What are Totals or Over Under Sports Bets?

Totals betting is one of the most popular items on the wagering menu. Also known as an over/under bet, the wager revolves around the total number of points the two sides will combine to score in a game.

Sportsbooks set a benchmark number, which is an estimate of the total points output for the two teams. Bettors can then decide if they think the total will go over or under that amount, and odds will be attached to both choices.

This is a bet that’s simple in nature and easy to understand, thereby making an excellent entry point for those new to sports betting. However, there’s much more than meets the eye with totals bets and handicapping them successfully.

We’ll be covering what you need to know right here in full detail. Read on as we explore all of the ins and outs of over/under betting.

Understanding totals bets

This is a bet type that’s quite popular for all of the team-based major sports. It’s featured prominently by sportsbooks and listed among the offerings for most contests on the docket.

Naturally, scoring varies by sport, so you’ll be dealing with different numbers depending on what you’re wagering on. MLB, NHL and soccer are lower-scoring, so totals tend to be in the single digits or just above. NFL and college football totals are in the double digits, while NBA and college basketball are in the triple digits.

As you gain experience with totals betting, you’ll find that the numbers fall within a certain range for each sport. Here’s a quick cheat sheet you can use for reference.

  • NFL and NCAA football: 30s on the low end; 60+ on the high end.
  • NBA: Less than 200 to 200+.
  • NCAA basketball: Average range of 130-150.
  • MLB: 6.5 on the low end; 10+ on the high end.
  • NHL: Typically 5.5; can be between 5 and 6.5.
  • Soccer: Typically 2.5; can vary by league or competition.

To fully understand how over/under sports bets work, it’s helpful to see them in action. Let’s take a look.

How to bet totals with examples

In the main sports betting lobby at online sportsbooks and on sportsbook apps, you’ll find upcoming events to wager on. To switch to a specific sport, you simply click on the one you want from the main menu of markets offered.

After doing so, you can zero in on the games you want to bet on. Each contest will be listed individually and look something like this.

  • New Orleans Saints       -4.5 (-110)       -210       O 53.5 (-110)
  • Detroit Lions                  +4.5 (-110)      +176       U 53.5 (-110)

Games are listed with the road team on top and the home side on the bottom, but there are occasionally some neutral-site affairs. Next to the team names are three sets of odds and lines for the big three bet types: point spread, moneyline and total.

For this fictitious matchup, oddsmakers have set the bar for the total at 53.5 points. Once you research and come to your conclusion, you can place your bet on the over (O) or under (U). All you need to do is click the box that has your selection, and the wager will be added to your betting slip automatically.

From there, you just have to add in your wager amount, review to make sure everything is correct, and then click submit. You’ll get confirmation that your bet has been accepted right away, and you can then kick back to watch the game to see what develops.

If you choose the over on 53.5 points, that means that the two sides have to combine for at least 54 points for the bet to be a winner. A final score of 28-27 in favor of the Saints equals 55 points, so you would be good to go. If the Lions won by a score of 27-24 for a total of 51 points, you’d be out of luck.

On the under side, it’s the opposite as you want the two teams to combine for 53 points or fewer. A Saints win by a score of 24-21 for 45 points gets it done. A 31-28 victory for the Lions — a total of 59 points — does not.

Right next to the estimated total are numbers in parentheses. These represent the odds for the totals bet. This basically tells you the cost of the bet and how much you can expect to see in return for winning wagers. We’ll walk through how you can calculate that shortly.

Super Bowl totals bets

The Super Bowl is the biggest betting event of the year. Experienced bettors flock to the betting windows, and even those who don’t know much about football betting will sometimes get some skin in the game. Choices abound for Super Bowl Sunday, so there are plenty of ways to get involved.

All of the main football bet types will attract tons of betting action, including the over/under. For a general rule, the casual betting public leans toward the over. Here’s a quick look back over the past decade of Super Bowl results.

YearMatchupTotalFinal ScoreO/U Result
2020San Francisco vs. Kansas City53.0Chiefs 31-20Under
2019New England vs. LA Rams56.0Patriots 13-3Under
2018Philadelphia vs. New England49.0Eagles 41-33Over
2017Atlanta vs. New England57.0Patriots 34-28Over
2016Carolina vs. Denver43.5Broncos 24-10 Under
2015Seattle vs. New England47.5Patriots 28-24Over
2014Seattle vs. Denver47.5Seahawks 43-8Over
2013San Francisco vs. Baltimore48.0Ravens 34-31Over
2012NY Giants vs. New England53.0Giants 21-17Under
2011Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh45.0Packers 31-25Over

When betting on Super Bowl totals, you’ll certainly want to have a handle on the overall public consensus. You also won’t be lacking for opinions on how things will play out. However, it’s important to always trust your instincts and analysis and bet on the side that you think is the most likely outcome.

NBA totals betting

Totals betting is very popular for the high-scoring NBA. As mentioned earlier, some of the projected totals can reach eye-popping numbers of 200 or more. Regardless of how high or low the total may be set, the goal remains the same: making the right call on the over or under.

Let’s walk through some examples, starting with a potentially high-scoring affair between the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons. Here’s where oddsmakers have set the bar on the total.

  • Over     209.5 (-110)
  • Under   209.5 (-110)

Over bettors are banking on a total that’s 210 points or greater, while those who wager on the under will be happy with a total of 209 points or fewer. A final score of 110-100 is great for those on the over, but under bettors will have missed the mark. Meanwhile, a final of 109-100 leads to smiles for under bettors and frowns on the over side.

While the NBA is generally high-scoring, there are tougher defensive teams that can hold scoring in check. When two of these teams square off, it could be a recipe for less activity on the scoreboard. For example, consider this random total for a game between the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks.

  • Over    194.5   (-110)
  • Under   194.5  (-110)

Over bettors need 195 points or more to cash. A score of 100-95 gets it done, but 100-94 does not. Under bettors want 194 points or fewer, so the script is reversed, with 100-94 meaning a good night and 100-95 translating into better luck next time.

MLB totals betting

Totals betting for lower-scoring sports means lower numbers, but the story remains the same. Once oddsmakers release the lines for the games, bettors get to dig in and figure out whether they like the over or under.

A potential pitching duel in MLB might see a total set at 7.5 runs or lower, whereas a possible slugfest is anything over 9.5 runs. Let’s walk through a MLB totals bet example from both ends of the spectrum.

The Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers are set to square off with their top arms on the mound, so sportsbooks set the total like this.

  • Over      7.5 (-110)
  • Under    7.5 (-110)

If the baseball game winds up with a final score of 6-2, then over bettors will be pleased as they need eight runs or more to be scored. Under bettors would love a final score of 4-3, as seven runs or fewer means they have a winning ticket.

Now let’s say that the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies are set to face off in a potentially high-scoring game with the total set like this.

  • Over      9.5 (-110)
  • Under    9.5 (-110)

If the bats do come alive and the final score is 9-6, then over bettors have had a good day as they only need 10 runs or more to be scored. Meanwhile, under bettors are banking on nine runs or fewer, so a 5-4 final score will suit them just fine.

Calculating over under bet payouts

Each totals bet will have odds attached to both the over and under sides. The listed odds are generally set at -110 on both sides upon release, but they can move from there depending on market action.

To determine how much you would make for a winning bet, there’s a simple trick to use. Negative odds tell you how much you would have to bet to see a return of $100 on a winning bet. Odds that are positive tell you how much the return would be for a winning $100 wager.

  • If the odds are at -110, that means you have to bet $110 to win $100.
  • If the odds are at +105, a winning $100 bet would return a profit of $105.

As bets come in, the odds can be adjusted by sportsbooks in a bid to level out the betting action. The standard -110 could be adjusted to -115 on one side and -105 on the other, for example.

Line shopping, which basically means that you are checking the odds at multiple books, is a great way to not only get a handle on the market, but also to make sure you are getting the best possible price. In today’s online and mobile sports betting environment, it’s simple to do so to boot.

Tips and advice for totals betting

Betting on totals is a simple concept, but that doesn’t mean that the bets are easy to win. Just like any other wager, you’re going to have some winners and losers, with the ultimate goal of coming out ahead over the long term.

To get to that point, here are some helpful tips to consider as you research your over/under bets.

  • Recent performance for the two teams — how much have they been scoring and allowing lately?
  • Average performance for the season at hand — what are the records for the two teams on the over/under? How much do they usually score or give up?
  • Head-to-head matchups — when these two teams have met in the past, have the games tended to be high- or low-scoring?

As with all other wager types, practice is key with over/under sports betting. Once you gain some experience, totals betting can fit quite nicely into your overall betting strategy.