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Strategies for Football Parlays

There are all kinds of misconceptions surrounding football betting. For whatever reason, there are certain statements that get repeated time and time again even though they’re not accurate. And, because they’re repeated so often, people start to believe them as fact. Many of these myths are pretty harmless, but some result in people making poor betting decisions.

A good example of this is the idea that parlays are for suckers. A lot of bettors, even some smart ones, completely avoid parlays because they believe that they are fundamentally “bad” wagers. This is simply not true. Many people lose money on parlays, yes. They’re certainly one of the harder wagers to win money from. But most people lose money on point spreads and totals too. Does that mean that those wagers are also suckers’ bets?

Of course it doesn’t. The fact is that any type of wager CAN be a suckers’ bet. But only if used in the wrong way. If people fail to apply the right strategies, and consistently make mistakes, then they’re going to lose money regardless of what types of wager they place. On the other hand, every type of wager has the potential to be profitable. With a sensible approach, and some appropriate strategies, anyone can make money from any type of wager. Including parlays.

Now, it’s important to note that parlays are actually very popular wagers. Especially on football. Although some bettors choose to avoid them, a lot of people love them. The problem is that many of these people often approach them in the wrong way. In fact, it is for that exact reason why bookmakers love parlays too. Their profit margin on these wagers is typically very high, because most of their customers simply don’t know how to use parlays effectively.

The purpose of this article is to change that, in some small way at least. We’re going to help you avoid throwing money away on parlays, and teach you some strategy for using them when betting on football. We start with a detailed explanation of how they work, and then offer some advice for choosing when to bet them. Next, we outlined our preferred football parlay strategies and explained how to implement them. We finish with a few general tips.

Football Parlays Explained

Let’s start with the basics. You can skip this section if you’re already familiar with parlays, and move straight on to the strategy. Please read through this information if you don’t fully understand how football parlays work though.

Parlays are actually a lot simpler than many people think. There are some slightly complicated aspects to them, which we’ll cover shortly, but at a basic level the concept is pretty straightforward.

A parlay is just a wager that combines multiple selections into one single bet.

Fundamentally, that’s all there is to parlays. Instead of making one single selection, you make two or more. If each selection is correct, the wager wins. If any of the selections are incorrect, the wager loses. Parlays are obviously harder to win than single selection wagers, but the tradeoff is that the odds are higher. So, when they do win, the payout is bigger.

Here’s a quick comparison of betting singles and betting parlays, to illustrate exactly how parlays work. Let’s say that we’re looking at the NFL games for the upcoming weekend. The following three teams catch our eye.

  • Seattle Seahawks (+3.5)
  • Dallas Cowboys (-3.5)
  • Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5)

Each team is at odds of -110 to cover. We decide to back each team to cover, and place three single wagers of $110. Our total outlay is $330. For each wager that wins, we’ll get back $210. $100 in winnings plus our initial stake of $110. The following outcomes are possible.

  • All three teams cover. Our total return is $630 (3 x $210). Our total profit is $300 ($630 – $330).
  • Two teams cover, one team doesn’t. Our total return is $420. Our total profit is $90.
  • One team covers, two teams don’t. Our total return is $210. We’ve made a loss of $120.
  • All three teams fail to cover. We’ve lost our entire $330 outlay.

Now let’s say we decide to place a three team parlay instead of three single wagers. The odds for such a wager are typically +600. We decide to stake $100. There are only two relevant outcomes now.

  • All three teams cover. Our total return is $700, for a profit of $600.
  • One or more of the teams fails to cover. We’ve lost our $100 stake.

The main advantage of betting a parlay here is obvious. Our potential profit is $600, which is twice the amount we could win if betting three singles. Plus we’re only putting $100 at risk, instead of $330.

The main disadvantage of the parlay is equally obvious. If just one team fails to cover, we get nothing. When we were betting singles, we stood to make a profit if only one team failed to cover. And if two teams failed to cover, we’d still get some of our initial stake money back. The only way we would be at a total loss is if all three teams failed to cover.

This all highlights exactly why parlays are so popular for both bookmakers AND bettors. Bookmakers like them because they’re hard to win. It’s difficult to get one selection correct, and it becomes even more challenging when multiple selections need to be correct. But bettors still like parlays, because they offer the chance to win large sums of money from comparatively small stakes.

There are three more things you need to know about parlays before we move on to the strategy.

  • What selections can be included.
  • How payouts are calculated.
  • The effect of pushes.

Possible selections for parlays

The example we provided above was based on using point spread selections. Parlays can use a variety of different selections though. You can include totals, moneylines, props, futures, or just about anything. You can even combine different types. So, for example, you could place a parlay that included a point spread selection and two totals selections. Or you could place a parlay that included two props and three moneyline selections. The number of possible combinations is almost limitless.

Calculating parlay payouts

Payouts for parlays can be calculated in two different ways, using fixed odds or true odds. Fixed odds are used only when all the selections in a parlay are at -110 odds, so they’re commonly used for parlays involving point spread and total selections. Potential payouts are directly related to how many selections are in the wager. The exact odds will vary at different bookmakers and betting sites, with something like the following usually in place.

NUMBER OF SELECTIONS ODDS
2 +260
4 +1000
5 +2000
6 +4000
7 +7500
8 +10000
9 +15000
10 +30000
11 45000
12 +60000
13 +75000
14 +90000
15 +150000

The true odds method is a little different. With this, the odds for each individual selection are multiplied together to give the total odds for the parlay. The payout is therefore the same as if you were to bet on each selection individually and continuously roll the initial stake and the winnings onto the next selection.

To make this easier to understand, let’s say we bet a three-selection parlay with odds of -110, -105, and -115. The odds for this parlay using the true odds method would be +596.86, so a $100 stake would return a total of $696.86 if every single selection won.

Now let’s see what happens if we bet each selection individually. $100 at -110 would return a total of $190.91. If we then staked that $190.91 at -105, we’d get $372.63 back. Then, finally, $372.63 at -115 would return the $696.86. As you can see, the profit margins are exactly the same.

As a general rule, true odds parlays offer more value than fixed odds parlays. This is not ALWAYS the case though.

The effect of pushes on parlays

If one or more selections in a parlay result in a push, then those selections are effectively removed from the wager. For example, let’s say we included the following three selections in a parlay.

  • Carolina Panthers (+6)
  • Oakland Raiders (+3)
  • Chicago Bears (-3)

If Carolina and Oakland both covered, but Chicago won by exactly three points, we’d be paid out as if we had placed a two-selection parlay. If only Carolina covered, and the other selections were pushes, we’d be paid out as if we had placed a single wager. Please note that this is only the case when the remaining selections are correct. If you get a couple of pushes, but one selection is incorrect, then the whole parlay still loses.

Congratulations! You now know the basics of parlays. However, what you really need to know is how to make money from them. So let’s move on to the strategy advice.

When to Bet Football Parlays

The first thing you should know about parlays is that they are NOT wagers that you should place on a consistent basis. They should be used sparingly, and only in the right circumstances. Don’t start placing parlays every week just because there’s a chance of winning big. The large potential payouts are obviously appealing, but you shouldn’t chase those payouts just for the sake of it. Not only is this the wrong approach, but it will almost certainly cost you money in the long run.

The question, then, is when SHOULD you use parlays? It’s easy to say that you should use them in the right circumstances, but what exactly do these circumstances look like? There isn’t really a single correct answer to this question, but there is one general rule that you should try to stick to.

Only place a parlay when it offers better value than backing each selection individually.

This is essentially the key to betting parlays effectively. If you’ve read our article on betting for value on football, then you’ll understand the importance of value. You’ll know that the goal when betting on football (or any sport) is not simply to win as many wagers as possible. It’s actually to find the wagers that offer the most positive expected value.

Identifying value in the betting markets is really the only way to make regular and consistent profits. And you want to maximize that value as best you can. Parlays CAN be a great way to do this. By identifying value in more than one selection, and then combining those selections into a single wager to increase the potential payout, you can multiply the value exponentially. You won’t win all the time of course, because there’s always the risk of one or more selection letting you down. But the increased payouts when you do win can help improve your overall returns.

However, selections that offer value individually are not GUARANTEED to offer better value when combined into a multiple wager. Parlay betting just isn’t quite that straightforward. You’re not looking to place a parlay every time you like the look of more than one selection. Just because you think that three teams are going to cover this weekend, you don’t automatically put them all in a parlay.

Remember, these are wagers to be used sparingly. You have to choose your spots very carefully. Whenever you’re not sure whether the best option is to place single wagers or a parlay, we recommend sticking to the single wagers.

Safety first is a good motto for parlay betting.

When it comes to actually determining whether the best value lies in single wagers or a parlay, this is ultimately a matter of personal judgement. Value itself is subjective anyway, because it can only be calculated by assigning probabilities to possible outcomes. This is not an exact science, but in actuality, it’s a matter of opinion.

The trick is to make your opinion as informed as possible. By assessing and analyzing all the information at your disposal, you should be able to assign probabilities with some degree of accuracy. And, if you can do that, you should also be able to work out when parlays are appropriate and when they are not. It’s basically just a case of determining if the probability of ALL your selections winning is high enough to represent value when compared to the odds available.

If any of this is hard to follow, please go back and read the value betting article we linked earlier. This will help to make things a lot clearer.

Our Preferred Football Parlay Strategies

Once you’ve grasped the fundamentals of WHEN to bet football parlays, the next thing to consider is HOW to bet them effectively. We’ve established that the aim should be to bet parlays when they offer the right level of value, but it’s finding that value that’s the hard part. This is where our recommended strategies will help.

Please note that these aren’t necessarily the only strategies to consider. There are all kinds of ways to identify good opportunities for placing a parlay. Ideally, the ultimate goal should be to develop your own strategies that work well for you. But, in the meantime, the following strategies are a good place to start. They’ve certainly worked well for us over the years.

  • Parlaying big moneyline favorites
  • Parlaying off-market spreads and totals
  • Correlated parlays

Parlaying big moneyline favorites

We rank this as one of the very best football betting strategies to use. It’s pretty simple, reasonably low risk and has the potential for long-term success. Although it won’t lead to huge payouts, it can definitely return modest payouts on a regular basis when implemented properly.

The basic idea here is to find two or more favorites that offer good value on the moneyline. Ideally you’re looking for games where the bookmakers have undervalued the favorites for whatever reason, and priced the odds a little higher than they should be. It’s not easy to find such opportunities, but they happen more often than you might think, especially in college football.

It’s not actually essential for the favorites to be undervalued though. It can be beneficial to include moneyline favorites even if they’re accurately priced. The main aim is to find teams that you think are VERY likely to win. Teams that you give at least an 80% chance of winning are preferable.

If you can find two or more such teams, then consider putting them in a moneyline parlay. In theory, this strategy can work with any number of teams, but three or four is optimal in our experience. With just two, we’re not getting the same multiplicative value in the odds. And with more than four, the chances of an upset start to increase to a level that’s not ideal.

So, let’s say that we’ve studied this week’s upcoming games and we’ve found seven teams that are big moneyline favorites. After studying each of the relevant games, we narrow this down to three teams that we think are very likely to win AND offer the right value. These are as follows.

  • West Virginia Mountaineers (-550)
  • Stanford Cardinals (-450)
  • Mississippi State Bulldogs (-600)

With these odds, our potential payout for a $100 parlay on the three teams to win would be $168.52. That’s a profit of $68.52. We’re risking more than we stand to win, but we’ve got a very good chance of winning. This is precisely why we like this strategy. There will be occasions when an upset will cost us, but we can keep those occasions to a minimum by being very selective.

That’s basically the key to success with this strategy. You have to be selective. Don’t put teams in a parlay just because the odds are low. Make sure that you properly analyze teams, and their opponents, to determine just how likely they are to win. And always check to make sure that the odds are reasonable, and not too low. Only then can you consider putting them in a parlay.

This strategy might seem too simple to be effective. It’s often the simplest strategies that work the best when betting on football though. Even then, you still have to work hard to make this strategy successful. As simple as it is, there’s some significant effort required to identify the right teams to include. It’s not as easy as just picking a few favorites at random.

Parlaying off-market spreads and totals

This strategy used to be more valuable than it is today. This is because the football betting markets are much more effective than they used to be, and off-market odds and lines are much harder to find. They do still exist though, so this strategy remains a good option in the right circumstances.

The theory with this strategy is that we want to take maximum advantage of off-market odds and lines by parlaying them with other selections. To explain this in more detail, let’s first look at what constitutes an off-market line. Here’s an example of one.

Cincinnati Bengals vs New York Jets
Odds Spreads
  • Betting Site A
    Cincinnati -2 -110
    New York +2 -110
  • Betting Site B
    Cincinnati -2 -105
    New York +2 -115
  • Betting Site C
    Cincinnati -2.5 -110
    New York +2.5 -110
  • Betting Site D
    Cincinnati -4 -110
    New York +4 -110

Does anything immediately stand out to you here? Hopefully, you noticed that Betting Site D has set a spread quite different from the other sites. New York is getting four points here, when they’re only getting two or two and a half points with the others. In this situation, it would probably be wise to back New York simply to take advantage of these extra points.

Unless you can identify a specific reason why they should be getting these extra points, there’s a good chance that Betting Site D made a mistake when developing their lines. Even if they’ve moved the line deliberately because they’ve taken a lot of money on Cincinnati, they’re still effectively giving away value. Their need to balance their book is YOUR gain.

This particular example shows a point spread being out of line with the rest of the market. Similar situations arise with totals too. As we’ve stated, they don’t arise very often though. And they don’t tend to last for very long when they do. So you need to move quickly when you see them. Simply betting the off-market line is a good strategy in itself, but you can improve upon that strategy by placing a parlay.

Combining a selection of an off-market spread or total with one or two other selections essentially allows you to increase the overall value on offer. You need to be careful to only include other selections that you’re very confident will win.

Correlated parlays

This is another strategy that held more value in the past than it does currently. Again, though, it does still have some merit. It’s just a lot harder to use than it used to be. Bookmakers and betting sites rarely allow genuinely correlated parlays these days, so we have to resort to semi-correlated parlays.

Since some of you may not be familiar with that term, we will define it for you. A correlated parlay is basically where you combine two or more selections that are either directly linked or in some way inter-dependent on each other. For example, combining a wager on a team to make the playoffs with a wager on them to win the Super Bowl is an obvious correlation. They won’t be able to win the Super Bowl without making the playoffs. No bookmaker or betting site would allow such a wager, as it’s clearly an attempt to just get better odds on a team to win the Super Bowl.

Semi-correlated parlays are often allowed though. The best example of these is combining a point spread wager on a game with a total wager on the same game. For example, let’s say there’s a game with a seven-point spread and a totals line of 32 points. We think that the favorite will cover, but only if it’s an open game. It’s therefore logical to combine the favorite on the spread with the over on the total. If one wins, then the other one should too. Although we’re relying on our judgement being correct to win, we’re giving ourselves the chance to extract maximum value from the betting markets. That’s ultimately the main goal associated with correlated parlays.

We don’t recommend spending hours upon hours looking for these correlations. That’s not the best use of your time. But if you’re looking at a game and think that a correlation might exist, it certainly makes a lot of sense to bet the appropriate parlay.

General Advice for Betting Football Parlays

Follow all the advice that we’ve offered so far and you’ll be well ahead of most other bettors who use football parlays. By sticking to a couple of simple rules, and looking specifically for the best opportunities, you can definitely make some money from this type of wager.

We’re not finished yet though. There are few more tips that we’d like you to consider too. For the most part, these are pretty straightforward and easy to follow. But, as simple as they are, they’ll help you bet football parlays more effectively.

Favor true odds payouts

We talked about the differences between fixed odds parlays and true odds parlays earlier. We mentioned how, usually, the better value lies when the payouts are calculated based on the true odds. As such, it’s advisable to try to get true odds when you can.

This is easy when including selections other than point spread and totals wagers. But it’s quite conceivable that you’ll often want to place parlays that are based entirely on point spreads and/or totals. As these wagers are so often priced at -110, you might be forced to accept fixed odds.

However, there is a way around this. All you need to do is make sure that you include at least one selection where the odds are NOT -110. Obviously we’re not suggesting that you ever include a selection for the sake of it, but by shopping around you should be able to find a site where at least one of your chosen selections is priced differently. This is worth doing, as in some circumstances it can have a significant impact on the overall payout.

Beware of maximum payouts

Most betting sites have a limit to how much they’ll pay out on one single wager. This limit is usually high enough to only effect the highest of high rollers, but it can come into play when betting parlays. Especially if you’re including a lot of selections, or selections with high odds individually. So be sure to check what the maximum payout is at a betting site before getting any down. This will prevent a situation where you win more than you’re allowed to and have to forfeit the surplus.

Use parlays with free play credits

Most online betting sites offer sign up bonuses to new customers and reload bonuses to existing customers. These bonuses sometimes come in the form of money added straight into your account, and sometimes in the form of free play credits. Free play credits can be used for placing wagers, but the amount of the credit is not returned if you win. You only get the winnings. Still, it’s enticing!

As these free play credits can only be used once, it’s important to get the best possible value from them. A good way to do this is to use them for placing parlays. A three selection parlay, for example, would allow you to effectively use those credits for making three selections rather than just one. Obviously there’s no guarantee of a return, but the potential return would be significantly higher. As these free play credits carry no real risk, it makes sense to go after the higher payout.

Consider progressive parlays

One of the biggest frustrations with parlays is that just one incorrect selection leads to an immediate loss, regardless of how many other selections are correct. This is clearly the whole point of parlays, but that doesn’t alleviate the frustration in any way. However, there IS an alternative option that can, known as progressive parlays.

Progressive parlays are very similar to standard parlays, but they come with lower odds. They also must include at least four selections. In exchange, they still pay out even if one selection is incorrect. In some cases, they even pay out when two selections are incorrect.

These wagers are available at most betting sites, so be sure to check them out. They’re well worth considering as an alternative option, as they provide a small safety net.

Learn about teasers

Our final piece of advice is not really suitable for beginners or those who are relatively new to betting on football. Teasers are a specific type of parlay, and somewhat more complicated. They involve making selections based on modified point spreads on totals. With the right strategies they can be very profitable, but these strategies are very different to the ones outlined on this page. We explain more in the following article.