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NFL Parlay Betting

If you have heard that football parlays are a sucker bet but want an unbiased view on this betting type, then you have come to the right place. Enlightenment is moments away...

In subsequent articles we'll review a number of other factors to consider, particularly searching for correlated parlays, leading into our subscriber NFL Parlay Bet Picks.


Football Parlays -- a sucker bet?

First off let's be clear what we mean: a parlay is a combination bet of two or more events that are (supposedly) independent. For instance you might place an NFL parlay that the Bengals would cover against the Dolphins, with the 49ers also covering against the Rams. To win the bet both the Bengals and 49ers would have to cover, and you get paid "odds" for your trouble, but if either of the two teams lost you would lose the complete bet.

There are two main reasons why you might want to bet parlays. First, the events of a parlay bet can have some level of correlation. That is to say the two (or more) outcomes upon which the parlay rests are connected in some way that makes it more likely if one outcome wins that the other will also.

Second, parlay bets are acceptable wagers if you have a significant enough advantage on a multiple single bet plays. Let's take a look at what parlays pay for different handicapping levels:

Win% -->
60%
57%
55%
53%
50%
Wager
Odds
W%
ROI
W%
ROI
W%
ROI
W%
ROI
W%
ROI
single
10/11
60%
1.15
57%
1.09
55%
1.05
53%
1.01
50%
0.95
2-team
13/5
36%
1.30
32%
1.17
30%
1.09
28%
1.01
25%
0.90
3-team
6/1
22%
1.51
19%
1.30
17%
1.16
15%
1.04
13%
0.88
4-team
12/1
13%
1.68
11%
1.37
9%
1.19
8%
1.03
6%
0.81
5-team
25/1
8%
2.02
6%
1.56
5%
1.31
4%
1.09
3%
0.81

It can be seen then that with a base advantage the parlay ROI is higher than making single bets. The drawback is the win percentage can be considerably lower, which makes the bet highly volatile. Recognize that you could be 4-1 in a week and you would lose everything if you played only a five-team parlay. For this reason we do not recommend many-play parlays, but using two or at most three teams/totals can be a reasonable strategy if you believe you are a high percentage handicapper. Of course if the parlay events are not simultaneous, you are better off "rolling over the money" from one bet to the next.

Why are parlay bets so popular, especially in the NFL? Well, for the most part small time bettors love them because they have the potential for a big score with a small wager: place five straight wagers for $11 each at 10/11 and going 5-0 will have a modest $50 win, whereas a five-team parlay for the same $55 total wager will net a handicapper $1,375 on a perfect week! Basically it's a longshot player's delight. Bodog.com offers parlays of up to 12-teams, which pays 600/1 for a magical 12-0 run.

The reason sports books love parlay action from the average player is that a 50% handicapper betting parlays will have a much worse ROI, and if they play many teams they will have a very low chance of cashing a ticket. On account of this, some serious players wanting to keep in the good graces of certain offshore books play numerous parlays. The theory goes that the book will think of them as a "square" player and figure they are just getting lucky when they win.

That's the math behind the bet, now let's turn to making informed NFL parlay picks. Are there possible advantageous parlay combinations? Let's start with the most common theory: play the favorite and the over or the underdog and the under in the same game.

NFL Parlay Results from 1990 to 2004
Side Bet
With OVER
Parlay W%
With UNDER
Parlay W%
Home Favorite
24.6%
24.7%
Away Underdog
24.4%
26.4%
Home Underdog
26.9%
26.8%
Away Favorite
24.2%
22.2%

On the standard 13/5 odds offered at most sportsbooks for a two-"team" parlay, you need to hit 27.8% to break even. So of the above combos, none will turn a blind profit, and only the home underdog parlays get close. Away favorites and the under have been the worst bet at a lousy 22.2% and that's in part because the home dogs have been such strong side bets.

That's the opening shot, but let's take it another level deeper by filtering based on the point spread and the over/under total on the game to try and isolate some 30%+ parlay winners:

NFL Parlays -- HOME FAVORITES
NFL 1990-2004
Over/Under: 42.5+
Over/Under: 37.5 to 42
Over/Under: 37 or less
Over/Under: Any
Spread Range
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
 10+ 159 27.7% 22.0% 136 24.3% 20.6% 83 24.1% 25.3% 378 25.7% 22.2%
 7.5 to 9.5 167 28.7% 19.2% 234 22.6% 24.8% 151 29.8% 20.5% 552 26.4% 21.9%
 3.5 to 6.5 233 20.6% 23.6% 384 24.7% 22.1% 235 25.1% 28.9% 852 23.7% 24.4%
 0 to 3 173 22.5% 29.5% 284 22.2% 31.3% 168 26.2% 24.4% 625 23.4% 29.0%
 All 732 24.4% 23.6% 1038 23.5% 25.0% 637 26.4% 25.3% 2407 24.6% 24.7%

Comments: one parlay line-total combo that has worked with NFL home favorites, namely small favorites (-1 to -3) on a mid-total game (o/u line of 37.5 to 42.5). Other areas of interest include small favorites and UNDER generally (29.0% on 625 games), and yes, big favorite and over lovers can take heart that laying more than a touchdown and over has been slightly profitable.


NFL Parlays -- AWAY UNDERDOGS
NFL 1990-2004
Over/Under: 42.5+
Over/Under: 37.5 to 42
Over/Under: 37 or less
Over/Under: Any
Spread Range
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
 10+ 159 27.0% 23.3% 136 23.5% 31.6% 83 27.7% 22.9% 378 25.9% 26.2%
 7.5 to 9.5 167 29.3% 22.8% 234 21.8% 30.8% 151 24.5% 25.2% 552 24.8% 26.8%
 3.5 to 6.5 233 22.7% 33.0% 384 25.8% 27.3% 235 29.4% 16.6% 852 25.9% 25.9%
 0 to 3 173 22.5% 25.4% 284 20.4% 26.1% 168 20.2% 29.2% 625 21.0% 26.7%
 All 732 25.1% 26.8% 1038 23.1% 28.3% 637 25.6% 22.8% 2407 24.4% 26.4%

Comments: some areas with potential, as away dogs getting more than a touchdown with the under in mid line games have shown a healthy profit on close to 400 games now. Moreover competitive dogs (getting 3.5 to 6.5) on high over/under games have been good. Surprising to some, big dogs and over in high total games has been a slight winner -- can you say back door cover!


NFL Parlays -- HOME UNDERDOGS
NFL 1990-2004
Over/Under: 42.5+
Over/Under: 37.5 to 42
Over/Under: 37 or less
Over/Under: Any
Spread Range
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
 10+ 35 34.3% 25.7% 27 29.6% 25.9% 18 44.4% 11.1% 80 35.0% 22.5%
 7.5 to 9.5 55 30.9% 29.1% 59 27.1% 28.8% 57 28.1% 31.6% 171 28.7% 29.8%
 3.5 to 6.5 94 28.7% 19.1% 149 26.8% 26.8% 109 22.0% 24.8% 352 25.9% 24.1%
 0 to 3 134 24.6% 24.6% 239 24.7% 33.5% 186 28.0% 23.7% 559 25.8% 28.1%
 All 318 28.0% 23.9% 474 25.9% 30.4% 370 27.0% 24.6% 1162 26.9% 26.8%

Comments: with home dogs being a very solid subset over the past fifteen years, it's no shock that there are plenty of winning spread/total combos here. Best of all perhaps is that any home dog and Under in mid-total games (37.5 to 42.5) have been winners at 30.4% on 474 games. Those rare huge home dogs getting 10+ points (yeah, try finding them these days!) were very good with the Over.


NFL Parlays -- AWAY FAVORITES
NFL 1990-2004
Over/Under: 42.5+
Over/Under: 37.5 to 42
Over/Under: 37 or less
Over/Under: Any
Spread Range
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
#
w/Over
w/Under
 10+ 35 8.6% 31.4% 27 14.8% 29.6% 18 16.7% 27.8% 80 12.5% 30.0%
 7.5 to 9.5 55 21.8% 18.2% 59 27.1% 16.9% 57 22.8% 17.5% 171 24.0% 17.5%
 3.5 to 6.5 94 27.7% 24.5% 149 24.8% 21.5% 109 34.9% 18.3% 352 28.7% 21.3%
 0 to 3 134 26.9% 23.9% 239 22.6% 19.2% 186 21.0% 27.4% 559 23.1% 23.1%
 All 318 24.2% 23.9% 474 23.4% 20.2% 370 25.2% 23.2% 1162 24.2% 22.2%

Comments: away favorites have eaten lots of money over the years, but pairing a mid-favorite (laying more than a field goal, less than a touchdown) with the Over has been a moderate success.


Making winning NFL Parlay Wagers

So there you have some no handicapping, historical winning NFL parlay combinations. Of course what happened in the early 1990's doesn't seem too relevant today, so the next step is to check how the NFL Parlay winning combos have done in say the last couple of years. That's something we'll be saving for a subscriber article though...

Another point to ponder before you discard NFL parlays as a worthwhile betting option is that the above numbers reflect no handicapping. If you can isolate a good side though, perhaps there's reason to believe you can expect the general over/under splits to remain similar in which case you could take some of these side-total parlays and make them potentially high probability indeed. After all, to say the total points scored in a game and the side that covers are not connected in any way seems a pretty bold stand. If there is even some level of correlation that may make parlays, on occasion, worth a second look!


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