Betting on a football parlay is a fun and exciting way to raise the stakes and increase your potential winnings when betting on multiple football games. With a parlay bet, you combine two or more point spread, moneyline, or game total bets from different games into one single bet. In order to win the parlay, you must win all of the individual bets within it. The appeal of a parlay bet is that you can turn a small wager into a huge payout. However, the risk is also greater because all of your picks must be correct to cash the parlay ticket.
What is a football parlay bet?
A football parlay bet combines two or more point spread, moneyline, total or proposition bets on different games into a single bet. All teams that you bet on in your parlay must cover the point spread, win outright, or go over/under the game total for you to win your parlay bet. Each additional bet you add to the parlay increases the payout if you win while also increasing the risk, since your entire parlay bet is lost if any one pick loses.
For example, a 2-team parlay might pay +260 odds. That means a $100 bet would payout $260 in winnings, for a total of $360 returned. A 3-team parlay usually pays +600 odds, a 4-teamer +1200, a 5-teamer +2500, and so on. As you add more picks, your potential payout grows exponentially while the odds of losing any one pick also increases.
How does a parlay bet work?
The way a parlay bet works is that the odds from each individual wager are multiplied together to determine the parlay odds. For a 2-team parlay, if Team A is +120 to win and Team B is +160, the parlay odds are calculated by multiplying +120 x +160, which comes out to +260. This means a $100 bet would payout $360 ($100 original wager plus $260 in winnings).
It’s important to understand that the outcome of each pick within a parlay is dependent on the other picks. If you miss on just one game, the whole parlay bet is a loser. This is different from placing individual bets, where one losing wager does not affect the outcome of your other bets.
Parlay Payout Calculations
Standard parlay payout calculations are based on the odds of each leg and the number of teams. Here are the estimated payouts for various sizes of parlays:
|Number of Teams||Estimated Payout|
As you can see, the potential payouts grow rapidly as you add more teams to your parlay. A 10-team parlay could turn a $10 bet into a $25,000 payout if every team covers the spread!
Tips for betting football parlays
Here are some useful tips to keep in mind when betting on football parlays:
Only bet on games you are confident about
Since you must get every pick correct to cash a parlay ticket, only include teams you feel very strongly will cover the spread or win straight up. Don’t just throw together a bunch of picks without doing your homework.
Consider moneyline parlays in stead of spreads
Moneyline bets only require your team to win, not cover a point spread. This removes the points margin as a factor and can make your parlay picks easier to hit.
Be careful parlaying big favorites
Large point spread favorites have a greater risk of not covering, even if they are likely to win the game. Consider moneylines or stay away from parlaying heavy chalk teams.
Look for value in your picks
Finding plus-money underdogs or solid teams getting more points than expected can give you an edge with your parlay picks.
Bet small parlays
Even though the payouts get bigger with more teams, your chances of losing also go up. 2-4 team parlays offer a nice balance of risk versus reward.
Hedge your parlay if you get off to a good start
If you hit the first 3 or 4 picks of a 5+ team parlay, consider hedging by betting against the remaining teams. This guarantees you profit from the parlay.
Shop for the best parlay odds
Parlay payouts can vary slightly between sportsbooks. Make sure you get the best odds available on your parlay bet.
Pros and cons of parlay betting
There are several advantages and disadvantages to betting parlays on NFL and college football games:
- Big payouts for small wagers
- Adds excitement by following multiple games
- Allows you to bet on lopsided/low-value matchups
- Opportunity to turn a profit from several favorites winning
- Very difficult to hit as more teams are added
- One upset can ruin the entire parlay
- Typically lower long-term value than straight bets
- Temptation to overbet or force picks on parlays
How are parlay payouts calculated?
There are two main methods sportsbooks use to calculate parlay payouts:
Most sportsbooks use standard parlay calculations based on the number of legs. They multiple the odds of each leg to determine the parlay odds:
- 2 teams: odds of team 1 x team 2
- 3 teams: odds of team 1 x team 2 x team 3
- 4 teams: odds of team 1 x team 2 x team 3 x team 4
For example, a 4-team parlay with odds of +150, +200, +180, and +400 would be calculated as:
+150 x +200 x +180 x +400 = +216,000
True Odds Parlays
Some sportsbooks deviate slightly and offer “true odds” parlays. This accounts for the probability of each leg and usually results in slightly reduced payouts:
- 2 teams: odds team 1 + (1 – probability team 1) x odds team 2
- 3 teams: odds team 1 + (1 – probability team 1) x odds team 2 + (1 – probability teams 1&2) x odds team 3
In the end, sportsbooks build in their “vig” or profit margin into the parlay payout calculations. But understanding the math behind parlays helps you estimate potential profits.
Are parlays a good bet?
There is ongoing debate regarding whether or not parlays represent smart sports betting strategy. Here are some key points to consider:
- Parlays inherently offer poor odds value since sportsbooks inflate payouts to account for the increased risk of losing.
- Hitting a large parlay is extremely difficult and unlikely for even the sharpest bettors.
- The appeal lies in turning small bets into potentially huge payouts.
- For most bettors, straight bets offer higher long-term returns.
- Occasional small parlays can be fun and add excitement, but shouldn’t be overused.
- Consider hedging parlays to guarantee some profit once you get later into the card.
In general, most professional sports bettors advise using parlays sparingly. The odds are stacked against hitting them consistently. But in limited cases, they can be worthwhile for casual bettors.
How to find value in parlays
To increase your chances of winning with football parlays, focus on finding value in your picks:
- Look for inflated point spreads where favorites may coast late in blowouts.
- Key on motivated underdogs with a good chance to cover big numbers.
- Shop around for best parlay odds and payouts at different sportsbooks.
- When lines seem fishy, avoid those games or bet against the public side.
- Focus on safest picks early; take risks later in card or in smaller parlays.
- Study coaching tendencies late in games with leads or when underdogs.
- Monitor line moves during the week to find smart money opportunities.
Applying sound handicapping to identify advantageous sides and odds differences is crucial to long-term parlay betting success. This helps mitigate the huge mathematical edge sportsbooks have.
Should you hedge your parlays?
Hedging parlays involves placing additional bets to guarantee some profit or minimize potential losses. Here are some common parlay hedging tactics:
Cash out parlay early
Many sportsbooks let you cash out remaining legs at reduced odds once some picks win. This secures partial profits.
Bet against remaining teams
If your first 3-4 parlay picks win, you can place bets against the remaining 1-2 teams. This ensures profit regardless of the final outcomes.
Bet smaller reverse teasers
Teaser bets let you adjust point spreads in your favor at reduced odds. You can take remaining teams at worse teaser odds to offset potential losses.
Look for middle opportunities
In some cases, you can make two bets that profit regardless of the game outcome. For example, parlaying Favorites A, B and C then separately betting Underdogs A and B.
- Hedging reduces risks and helps guarantee profits
- Lets you double down on your research and handicapping
- Additional action for minimal cost can make games more exciting
- Reduces the big payout if you hit the parlay
- Costs extra juice/vig on the hedge bets
- Can be complex and time consuming
- Potential middle opportunities don’t always exist
Determining if and when to hedge parlays depends on your risk tolerance and confidence in the remaining games. But hedging is a useful tool for locking in guaranteed money from winning parlays.
Are parlays worth it?
There are a few factors to consider when deciding if football parlays are worth the risk:
- Value – Due to inflated payouts, parlays generally offer poor odds value making long-term profitability difficult.
- Hit rate – Even professional bettors only hit a small % of parlays due to the cumulative difficulty as more teams are added.
- Risk vs. Reward – Weigh excitement of potential big payouts against much higher probability of losing entire parlay bet.
- Bankroll – Only risk money you can afford to lose on parlays due to high variance and low overall +EV.
- Discipline – Avoid forcing picks or over-betting parlays. Make selective bets within a structured approach.
For most bettors, straight bets and simple 2-3 team round robin bets offer better risk-adjusted returns than large parlays. But an occasional parlay can add enjoyment to watching multiple big games.
Examples of winning football parlays
Here are some examples of winning NFL and NCAA football parlay bets:
NFL Moneyline Parlay (+264 odds)
- Green Bay Packers (-335) vs Detroit Lions
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-220) vs Carolina Panthers
Both big home favorites won straight up for a profitable 2-team moneyline parlay. This removed the point spread margin of error.
College Football Spread Parlay (+600 odds)
- Alabama -24.5 vs Ole Miss (won 42-21)
- Oklahoma -17 vs Texas Tech (won 55-24)
- USC -10.5 at Arizona (won 41-14)
Three top teams covered fairly large spreads in conference play during this parlay.
NFL 4-Team Teaser Parlay (+400 odds)
- 49ers +9 (won 41-23)
- Patriots -1 (won 17-14)
- Raiders +9 (lost 35-32)
- Over 41 points – Chiefs vs Bills (62 points scored)
Moving the spreads 6 points on a teaser allowed three out of four picks to cover despite the Raiders loss.
College Football Underdog Parlay (+2000 odds)
- Mississippi State +24 at Alabama (won 31-24)
- Michigan State +10.5 at Ohio State (won 49-37)
- Pittsburgh +14 at Miami FL (won 34-30)
Big underdogs pulled off outright upsets to hit this longshot 3-team parlay.
Betting football parlays can definitely be worthwhile when used properly. Focus on keeping them small and selective. Resist forcing too many mediocre picks into a long parlay. With sound handicapping and smart betting discipline, combining a couple moneyline or spread bets on a parlay ticket has profitable upside. Just don’t expect to strike it rich hitting parlays consistently.