depending on which direction the better goes, odds will get better or worse. Lowering the total and taking an over would result in a lesser line while taking the under with a lower total will increase the odds. The same can be said for moving a total up and taking either the over or under on a modified line.