During the NFL season, we have up to 16 games to enjoy each week.
Thursday Night Football marks the beginning of the week, while the action wraps up with Monday Night Football. In between, we have ourselves a jam-packed Sunday afternoon slate, as well as what is typically one of the best games on Sunday Night Football.
Add it all up, and we have several weekly options for our viewing and handicapping pleasure. If we so choose, there are many ways we can kick things up a notch. One of them is via the use of parlay betting, which offers up the chance for a fantastic return on even small wagers.
Naturally, there’s a risk-to-reward relationship in effect.
No sportsbook is going to hand you an outstanding return on a bet that’s easy. Parlay bets are challenging as they require you to be correct on multiple games on one ticket.
High risk, high rewards
Can it be done? Of course.
It’s certainly possible to have a great week in which all of your bets are of the correct variety. However, the caveat to that is this: the sports betting market is quite efficient, and oddsmakers happen to be good at what they do.
Beating the lines consistently on single games is hard enough. When you add in more games to a bet, the probability of you being entirely correct decreases. We point this out not to discourage you, but rather to highlight that the odds aren’t in your favor with parlay bets, which also helps to explain the excellent return potential.
All that said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a small part of your bankroll and designating it for parlay wagers in which you take shots at knocking it out of the park.
We’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about parlay betting on football, starting with how it works.
What is parlay betting?
An NFL parlay bet is a wager on multiple contests on the same ticket.
For a parlay bet, you’re making a call on multiple games at the same time. For the ticket to cash, all of your selections must be correct.
For example, if you decide to wager on two games against the spread on the same ticket, you must be right on the money to have a winning bet. Your ATS bets must be correct for both games.
If you’re right on one and wrong on the other, then you have a losing ticket. The same applies as you climb up the scale of games included. If your parlay consists of three games and you are only correct on two of them, then you have lost the bet.
For four-game parlay tickets, three winners and one loser equals a lost wager, and so on.
Spread, moneyline or totals parlays
Parlay bets can be placed on against the spread (ATS), on the moneyline or on totals. Most sportsbooks have restrictions in place on including a side and total from the same game on a ticket.
Nevertheless, there are times when prop bets are available for the side and total in a particular contest. To identify these opportunities, find the game on the sportsbook of your choice, and then look for the additional wagers offered for that event.
Some handicappers like to put together parlay tickets for the ATS sides of numerous games, while others prefer to use these bets for moneyline.
In general, the returns can be more favorable on the ATS side due to the standard -110 odds. However, the odds for a moneyline parlay can climb substantially as well, especially when there are some underdog choices included on the wagering ticket.
Examples of parlay betting in the NFL
As with most things in handicapping, an excellent approach to parlay betting in football is to start small and simple then work your way out.
For a parlay, that means starting with two games and becoming familiar with how the bets work.
Let’s take a look at an example using the following two games from Week 1 of this year’s NFL schedule.
- Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (-10) (-110)
- Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (-3) (-110)
The home teams were favored in both cases, with the Eagles being a larger favorite than the Jets. All of the potential sides in these two games were priced at odds of -110.
Let’s say that we decided we liked both of the visiting teams to cover. For a two-game parlay ticket, we could take the Redskins +10 and the Bills +3, with both sides priced at odds of -110.
However, since we were including both sides on the same ticket, the sportsbook offered us odds of +264 for the two wagers combined.
Here’s how the math works out:
- $100 wager on two-team parlay ticket at odds of +264 offers a potential total return of $364.
Now, let’s take a look at a moneyline parlay bet on the same two games.
Here is what the odds were for the two contests:
- Washington Redskins (+375) at Philadelphia Eagles (-501)
- Buffalo Bills (+135) at New York Jets (-160)
In this case, we liked the favored Eagles to win the game outright. We also decided to stick with the underdog Bills. The book offered us odds of +182 if we placed both of those moneyline wagers on the same ticket. Here’s what that means in round numbers:
- $100 wager on two-team parlay ticket at odds of +264 offers a potential total return of $282.
To understand the odds and potential return on the NFL parlay bet you’re considering, simply add all of the games you’re interested in on the ticket. The sportsbook will calculate the odds for you automatically.
From there, you can plug in a fictitious wager amount to see what the return would be for a correct bet.
Also, there are a host of free handicapping calculators available for use online.
To understand how quickly the odds can grow as more teams are added, take a look at the math behind a four-team ATS parlay. All of the sides are listed at odds of -110, which translates into +1228 when all four games are on the same ticket.
Here’s the math:
- $100 wager on a four-team parlay ticket at odds of +1228 offers a potential total return of $1,328.
As you can see, the returns can be phenomenal. Of course, the rub is that being right on the money for all four bets is quite difficult.
Let’s take a look at one more example using a four-team moneyline. In this scenario, we like two underdogs and two favorites at the following four price points: -501, +135, -334, +200.
Including those four bets on the same ticket translates into odds of +1000.
Here are the numbers for that wager:
- $100 wager on a four-team parlay ticket at odds of +1228 offers a potential total return of $1,100.
Whether it’s multiple ATS, moneyline or totals bets, the odds and potential returns on NFL parlay bets can add up in a hurry.
Football parlay bet odds and line moves
Each week, oddsmakers will release what is known as the opening lines.
These are typically out on Sunday evening after the majority of the week’s action is in the books. Once listed, the market will quickly have its say. As a result, it’s not uncommon to see the odds and spreads shift as bets come in.
Sportsbooks will adjust the lines when a hefty amount of action is coming in on one side in a bid to level the playing field. As handicappers, our job is to shop for the best available lines and odds, which is naturally based on the numbers we are looking for as a result of our research.
For example, one book may have Team A listed as a 3-point favorite, while the other may have the club as a 3.5-point favorite.
While that half-point may not sound like much of a difference, it can absolutely come into play, especially if our handicapping has us zeroed in on a specific margin of victory.
The same applies to the odds. While odds of -110 are standard for point spreads, you may be able to find a -105 elsewhere.
On moneyline, one book could have a favorite listed at -150, while the other is at -140. These small differences may seem insignificant, but they can add up over the course of a season.
For NFL parlay bets, these shifts can also make a world of difference. If you’re playing on a book in which one of the games you are zeroed in on has suddenly shifted by a half-point, your thinking on the viability of the parlay ticket could be altered.
For the moneyline approach, an unattractive price in comparison to other books can also leave you thinking twice before pulling the trigger.
How to handicap parlay bets
Normal handicapping rules apply for parlay bets. You’ll want to approach each game as its own event and consider the overall strengths and weaknesses of each team.
Recent play is a good factor to consider, as is the overall performance of the two squads on both sides of the ball. If there’s any recent history of these two teams facing off, that can also help.
Long story short, you’ll want to consider all of the same factors for a parlay bet as you would for individual game wagers. Of course, there can be a crossover in your handicapping, which can reduce the workload significantly.
For example, let’s say your gameplan for each NFL week is to find the five games that appeal to you the most from a wagering perspective. These are the five games you plan to bet on, and there will be no wavering on adding more games or reducing the number of bets each week.
After you have broken all five of these games down, you’ll have all of the information you need if you would like to put together some parlay bets involving these contests.
You could keep it simple and go for a two-team moneyline parlay on the two games you feel most confident.
You could also go for the gusto with a five-team ATS parlay, which includes all of the games on your weekly list. In between those two extremes are plenty of variations.
There are no rules that say your NFL parlay bets have to include a bunch of games. One of the great things about them is that they can be as small or as large as you would like within the parameters of the sportsbook rules.
The bottom line on parlay bets
Betting on parlays can be an exciting tool to have in the handicapping repertoire.
These bets offer up the chance at fantastic returns, but there is naturally plenty of risk involved. Parlays can include as few as two games, but they can also rise to include numerous contests.
For each game, you add to the ticket, the odds of being correct increase exponentially.
For an average ATS parlay with all games having odds of -110, here is a safe benchmark to use:
- Two-team parlay: 13-5
- Three-team parlay: 6-1
- Four-team parlay: 10-1
- Five-team parlay: 25-1
- Six-team parlay: 40-1
- Seven-team parlay: 75-1
- Eight-team parlay: 150-1
- Nine-team parlay: 300-1
- 10-team parlay 600-1
As more games are added, the odds begin to approach astronomical levels. Normal handicapping rules apply for parlay bets, but it’s important to understand the risk involved before placing them.