What does “Cover the Spread” mean?


Published: 11/28/22
cover the spread
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The short

Whether the betting favorite wins by more than the point spread or the underdog keeps the game closer than the sportsbook predicts, either outcome means that the team has covered the spread.

Let’s go a bit deeper!

Sports betting has its own lingo. If you’re here, that means you might’ve seen words like moneyline, vig, laying, and bad beat, to name a few. Covering the spread is actually simple to understand. Let’s go through it.

What is a point spread?

We’ve all spent time arguing with our friends over who was going to win an upcoming game. Whether it’s due to injuries, home court advantage, momentum or various other factors, everyone always has a Stephen A. Smith take at the ready.

Making a point spread bet is not only determining who will win the game but determining what the margin of victory will be in said game. Aka by how many points will X team win or lose.

Betting the point spread

Below is an example of the board at a sportsbook representing the point spread when the Ravens host the Jets.

point spread with hook

With many apologies to Jets fans, we can safely say that Baltimore is expected to win. This is determined by the minus sign (-) in front of the Ravens point spread (-7.5). That minus sign means the Ravens are the favorite, or the team likely to win the game.

Conversely the plus sign (+) in front of the Jets point spread (+7.5) makes the Jets the underdog, or the team likely to lose the game. Sorry, once again, gang green.

To bet the point spread you would need to choose between the favorite (Baltimore -7.5) or the underdog (Jets +7.5).

Covering the spread

When you bet the point spread, you are hoping to beat the number given out by the sportsbooks. If the team you bet on beats out the number, your team has covered the spread and you collect your winnings.

Betting the favorite

If you think Lamar Jackson is going to run for 70 billion yards against the Jets porous rush defense and take Baltimore’s point spread (-7.5), you’d need the Ravens to win the game by eight points or more to win your bet.

EXAMPLE

Let's say the final score of the game was Baltimore 37, New York 28. The Ravens’ score of 37 minus the Jets’ score of 28 is 9 points. Baltimore (-7.5) has covered the spread and the Jets continue to disappoint.

What happens if the score equals the spread?

The half point (.5) tacked onto the point spread in the example is referred to as a hook. Since you can’t score a half point this eliminates the possibility of the final score difference equaling the point spread.

Not every spread has a hook, though. Let’s use this example.

point spread no hook

If the final score ends up Baltimore 28 New York 21, a seven-point win for the Ravens and a seven-point loss for the Jets both equal the spread bets placed on either side of the game.

This is called a push where no one wins, no one loses and everyone gets their money back. Thanks, Zach Wilson.