Football is the undisputed titan of U.S. sports. American football draws the most viewers, has lavish TV deals and is a major generator of betting revenue for sportsbooks. But that popularity extends north of the border, too.
Canadians love the NFL but they also have their own storied football league to wager on. Though it may not be as popular as its American counterpart, the CFL is a big part of the Canadian sporting identity.
With unique rules — such as the rouge and three downs — and an entire fan base known for wearing watermelons on their heads, you could say the CFL has its quirks.
How to bet on the CFL
The CFL has a strong betting market with an abundance of opportunities for its loyal Canadian followers to get in on the action without having to step on the gridiron.
From point spreads to player props, we’ll run you through the most popular ways to bet on the CFL. Let’s start with the moneyline.
While moneyline (ML) betting remains more popular in lower-scoring sports, such as the NHL and MLB, it still has its place in the CFL.
The concept of the moneyline is simple: pick the team that will win the game. If you’re correct, the bet cashes, regardless of if the game goes to overtime or not.
In a moneyline bet, each team participating will be labelled as either a favourite or underdog. The favourite will have a minus (-) sign before its odds and the underdog will be denoted by a plus (+) symbol.
To explain moneyline betting more, let’s say the Toronto Argonauts are -230 in a home game against the +220 B.C. Lions.
Being a -230 favourite means that the sportsbook is placing a near-70% implied probability of the Argonauts winning. That directly correlates to the potential return on investment.
Here are some examples of how much you would win depending on both the odds and the amount wagered.
-120 odds: You would have to wager $120 to win $100.
-230 odds: You would have to wager $230 to win $100.
+220 odds: You would win $220 on a $100 wager.
+600 odds: You would win $600 on a $100 wager.
While the Argos are viewed as the likely team to win this game, betting on a heavy favourite is not always the best decision because of the low return on investment. You won’t profit as much when betting a favourite on the moneyline as you would an underdog because your chances of winning are greater.
If you believe a heavy underdog can win outright, though, there’s a chance for a large payday.
If you aren’t feeling great about picking either team on the moneyline, then betting on the point spread could be a better option for you. Below we’ll take a look at how to bet on CFL point spreads.
Betting the spread is one of the more popular ways to wager on CFL games.
A spread is a number given to determine the amount of points the book believes the favourite will win by. If the team wins by more than the number given, they cover the spread. The underdog can lose but still cover the spread as long as it’s below the assigned number.
Let’s stay with the Argonauts and Lions example and say Toronto was favoured by 6.5 points. That means the Argonauts would have to win by seven-plus points to cover. If you were to bet the Lions, they could lose by six or fewer or win outright and you would win your bet.
Sportsbooks generally set the odds for a spread at (-110) for each side, meaning a $110 bet would win $100 — the extra $10 being the cut the sportsbook collects for taking your bet. This creates a more even way to bet on an uneven matchup by giving the underdog a cushion in which it can lose by.
The spread can change for a variety of reasons. For example, the spread would drastically lower in the Lions’ favour if McLeod Bethel-Thompson pulled his groin the day before the game and was unable to play.
The Argonauts could drop to around 1.5-point favourites or perhaps even underdogs.
Let’s assume Bethel-Thompson is playing, however, and the spread stayed at Toronto -6.5. If you were confident in an Argonauts blowout, then it is possible to choose an alternate spread. You could get different odds that would increase your potential return at a higher number.
An example of this would be betting on the Argonauts to cover a 9.5-point spread at +170 odds. You are adding another three points that Toronto would need to cover, but are risking that for a larger payout.
A $100 bet would now win you $170.
Now that you understand point spreads, let’s take a look at how to bet on CFL totals.
Totals are another common way to wager on the CFL. It requires one to predict the number of total points scored in a contest. Totals are also referred to as the over/under or O/U.
An over/under in the CFL would be set somewhere between 35-45 points, which is slightly lower than the NFL due to the three-down rule.
There are many factors that dictate what the total is set at, including injuries, matchups and weather. This is the Canadian Football League after all, and only one of the nine teams has a stadium with a roof (BC Place in Vancouver, and it’s retractable).
The over/under for a game played during a sunny day in September would surely be higher than one played in late November. That’s because temperatures drop and snow begins to fall in those later months.
Let’s use a hypothetical November matchup between the Edmonton Elks and Calgary Stampeders as an example and place the O/U at 37.5 points. If 38 points or more are scored during the contest, the over cashes. If the total lands at 37 or lower, the under wins.
It’s a simple concept, and much like in the NFL, bettors often use mental math to determine how many scores will be needed to reach the over once the game begins.
There is no rouge in the NFL, though, and that crazy, unique rule can often dictate the razor-thin margin between the total going over or under. The rouge, also known as a single, is a one-point score.
Just like the spread, bettors have an option to choose alternate totals for either a higher payout or greater probability of winning with altered odds.
Prop betting has quickly exploded throughout the CFL. There are hundreds of options to choose from on any given game. It can be broken into two categories: player props and game props.
Let’s begin with player props. You can bet on how many passing yards Michael Reilly will have, how many receptions Kyran Moore will catch, or how many yards William Stanback will rush for.
You can also bet on player touchdowns, interceptions, tackles and more. To win a prop, the bettor is choosing the over or the under just like in totals betting. It would look something like this:
Michael Reilly O/U 250.5 passing yards.
The operator generally sets the odds on props at around -110 per side, but there is more variance in this market compared to the spread and totals.
For example, Bryan Burnham of the Lions had 67 receptions in 14 games, an average of 4.8 per contest. If his reception line was set at 3.5, you may find the over at -170 and the under at +140.
The odds for touchdown scorers vary drastically. Jake Wieneke of the Alouettes found the endzone 11 times in 2021 so his odds to score would be significantly shorter (around +120) than the average player.
Game props are similar to player props but involve both teams. You can bet on the total amount of sacks, field goals or touchdowns scored.
How to bet on CFL parlays
A parlay involves combining multiple bets into one larger ticket for an increased payout. The ticket has to have two or more bets (known as legs) attached to it. In order to win a parlay, every leg must win. If one leg loses, the entire parlay does.
Parlays can be enticing, but also carry greater risk because you need to predict multiple outcomes correctly.
The possible combinations are endless as bettors can combine any individual bet — be it a moneyline, spread or prop — into a parlay.
Let’s take a look at what a hypothetical CFL parlay could look like:
Elks ML (+300)
Lucky Whitehead over 72.5 yards (-120)
Argonauts vs. Tiger-Cats under 42.5 (-110)
Winnipeg Blue Bombers -6.5 (-119)
This bet would have odds of +2472. That means you would win $2472 on a $100 bet if all four of those outcomes were correctly predicted. That’s a significantly greater payout than if you were to make single-event wagers on any of the above examples. But it’s also much harder to win that type of bet.
Certain sportsbooks will also allow you to build your own same-game parlay.
If you can’t get your bets in before game time, have no fear because live betting is here.
Live betting gives CFL fans the option to bet on the game after it has already started. The odds can shift drastically based on what is occurring.
For example: The Calgary Stampeders, a 5.5-point favourite, go down 7-0 early and become a live underdog. If you’re confident in the Stamps making a comeback, betting them on the moneyline at plus-money odds could be a smart play.
This same logic applies to totals. If a total is set at 44.5 and the first quarter ends with no points scored, the live O/U would drop to around 33.5 points.
If the weather is getting worse and you believe this trend will continue, live betting the under could be advantageous.
While not as robust as pregame options, many of the same betting markets are available in-game.
How to bet on CFL futures
The futures market in the CFL allows bettors to wager on what will happen months down the line.
By far the most popular futures bet is who will win the Grey Cup. If you believe the Blue Bombers will three-peat and win another Grey Cup, you can place a bet on that.
This is sometimes labelled as winning outright and each team will be assigned odds based on their probability of winning.
These odds could drastically swing by the time the 2022 season begins depending on the draft, injuries, and signings. These odds could then change even further once play is underway based on performance and injuries.
Beyond outright betting, there are other future markets that can be wagered on. These include who will win the Most Outstanding Player award, lead the league in rushing yards or score the most touchdowns.
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