NBA vs NFL Betting: Similarities & Differences

There are dozens of sports to bet on at legal Ontario sportsbooks, but there are two that dominate in terms of overall volume. It should come as no surprise that those two sports (leagues, really) are the NFL and the NBA.

Both boast legions of fans, and they drive bettors to the window whenever there’s a game. While there are bettors who specialize in both, there are others who prefer to focus all on one or the other.

So which sport makes the most sense to bet on for you? Below we’ll cover what differentiates betting on the NBA and NFL, and which differences you can take advantage of.

Betting on the NBA vs. the NFL: What’s the same?

Beyond the fact that both are popular to bet on, the NBA and NFL share a lot in common from a betting perspective. The main bets are the same, and the odds for bets work in the same fashion.

For types of bets, the main pregame lines for both sports focus on the moneyline, spreads and totals. And there also will be props to consider for each game, an active futures market for both sports and live betting once the games get underway.

As for the odds, you can quickly spot the favoured and underdog sides, and also see how the games project to shake out via the spreads and totals. If you have a good understanding of how betting works in one of the two, you can quickly get up to speed on the other.

Betting on the NBA vs. the NFL: What’s different?

1. Scale of over/under

NBA games are, obviously, much higher scoring than those in the NFL. For example, it’s not uncommon to see the over/under set at 200-plus points for a pro basketball game. Meanwhile, an NFL game at 55-plus points would be at the upper end of the spectrum.

That said, betting on the over/under is still the same — you’re still predicting the total score combined between both teams.

2. Action and time for research

Another major difference comes down to scheduling. NFL teams play once per week during the regular season and receive a bye week. The NBA season is much more crowded, with teams playing multiple times per week.

The scheduling differences also translate into another important factor to consider: time available for research. There are daily slates of games to consider for the NBA versus weekly sets to worry about for the NFL.

If you have a solid amount of time available and like constant action, then the NBA wins. For those who prefer a slower pace and like more time to make decisions, then the NFL would appear to be the choice.

NBA bets vs. NFL bets 

As mentioned, the most popular wagers for the two sports are basically the same. Here’s a quick run-through of the top choices:

  • Moneyline: All you have to do is pick the winner from the favourite or underdog.
  • Point spread: You can bet on the favourite minus the spread or the underdog plus the spread.
  • Totals: The sportsbook will set an estimated total score, and you can bet whether the actual total will be over or under that number.
  • Alternate lines: Additional options for spreads and totals from the main game lines, with the odds moving, as well.
  • Props: Additional ways to wager on the games, many of which involve player stats and team performance.
  • Futures: Long-term wagers on the season as a whole, such as the winner of the NBA Finals or Super Bowl.
  • Live betting: Wagers you can place in real time as the action plays out on the court or gridiron.

While the main options are the same, there are differences to be aware of. For totals, the number of points for the NBA will be much larger due to the higher-scoring nature of the games. Props will focus on the stats that are specific to the individual sport.

As for live betting, NBA games move at a faster pace, so you can expect to see the same in these bets. Overall, the concepts are the same, so spend your time brushing up on the sport-specific differences as needed for a better handle on things.

How the odds work for the NBA vs. the NFL 

The odds work in the same fashion for NBA betting and NFL betting. The biggest differences have to do with the numbers for over/unders. It’ll be triple digits for NBA games and double digits on the NFL side.

Moneylines are similar for both sports, so you’ll be able to quickly pick out the favourites or underdogs from a slate of games. Let’s take a look at both sports, starting with the NBA betting odds.

American odds

Miami Heat+155+3.5 (-110)5 (-110)
Toronto Raptors-175-3.5 (-110)5 (-110)

Decimal odds

Miami Heat55                       +3.5 (1.91)209.5 (1.91)
Toronto Raptors57-3.5 (1.91)209.5 (1.91)

For American odds, negative values on the moneyline indicate the favoured side. With decimal odds, the lower value is the favoured side. On spreads and totals, you’ll see the sportsbook’s line and the odds for both possible choices. Here’s what the NFL betting lines might look like for an example NFL game.

American odds

Buffalo Bills+120+2.5 (-110)5 (-110)
Green Bay Packers-140-2.5 (-110)5 (-110)

Decimal odds

Buffalo Bills20+2.5 (1.91)49.5 (1.91)
Green Bay Packers71-2.5 (1.91)49.5 (1.91)

If you have a good understanding of the odds board in one sport, then you’ll be able to read them as you transition over. Remember that the odds won’t always be exactly the same at every sportsbook, and it can pay to shop for the best lines for any bets you want to place.

NBA vs. NFL schedule differences 

There are a lot of differences between the two pro leagues in this area. The NBA regular season calendar runs from mid-October through mid-April, followed by about two months of postseason action.

For the NFL, there are preseason games in August, followed by a regular-season that runs from early September to late December or early January. The NFL playoffs last for three weeks afterward, followed by the Super Bowl in early February.

NBA teams each play 82 games in the regular season, while NFL clubs play 17 each. For the former, weeks with multiple games are commonplace, while the latter only play once per week and receive a bye at some point during the regular season.

When the NBA is rolling, there are games just about every day. Meanwhile, the NFL has distinct broadcast windows that it adheres to: primetime games on Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights, and a full slate on Sunday afternoon.

You’ll also see games on Saturdays during the latter part of the NFL season, and there’s a triple header on the Thursday that the US celebrates Thanksgiving Day. Overall, you’ll have more opportunities to bet on the NBA during the year.

The differences in schedule also mean that there are different approaches to handicapping. Since NFL games are more spread out, there’s more time to watch the lines and analyze the matchups. The NBA schedule moves at a faster pace, so research time is limited.

More info: TNF moneyline odds

Sportsbook rules for NBA vs NFL betting 

All legal sportsbooks have rules for betting on the NBA, NFL and all other sports. You’ll find a dedicated section on the main website at many books, while others will have them tucked away inside the help or FAQ sections.

These rules provide clarity for bettors on what to expect with the settlement and placement of their wagers. They also let you know what to expect for various circumstances that may arise. While the two sports have their own rules, there are some similarities:

  • Bets will remain live in the event of a slight delay, but a complete postponement or cancellation will lead to the sportsbook voiding wagers.
  • All wagers will settle based on the odds and lines at the time you placed your bet, with the results based on official league data and statistics.
  • Bets will include any overtime periods needed to decide the outcome unless expressly stated otherwise in the wager terms.

It takes just a couple of minutes to review and understand the specific rules at your sportsbook. By knowing what to expect going in, you’ll limit the number of unnecessary surprises when the final whistle blows.  

Which sport is more popular for betting?

In terms of sheer volume, the NFL is king at online sportsbooks. The NBA is right behind it and generally the second-most popular option. If you’re looking to bet on a game in one or the other, expect plenty of other bettors to be doing the same.

Since there’s more scarcity with NFL games, each one has an event feel. By extension, each will be heavily wagered upon with action rolling in right after the initial release of betting lines and up until game time.

Over on the NBA side, there are choices to consider just about every day of the week during the season. The nationally televised games attract the most attention during the regular season, along with the postseason and especially the NBA Finals.

From a big-picture perspective, it’s the NFL that captures the most volume, but there are more opportunities to wager on the NBA, so pro basketball gets the edge in terms of the number of days to get in on the action.

Which sport has more profit potential?

There’s no easy answer here, as your profit potential ultimately comes down to your personal winning percentage, the odds you are wagering at and the number of bets you place. If you have a good understanding of both sports and devote an equal amount of attention to each, then you can consider the profit potential to be even.

The biggest factor to consider here is the number of games available for wagering. NBA teams play 82 games during the season, followed by a lengthy postseason. NFL teams are only suiting up 17 times, plus 13 total playoff games including the Super Bowl.

As such, if you stay engaged with the NBA and bet regularly, there’s more potential for profit if all things are equal. That said, it comes back to the original points of success, odds and stakes. Additionally, there are no guarantees that wagering more will lead to more success. There’s a lot to be said for the selective approach of picking your optimal spots.

Which sport is easier to handicap?

No matter which sport you are looking to bet on, you’ll have an easier time getting up to speed with the one you’re more familiar with. If you have a good handle on the NBA but know nothing about the NFL, you’ll have an easier time with handicapping the former.

For those who are beginning with a near-equal or nonexistent knowledge base, the answer becomes more complex. Beyond the details that you need to look into to handicap successfully, the easy determining factor is time.

If you had a good deal of time available regularly, then you won’t have trouble keeping up with the NBA and breaking down games whenever you want to bet. For those who are more time-challenged, betting on the NFL offers the chance to spread it out more to your liking.

From a stats perspective, you’re looking at different things for the two sports, but it’s basically the same. The keep-it-simple approach calls for figuring out which side will score more points than the other and focusing on what actually impacts that and that alone.

Last but not least, there’s one area where the NFL has a distinct edge — injury reporting. Teams must provide regular updates on the playing status of players. There may be questions heading into game day, but you’ll have answers before kickoff.

There are no such requirements in the NBA. Last-minute unannounced scratches are common. When that happens with a key player, it can impact your bets. If you hate surprises like this, that’s a red flag to consider.

NBA vs. NFL: Which one is for you?

To start deciding, look at which one you have more interest in. If you’re an NFL fan who finds the NBA to be rather foreign — or vice versa — you have a natural starting point. You’ll be more engaged as you learn what you need to know about betting on a sport that you at least have a decent understanding of.

If you have an equal understanding of both, then move on to the time factor and give an honest assessment. Do you have time to handicap games every day? If so, the NBA can work. Do you have limited time available? Then the NFL might make more sense, as you can spend some time here and there in advance of the games.

For a final determining factor, you can spend some time betting on both and see which one you have more of a feel for. If you find some decent success with one in comparison to the other, or just seem to be able to make more confident decisions with one or the other, then your answer will become readily apparent.

Also, keep in mind that there are plenty of bettors who wager on both sports, so you really don’t need to choose between the two unless you absolutely want to. If focusing on both at the same time proves to be too much, you can always choose the NFL when it’s in action and shift over to the NBA once the Super Bowl is over.