Sports Betting 101: What does it mean to bet an over/under on a game or prop bet?

Long after a game’s outcome is decided, even after the point spread has been covered, you’ll find bettors in the sportsbook sweating every meaningless basket or run scored.

They probably have action on the over/under.

The over/under, or “total,” is the second most popular bet on the board for sports events behind the point spread. Usually the over/under refers to the total points, runs or goals scored in a game. The concept is pretty simple: Will the game’s total points go over the posted total, or stay under?

For example, if the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing the New York Giants, the over/under could be set by the sportsbook at 43.5. If you bet the over and both teams score 44 points or more — a 24-20 Steelers victory, let’s say — you win the bet.

If you want a way to root for both teams to score — or root against both teams scoring — betting the total is the way to go.

Why bet the over/under?

Betting the over/under is a strange experience if all you’re used to is rooting for one team.

If you take the over, you’re rooting for both teams to score. When the Los Angeles Lakers have the ball you’re hoping they hit it a basket, and then when the New York Knicks take possession, you immediately switch allegiances and hope they score. It’s easy to see why this can be a fun bet.

Most recreational bettors take the over. If you think rooting for each team to score every time they have possession is weird, try taking the under and rooting against teams to score for an entire game. There’s something inherently strange about rooting for nothing but missed baskets or turnovers in the red zone.

Still, the under is usually a worthwhile bet because oddsmakers know the public is way more likely to take the over and shade the line that way. It’s just that betting the under is a peculiar way to follow a game.

When you bet the over, you're rooting for both teams to score. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
When you bet the over, you're rooting for both teams to score. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Many prop bets are over/unders

There’s more to over/under action than just point totals. Many prop bets use over/unders.

A very popular bet is on whether a team will go over or under a posted win total. If you bet the Dallas Cowboys to go over 9.5 wins and they go 10-6, cash that ticket.

Many single-game prop bets are over/under bets too. For example, a big football game will often have bets available on whether a quarterback or receiver will have over or under a posted yardage total. And then you can spend three hours tracking a wide receiver who has 60 yards when you’re holding a ticket for over 62.5. There are also season-long prop bets for things like Patrick Mahomes’ passing yards.

The over/under is a staple in sports betting. So when you’re sitting in a sportsbook and see someone praying for one more garbage-time touchdown in the final minutes of a 40-10 game, you’ll nod and know what he or she is going through.

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