NFL Betting 101: Everything you need to know about parlays

August 12, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) hands the football to running back Trey Sermon (28) against the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

• Parlays are the lottery tickets of sports betting. But simply avoiding these types of wagers altogether leaves opportunities on the table.

• Outside of seeking out +EV straight bets to parlay together, there is one other scenario in which parlays aren’t like lighting money on fire: the often-discussed-but-rarely-discovered correlated parlay.

• The key difference between teasers and parlays is that a teaser allows you to shift the lines 6, 6.5 or 7 points in a direction that lowers risk.

After newer bettors become accustomed to betting spreads, money lines and totals, the next evolution typically involves betting parlays and teasers. These bet forms can offer unique opportunities, but an initial understanding of how they work and how to approach them is needed if you hope to enjoy sports betting as a potentially profitable hobby.


Parlays are the lottery tickets of sports betting. They are the only way to turn a small amount of money risked into an outsized return. Parlays often get a bad rap, however, as these wagers always build in an extremely high hold percentage for bookmakers.

This leads to the most straightforward recommendation for new or novice bettors: stay away and stick only to straight bets. The complicated math requirements in parlays increase the opportunity for bookmakers to finish in the black. And we have seen this play out in state reports for sports betting, as parlay bets consistently perform as the highest percentage of revenue generator compared to hold for sportsbooks. 

But simply avoiding these types of wagers altogether leaves opportunities on the table. Let’s go through the different forms of bets that sportsbooks offer and try to find some plays that could be considered +EV bets. Since this is Week 1, we will walk through more of an introduction on each type of bet, then come back later in the week to offer some recommendations for the best ones to target at the end. Let’s dive into the basics. 


A parlay bet combines multiple wagers into one bet by rolling over the winnings from each individual wager into the next leg of the wager. Each leg or individual bet in the parlay must win for the parlay to grade as winning payout.

As an example, let’s look at the regular-season kickoff game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys. DraftKings sportsbook has the Buccaneers listed as 1.5-point favorites — with the game total set at 50. All sides on these two wagers have a price listed at -110. 

Let's say for a minute that a bettor wanted to place a wager on both the spread and the total, risking $100. They could simply take $50 and bet on the Bucs -7.5, then take the other $50 and take the under 50.5. If both bets win, the bettor walks away with a profit of $90.90.

The other option is to parlay both of these bets — especially if the $100 is burning a hole in your pocket. Both legs must now win for this bet to payout, but if they do win, the bettor would net $264. This sets up a framework where we know the exact payout on -110 legs of a parlay based on how many bet legs are included. 

# of Legs Actual Odds SportsBook Payout Hold Percentage
2 3/1           13/5 10.00%
3 7/1 6/1 12.50%
4 15/1 10/1 31.25%
5 31/1 20/1 34.38%
6 63/1 40/1 35.94%
7 127/1 75/1 40.63%
8 255/1 150/1 41.02%
9 511/1 300/1 41.21%
10 1027/1 700/1 31.54%

The immediate takeaway is that the actual odds are higher in every circumstance than the Sportsbooks payout. This is the vig — where bookmakers earn their profit. The key to parlays — like straight bets — is finding +EV situations to capitalize on. 

One other parlay wrinkle is the inclusion of moneyline wagers, or if the price on any particular bet isn’t -110. The payout can easily be calculated in these scenarios as well, but let’s walk through how to do it using another example.  Let’s set our sites on a three-leg moneyline parlay for Week 1 with the Jaguars at  -150, Washington at  +105 and the Seahawks at  -135. Your wager on this parlay is $100.

To calculate, simply pick any of the three legs to start, as the order doesn’t matter. Starting with Washington at +105, figure out what the wager would profit with this pick ($105). That brings your total to $205. Now take that and calculate what a winning bet on the Jaguars -150 would be. Take your new total and figure out what you would win on the final bet, which is the Seahawks -135. Our final payout here would be $494.00. 

Typically, rolling over bets instead of combining them in a parlay offers a higher payout, but the problem is you cannot do this with multiple games that start at the same time. If the legs you identify all start at different times, almost every situation is better to roll over bets. 


Outside of seeking out +EV straight bets to parlay together, there is one other scenario in which parlays aren’t like lighting money on fire: the often-discussed-but-rarely-discovered correlated parlay.

In layman’s terms, a correlated parlay is a wager where the two (or more) legs are correlated or tied together. If one leg wins, then the chances increase that the second leg will also win. A simplified example that no sportsbook will ever accept would be if a bettor could parlay a team’s chances of winning the Conference championship and Super Bowl together. The secret is to increase the chances of the second leg winning if the first leg ends with a favorable outcome. 

Thankfully there are other, less obvious examples that sportsbooks occasionally miss or simply think don’t matter enough to block bettors from parlaying together. 

An often-discussed idea is that if a big underdog covers, the game typically falls short of the total. Since books allow bettors to parlay spreads and totals, the thought is if someone identifies a big underdog as likely to cover, they can increase their profitability by including the under and parlaying both bets together. 

There were 3,584 regular-season NFL games from 2007-2020 — including 1,111 games with a that spread closed with a favorite of a touchdown or greater. In 580 of those games (52.2%), the underdog covered — with 51.4% of games going below the total. It isn’t much, but it is a slightly-above-average breakeven proposition.

Thus, when using our premier NFL betting tool, Greenline, to identify the right games, the odds will be even better that both outcomes of the parlay hit. There are numerous other examples that we will dive into throughout the season, but for now let’s turn our attention to a new offering that is becoming increasingly popular across major sportsbooks. 


Legalized sports betting has forced bookmakers to become more creative with their offerings. One of the most popular newer options is same-game parlays, which allow bettors to place parlays on correlated events that weren’t allowed at your grandparents' sportsbooks. The big catch is the odds adjust based on the correlation of bets included in the parlay. Basically, the odds given aren’t reflective of uncorrelated outcomes at -110 odds like the traditional parlays discussed above. The oddes instead are reduced based on the bookmakers' calculation for how likely the events are to happen together. 

As an example, let's use two events that everyone intuitively knows are correlated together. The Eagles are +3.5-point underdogs on the road in Atlanta for Week 1. The first half moneyline has the Eagles at +165. A normal two-leg parlay with one leg at -110 and a moneyline at +165 has a payout of $408.94 on a $100 bet. In a same-game parlay, because of the correlated outcome, BetMGM is paying out +184 on this same-game parlay. The change in breakeven percentage based on those two payouts is 15.5%, which is a massive change for any event in sports betting. 

The question then becomes whether the reduction in the same-game parlay payout removes all of the correlation between the two events. If it doesn’t, then it could be considered a positive EV bet based on the payout. Still, it's safe to say that books have shaded the odds heavily in their direction, and although there might be a couple soft spots, the majority of same-game parlay bets don’t have a positive value expectation. We will explore a couple potentially valuable spots in future articles, but for now let’s turn our attention to one of the best overall betting strategies that has become publicly available knowledge in the past decade. 


An NFL teaser bet is similar to a parlay in that you add multiple legs that must all win for the bet to pay out. The key difference between teasers and parlays is that a teaser allows you to shift the lines 6, 6.5 or 7 points in a direction that lowers risk. This offering comes with a reduction in payout, which is how the books allow the shift in lines to occur.

Serious sports bettors have used teasers based on an idea first presented in Stanford Wong’s revolutionary book, Sharp Sports Bettor. The Wong teaser was created with the basic strategy that crossing key numbers in a sport like football allows the odds to shift dramatically enough to where a teaser becomes a profitable betting strategy. Unlike other sports, football scoring occurs in bunches of 3 or 7. As such, we see a majority of bets land on those two numbers, and the idea of key numbers is born. 

Using historical data, we can derive how likely an NFL football game is expected to land on each number. 

Final Number Difference Probability
0 0%
1 4%
2 4%
3 14%
4 5%
5 4%
6 6%
7 9%
8 4%
9 2%
10 5%
11 2%
12 2%
13 3%
14 5%
15 1%
16 2%
17 3%
18 2%
19 1%
20 2%
21 3%
22 1%
23 1%
24 2%
25 1%
26 1%
27 1%
28 2%

23% of games land on either 3 or 7, and the most valuable numbers outside of these two can almost all be found within their range. This means that any time you can cross both 3 and 7 with multiple teaser legs, you are sitting close to — if not on — a positive expected value bet. 

This has become such a valuable phenomenon in sports betting that books are starting to shift how they price lines to avoid giving games this Wong teaser potential. It is also one reason why we see so much line movement in between threes for a game, with a bookmaker having to juggle not only finding the correct line, but also the number that won’t be pounded by those looking for the best teaser opportunity.

Check back here later in the week for Ben's favorite Week 1 teaser.


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