How to Bet on the NFL Playoffs
The NFL playoffs attract a huge betting handle (or total amount of money wagered) each year. The American Gaming Association estimated $6.8 billion in betting volume for the 2020 Super Bowl alone, an astronomical number for a single game.
The Basics of the NFL Playoffs
The NFL decided to expand the playoff format to include 14 teams for the 2021 playoffs. That means there are a total of 13 NFL playoff games to bet on in 2021. There are three rounds of playoff competition before the Super Bowl. These rounds are known as Wild Card Weekend, the Divisional Round, and the Conference Championship.
Seven teams from each of the NFL’s two conferences, the AFC and NFC, qualify for the playoffs based on their regular season record.
The AFC and NFC are broken down into four divisions respectively, with four teams in each division. The four teams with the best records in their division automatically advance to the playoffs.
That leaves three playoff spots in both the AFC and NFC. The three “wild card” spots are awarded to the teams with the best records who didn’t win their division.
Once all 14 playoff teams have been determined, they are seeded (ranked) one through seven in each conference.
These rankings are based on each team’s regular-season record. The better the record, the higher the seed. Here’s an example with fictional win-loss records in brackets to help give you a better understanding:
|AFC Conference||NFC Conference|
|1* – AFC North Division Winner (14-2)||1* – NFC South Division Winner (15-1)|
|2 – AFC East Division Winner (13-3)||2 – NFC North Division Winner (12-4)|
|3 – AFC West Division Winner (12-3-1)||3 – NFC West Division Winner (11-5)|
|4 – AFC South Division Winner (12-4)||4 – NFC East Division Winner (10-5-1)|
|5 – Wild Card 1 (11-5)||5 – Wild Card 1 (9-7)|
|6 – Wild Card 2 (9-7)||6 – Wild Card 2 (8-8)|
|7 – Wild Card 3 (8-8)||7 – Wild Card 3 (8-8)|
*Indicates seed that earns a bye week
The top team in each conference earns a bye week, or in other words, they automatically advance through the first elimination week of the NFL playoffs.
In the first week of the 2021 NFL playoffs, the 2 seed will face the 7 seed, the 3 seed will face the 6 seed, and the 4 seed will face the 5 seed.
The teams continue to play each other in single-elimination games, with each game’s winner advancing to the next round.
Matchups are determined by seed ranking throughout the playoffs. The last team standing in each conference advances to play in the Super Bowl for the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Now that we have a better understanding of the new playoff format, let’s dig a little bit deeper into betting on these games.
Types of Bets You Can Make on the NFL Playoffs
The bets you can make on NFL playoff games aren’t a whole lot different from the ones you can make during the regular season. The stakes are admittedly higher, but we’ll get to that in just a minute. Real-time NFL lines and spreads are continuously updated throughout the season.
First, let’s recap some of the bets you can place on NFL playoff games.
Betting the moneyline is straightforward. You’re predicting who wins the game, regardless of the total score, player performance, or any other secondary factors.
Here’s a fictional round one matchup with some moneyline odds:
|Team||Favorite or Underdog?||Moneyline Odds|
|Washington Football Team||Underdog||+235|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Favorite||-150|
In the example above, the Bucs are favored to win the game. If you bet $150 on Tampa Bay and they end up winning, you would walk away with a total of $250.
The odds with a “+” symbol identify the underdog, and the numbers here depict how much money you’d win if you placed a bet of $100.
Nobody would expect Washington to win this game in 2021, which is why they’re listed as big underdogs at +235 odds. If you smell an upset and place $100 on a Washington win, you could walk away with a total of $335.
Check out our guide for full details on how betting the moneyline works.
Betting on point spreads is another prediction of who will win the game, but only after additional points have been added or subtracted from each team’s final score.
The favored team will have points subtracted from their final score, and it’s your job to bet on whether or not they would still win after having those points taken away.
On the other hand, the underdog will have points added to their score. If you think these added points will push the underdog’s total score above the favored team’s final score, then you should bet the underdog.
Point spread betting odds might look something like this:
Baltimore was favorited to win the game on the moneyline by a wide margin, so the point spread bet will subtract nine points from their total score. This shifts the odds in the bettor’s favor.
If you think Baltimore would still win the game even after losing those nine points, then you should place a bet on the Ravens.
If you think Dallas would win after having 9 points added to their final score, that’s where you should put your money.
If you want to know more about this kind of bet, head over to our deep dive on point spreads.
Oddsmakers will create betting lines that offer bettors a chance to wager on the points total going over or under a specific number.
Totals are one of three key odds you’ll see in a betting preview for a game.
You already know about the “M” moneyline column, and the same goes for the “S” point spread betting lines, but let’s get into the details on the “T” totals section.
In our example above, you can bet the total amount of points scored by both teams will be over or under 44.5 points. The odds are even at -110 on either side, so the choice is yours.
If you bet $100 on the game going over 44.5 points, and the final score is 30-15, you would walk away with $190.
If you want to know more about totals betting, check out our article that goes into further detail on the over/under.
Prop bets are where things get interesting, as they focus on aspects like individual player performance or a wide range of statistics. Certain players always emerge as postseason heroes, so there’s money to be made making prop bets on NFL playoff games.
These bets are prevalent during the Super Bowl, but there are many prop bets to be won throughout the playoff schedule.
Here are a few examples of some prop bets you could make:
- How many touchdowns scored by a specific player in the postseason
- Who scores the first touchdown in a particular playoff game
- Total number of sacks in a playoff game
- Number of missed extra-point conversions in the playoffs
- How many times the announcers say a particular word
Prop bets can go all over the place, which means there’s a lot of volatility in the odds. These bets are worth considering come playoff time when high-stakes games have some of the most unpredictable moments in all of sports.
If you’re interested in learning more about prop bets, check out our full guide on proposition wagering.
With a total of 13 games in the 2021 NFL playoffs, there’s plenty of opportunity to make a few parlay bets.
Parlay bets string together two or more games and tie each game’s outcome to the overall odds. You must correctly pick the winner in each of these 2+ games to cash out on your parlay bet.
If there are three teams you just can’t see losing in any given week of the playoffs, you should put a parlay bet together. Let’s create some fictional matchups for a better understanding:
If you place a parlay bet on each of the bolded teams winning, and they all end up victorious, you win your parlay and get a nice little payout.
Parlay odds can differ at every sportsbook. Check out our parlay calculator to find the best return on your wager.
You can place parlay bets on either the moneyline or point spreads, but you can’t bet on both of these odds within the same parlay.
For full details, see our comprehensive guide on parlays and teasers.
Futures bets are simply wagers placed on outcomes before specific teams are even determined. In the NFL playoffs, you could place a futures bet on one of the postseason teams winning the Super Bowl before they even qualify for the final game.
These bets are highly lucrative, but the chances of hitting on them are slim to none. As the old adage goes, no risk means no reward.
We have a full guide for futures bets, which you can read right here.
Momentum can turn on a dime in the playoffs, which is why live betting is an exhilarating experience during the postseason.
Live betting is simply a system of wagering on games as they’re taking place. Odds can change at any moment when you’re live betting, so it adds a little bit of excitement when you’re watching an NFL playoff game.
You’re still betting on moneyline, point spreads, or the over/under, but the odds will change as the game progresses.
NFL Playoff Betting vs. Regular Season
NFL playoff games have a completely different energy about them. Every game is do or die, so the stakes are higher, and you can cut the tension with a butter knife.
What’s different: First of all, you’ll probably notice more sportsbook promotions during the NFL playoffs. With increased attention during the postseason, sportsbooks are more likely to offer bonuses like odds boosts to try to draw in new customers.
The bye week is something you should factor in when looking to bet on NFL playoff games. Only one team per conference will have a bye week during the 2021 playoffs, so they might have a serious rest advantage over the other teams who have to play an extra game to reach the Super Bowl.
What’s the same: Variables like weather, home-field advantage, team strength, rest, injuries, and momentum are all pretty much the same in the NFL playoffs. These elements can impact the outcome of the game, and you should consider them when handicapping a team’s chances of winning.
Is Betting on the NFL Playoffs a Good Idea?
Betting on sports is inevitably going to steal your attention. When you have money on the line, it’s almost impossible to look away from the game. Lucky for you, the NFL playoffs are so exciting you won’t want to stop watching anyway.
Games are thrilling and less predictable come the postseason, so there’s a lot of volatility you can capitalize on. Whether you’re a new bettor or a seasoned sharp, there’s no time to wager quite like the NFL playoffs.
As the NFL regular season rolls along, we’re keeping track of the odds on each team making the playoffs. You’ll want to keep an eye on this as you prepare your bets for the postseason.
Check out our NFL playoffs odds tracker to stay up on the action all year long