How to Place (and Win) Your First NFL Parlay

Have you always wanted to try your hand at parlays but didn't understand them?

You're not alone.

I spent a decade placing traditional sports bets before I learned about parlays and started incorporating them into my betting strategy.

Though NFL parlays are popular at online books, they're also fully legal in both Delaware and Nevada. Other states are considering adding parlay bets to their lottery systems. New Jersey is chief among them. It's becoming a common way to wager on America's favorite game. In tiny Delaware, parlay tickets produce about $40 million of revenue each year – $33 for every person living in the state.

What Is a Parlay?

Sometimes called accumulators or combo bets, parlays are single bets based on a combination of two to fifteen individual bets. An NFL parlay requires a bet on two or more teams to cover the spread. If all the teams in your parlay do that, you win a big payout. Payouts are based on the number of teams in your parlay bet.

Why combine bets into a single parlay?

The payouts are higher than what you'd win for placing each individual bet. The payouts are higher because it's harder to win a combo bet.

Here's the downside of betting an NFL parlay:

If any of your teams don't cover, the entire parlay is lost. If any of your bets produce a "push" result, the payout reverts to the next-highest payout based on the pay table. When it comes to parlay, going 4-1 on your picks is the same as going 0-5.

Make no mistake. A parlay is an exotic wager.

But don't let that scare you away.

As with most wagers, there is a smart way and a dumb way to place parlays. So long as you know what not to do you'll be able to add some excitement to your bets (and earn a little cash) using NFL parlays.

Why are NFL Parlays so Popular?

Parlays are popular because they're fun, they're easy to understand, and they offer larger payouts than you find in traditional sports bets.

Parlays Are Fun

The combination of bets adds drama. When a big payout rests on the outcome of multiple games, your adrenaline level pumps that much more. It makes sports betting more exciting. Parlays are the realm of adrenaline junkies. They're more exciting than straight bets.

Parlays Are Simple

Once you learn the basic jargon and how to read a parlay ticket, parlays are easy to understand. You may be confused now, just because you're unfamiliar with an NFL parlay ticket. But trust me, once you "get it," you'll be amazed at how easy it is to place and win a parlay.

Parlays (Can Be) Profitable

You may have seen this story about the guy whose $15 parlay earned him $44,000 during Week Two of the NFL season. Or this article in USA Today about an amateur UFC bettor who turned a $1 parlay into $49,000. Those big wins seem based on luck more than anything else. And while they're impressive, it's more impressive to see what a value bettor can do with a whole season's worth of NFL parlays.

How to Place a Parlay Bet

Imagine you're checking out the upcoming Sunday games and you see two games that you can make a strong play on. Rather than betting on each game individually, you can add each of your three wagers to a single parlay wager.

It's easy to do this at online books. These days, they all offer an "add bet to parlay" option right in the graphical user interface. You start by making your first pick (picking the Giants to cover the spread against the Cowboys) and adding it to a new parlay ticket. Now, each additional bet you place (like New England -10 at Miami) can be added to that existing parlay bet.

So how much will you win if both the Giants and Patriots cover?

Here's a typical NFL parlay pay table:

# of Teams in Parlay


2 13 to 5
3 6 to 1
4 10 to 1
5 20 to 1
6 40 to 1
7 75 to 1
8 100 to 1
9 150 to 1
10 300 to 1
11 450 to 1
12 600 to 1
13 750 to 1
14 900 to 1
15 1,500 to 1

For winning a two-team parlay (based on this fairly-standard NFL parlay pay table) you'd bring home a 13 to 5 payout. If you'd bet $100, you'd earn $260 back.

What would the payout have been if you'd placed a $50 straight wager on both outcomes?

At the standard -110 line, you'd pocket $45 for each win, for a total of $90.

Now you see the appeal of the football combo bet. Obviously, with a higher payout comes increased risk.

Is there a smart way to place NFL parlay wagers?

Basic NFL Parlay Strategy

I place parlay wagers every Sunday during the NFL and NCAA football season. I haven't quit my day job yet to bet combos full time, but I've managed to win often enough to keep me interested. If you follow a few simple tips, you can enjoy parlays without constantly handing your money over to the bookmaker.

Don't parlay more than three wagers at a time.

Look at the parlay pay table above. Starting at four legs, the payouts get really attractive.

Here's the trouble:

Your actual odds of winning are longer than the payouts. This is standard for organized gambling. The difference between true odds and payouts is the space where the books make their money on parlay bettors.

That difference between your odds and your payout is slimmest for two and three-leg parlay tickets. By adding more teams, you're increasing the book's vig. Once you get to ten-leg or bigger parlays, the odds you're facing are among the longest in the book.

Shop for the best payouts.

The pay table for parlays isn't standard across the board. Some online books (and some operations in Nevada and Delaware) attract players by offering better payouts than the rest of the industry.

Here's an example:

I know of two online books that pay 6.5/1 instead of 6/1 on three-team combo bets.

That's an extra $50 earned for every $100 wagered. You'd be dumb not to place your bet at a book with a higher payout. One book occasionally offers 15/1 on four-team NFL parlays to entice people to try out their parlay system. Considering the standard rate is 10/1, if you must make a four-team ticket, you may as well buy it from the book that's willing to pay you 50% more if you win.

Leverage strong bets.

Some bettors use parlays only when they want to bet on a huge favorite they feel strongly about. Let's say you like the Packers +7 with Aaron Rodgers at the top of his game against the league's worst passing defense. Instead of risking $100 to win $110, you can add a single bet to increase your return on your sure-thing wager.

Here's the question:

Is the added risk worth it?

If you also like the Texans' chance to cover a 10-point spread against the Kansas City Chiefs, you could build a two-team combo bet for the potential to win a 13/5 payout instead of two 1/1.1 payouts.


If you practice bankroll management, have a ton of knowledge about the game, and don't mind adding a little risk to the equation, NFL parlays are fun, easy to place, and potentially lucrative. People get into trouble with parlays when they don't understand all the games on their ticket, or bet out of their league, or try to form too large of a parlay for their skill set.

Follow the tips above and you'll have a blast combining bets for an even larger payout.