In Week 9 of the 2022 NFL season, the Los Angeles Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were both winners as 3-point favorites. Those that bet on the Chargers and Bucs weren’t as happy with their results, since the Bolts and the Bucs each won by a margin of three points.
Three points is the most common margin in NFL football. Along with seven, the two numbers account for the scoring margins of roughly one-quarter of all NFL games. Betting on a 3-point favorite that wins by three is obviously a push, which is about as fun as kissing your sister. It brings up a popular question. Should you buy the extra half-point, especially when buying off of key numbers such as 3 and 7?
The Case For
In doing some research on a game, a bettor finds value in a team like the Tampa Bay Bucs playing at home against the Rams. The spread happens to be Bucs -3 and the bettor knows fully well that since 1995 15.2 percent of NFL games ended with a margin of three points.
As it turns out – as it did in Week 9 of this NFL season – the Bucs beat the Los Angeles Rams 16-13. Buying the extra half-point, of course, turned a push into a win. In this situation, it was advantageous for the bettor to buy the hook.
The Case Against
At Tampa Bay -3, a bettor would get the standard odds of -110. If the Bucs cover, a $10 bettor wins $9.09 for a total payout of $19.09. When you buy the half-point, you pay extra juice. The Bucs at -3.5 might cost you -125 and those odds the bettor wins $8 for a total payout of $18.
The typical half-point will cost a bettor 10 cents. When buying half-points off of key numbers like 3 and 7, you will usually pay a little more. Most sportsbooks will charge 15 to 25 cents extra. And that is the issue that long-term bettors have with routinely buying the hook.
Consider the following. Since 2003, all -3 NFL favorites have gone 287-316-61 ATS (47.6%). Remember, you need to hit 52.38 percent to break even. Now, if you would have simply bought the half-point on all of those games, the 61 pushes would have become ATS wins. You just flipped your winning percentage to 52.4% (348-316).
That looks awesome, doesn’t it? The problem is that you are paying extra juice for that half-point. The standard juice on a half-point of a key number like 3 is 25 cents. That means you paid -135 to move those 61 pushes to wins. At -135 odds, you need to win 57.5 percent of the time to be profitable. As you can see, buying a half-point can actually reduce your return.
If you would have taken the five most common margins of victory in the NFL – 3, 4, 6, 7, and 10 – and bought a half-point on every game since 2003, you would record more betting wins but you would lose roughly 19 units.
It’s kind of like paying ATM fees. You keep paying to withdraw your own money. Over time, you wonder what happened to your bank account. In the end, buying points off of key numbers in the NFL is probably just like betting NFL parlays. It’s something you may consider from time to time, but it is not a consistent long-term strategy.