How To Bet The CFL: A Primer

How To Bet The CFL: A Primer

Unabated Staff
May 21, 2024


The object is still to get the ball across the goal line. But football as played by our neighbors to the north has a few significant differences. The Canadian Football League isn’t just the NFL with a Rush soundtrack. If you want to learn how to bet the CFL, you need to learn a few key differences. 

The first question might be: why bet the CFL? Like all smaller markets, it’s less liquid. It gets less attention from traders. When there are inefficient markets, it means there are opportunities for bettors to find and exploit significant mistakes made by the sportsbooks. 

Another reason? This season Unabted is offering CFL player prop projections to Concierge Tier members. We’ll keep you updated throughout the 21-week season with everything you need to know about the gridiron action in the Great White North.

How much action you can find in the regulated domestic U.S. markets will vary by book to book. The CFL preseason is just starting, and you should be able to find lines on the preseason at some books. When the regular season rolls around on June 6, lines for individual games and futures will be available at most. 

So how can you get ready? Here are a few things to know before you start to bet the CFL. 


More Men, Fewer Downs

There are only three downs in Canadian football. That’s a major driver behind the strategies and tactics teams employ.

Coupled with the fact that teams field 12 men a side, it makes the passing game much more valuable than even in the NFL. With just three downs to gain the 10 yards necessary to extend drives, running plays need to be highly efficient or risk second and long situations even though there is that much space to run in given the field dimensions and one yard neutral zone at the line of scrimmage.

Here are a few more significant rules differences:

  • The play clock is just 20 seconds
  • Teams get a three-minute warning at the end of each half, after which the clock stops after every play 
  • Any kick that goes through the end zone is worth a single point for the kicking team
  • Slot receivers are allowed to move toward the line of scrimmage and multiple offensive players can go in motion before the snap
  • Unlike the NFL where the neutral zone extends the length of the ball, the CFL sports a one-yard neutral zone


Canadian Field Day

The NFL field is practically arena football next to the CFL. Including the end zones, the NFL field is 120 yards long and 160 feet wide. In Canadian football the field runs 150 yards including the end zones, and is 65 yards wide. 

The playing field is 110 yards long and midfield is the 55 yard line. Canadian end zones are 20 yards deep, the posts are on the goal line and hash marks on the field are at 27 feet instead of 18 feet, 6 inches.

Like the rule differences, the field dimensions make the game favor passing. 

There is ample space even in the vast end zones to run routes and get open, unlike in the American game where everything is compressed in the scoring area. 

It’s worth noting though that a number points can come on field goals and kicks through the end zone – known as a rouge – that can inflate totals. 

When you’re first learning how to bet the CFL, it’s worth noting that game totals will likely appear higher than NFL bettors are used to seeing. Due to the increase in points from the kicking game though, not all high totals mean higher probabilities of touchdowns being scored.


Quicker Hooks, More Opportunities

Beyond the rules and field differences though, roster construction makes a dramatic difference in opportunity and continuity. 

While the NFL has franchise players and rewards teams that build through the draft, the CFL has rosters in constant flux with few contracts being signed for more than one or two years. 

Star players are born from open tryouts in the offseason, and major contributors arise throughout the season as opportunities due to injury or ineptitude arise. 

This means bettors are rewarded for paying extremely close attention to offseason personnel moves, as teams can be radically different from one season to the next. If you’re modeling, make sure you adjust your priors accordingly. 

On the field, the personnel involved in the gameplay can look significantly different than in American football. 

A standard formation is the quarterback, one running back and five receivers, with two on the line of scrimmage and three in the slot.

It’s not at all uncommon to field a six pack of receivers with an empty backfield in the CFL. 

Given the number of receivers involved in a game, it is often difficult to predict market share of targets beyond the top couple of receivers for a team. The target distribution is often spread throughout six or seven receivers on many teams.


Watch the Wind

The weather is always worth noting when betting football, but given the wind that is normal for the prairie teams (Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg) and the extreme cold that often occurs in November and December games, the weather report is essential.

Vancouver’s BC Lions are the only team that plays in a dome. Adverse playing conditions may affect every other team.


Putting it Together to Bet the CFL

Bettors should expect totals to be higher, point spreads to be less efficient, and there to be large line movement without any actual changes to the game environment as any sharp money can swing spreads as much as five points even on game days. 

One significant change over the past few years has been a move to bring in specialized mobile QBs in redzone packages to take advantage of the one-yard neutral zone right up to the 1-yard line. 

Nothing, and I mean nothing, in the CFL will put bettors on tilt more than a 1-yard QB sneak touchdown from a backup quarterback. 

In 2023, nine of the top 12 rushing touchdown leaders were quarterbacks and six of those played primarily just as short-yardage specialists. 

In 2022, 10 of the top 12 players in rushing touchdowns were quarterbacks. QBs accounted for 104 of the league’s 150 rushing touchdowns that season. Quarterbacks, rather than running backs, are generally a better bet in touchdown props.

The most common market offerings are pass attempts, pass completions, passing touchdowns, interceptions, passing yards, rushing yards, and receiving yards. 

Some books will feel frisky early in the season and offer reception props. Those tend to be the most predictable fields in the market and are well worth pouncing on. 

When Are CFL Props Available?

Teams generally release official depth charts 24 hour prior to kickoff. Sportsbooks populate player props shortly thereafter. 

This year, Concierge Tier members will have access to Unabated player prop projections for the CFL that will be posted in the Discord Concierge channels. We will release player projections shortly after team depth charts become official. 

While Unabated does not have a CFL simulator to convert the mean projections to median projections, the NFL Props Simulator has been shown to do a reasonable job with the inputs we have available despite the differences between the two leagues. 

Editor’s note: This story was written by Ben Kramer, who’s also part of the Unabated College Football team. Want to learn more about Concierge Tier? Take a look with a one-on-one demo. Sign up for free and get a five-day trial of Unabated Premium. Ready to talk CFL with other bettors looking to make a splash in a smaller market? Join us in the Discord!

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