There are several different types of football wager you can place,
and two of them are significantly more popular than the others.
The most popular of all is the point spread wager, followed by
the totals wager. In this article, we’re focusing on the point
If you have any interest at all in betting on football, then you
really should know how to bet the point spread effectively. It’s not
necessarily the “best” type of wager in terms of the potential for
winning money, but it’s relatively simple and does present some
profitable opportunities if you know what you’re doing.
On this page we teach you the basics of betting football point spreads. We explain how they work, and why
they’re so popular. We also explain the challenges involved in making money from them. Finally, we offer
some tips and strategy advice for placing wagers of this type.
What Are Football Parlays
The theory with point spreads is that a wager on either team to win a football game is as close to a 50/50
shot as possible. You’re not actually betting on which team will win the game, you’re betting on which team
will “cover the spread”. The favorite has to win by at least a certain number of points for a wager on them to
be successful, and the underdog has to lose by less than the same number of points for a wager on them to
Another way to view it is that, for the purposes of the betting, the favorite has points deducted from their
score and the underdog has points added to their final score. The number of points varies, depending on the
gap in quality between two teams. If one team is much stronger than the other, the number of points can be
quite high (a big spread). If the two teams are more evenly matched, the number of points is low (a small
Number of Selections
As you can see, the payouts get higher as more selections are included. A lot of bettors include a lot of selections in their football parlays for this very reason. The problem with this approach is that they get exponentially harder to win with more selections. And even parlays with just two or three selections are not exactly easy to win.
If one single selection is wrong then the whole wager is lost.
This is the major drawback of parlays. The high payouts can seem very tempting, but there’s a big question as to whether they are sensible wagers to place. It’s common for at least one game to not play out as expected each weekend, and just one wrong selection means no payout at all. This can be pretty frustrating if, for example, you’ve picked five selections and the other four are right.
That’s the risk you take with parlays though, and it’s precisely why the payouts are so high.
Please note that the payouts for parlays are not always calculated using fixed odds, although that’s usually the case when the selections are all points spreads and/or totals. Some sites use true odds though. This doesn’t mean that the odds accurately reflect the chances of a wager winning, but rather that they are calculated by multiplying together the odds for all selections. For example, the odds for a parlay including three moneyline selections could look something like this.
Selection 1: -250
Selection 2: -250
Selection 3: -300
Payout Odds: +161
The payout odds here mean that, if all three selections were correct, you’d win the same amount as if you bet on each game individually and then rolled your stake and winnings onto the next selection each time. This method usually represents better value than the fixed odds method.
We previously referred to the fact that parlays can be quite frustrating if just one selection lets you down. You might like to know that there is an alternative to standard parlays that reduces the likelihood of experiencing such frustration – progressive parlays. These allow a little room for error. In exchange for taking lower odds if you get all your selections correct, you still receive a payout if just one of your selections is wrong. You have to include at least four selections though. If you include seven or more, you’ll even receive a payout if TWO selections let you down
Here’s an example of the kind of payout odds you might see for progressive parlays.
Number of Selections
Odds if All Correct
Odds if 1 Wrong
Odds if 2 Wrong
Progressive parlays are basically a slightly safer option than standard parlays. The potential payouts are quite a bit lower though, so they’re not necessarily a better option. It ultimately depends on your attitude to risk versus reward.
Should You Bet Football Parlays?
A lot of so-called betting experts believe that parlays should be avoided at all costs, and there is some logic to their views, but they are still a very popular type of wager. Are they a wager you should consider yourself though? Well, there isn’t really a correct answer to this question. We’re not here to tell you exactly how you should or shouldn’t bet, but rather to give you information and advice that will help you to make your own mind up.
Parlays can be a lot of fun, and the chance of a really big win is always tempting. So there are definitely some arguments for using them on occasion. It’s important to remember a point we made earlier though.
The bookmakers love parlays.
Bookmakers generally make a good profit margin on parlays. They have to make big payouts sometimes, but those are more than covered than by all the stakes they take on losing parlays. And most parlays do lose. The simple fact is that it’s enough of a challenge to get a single selection correct. Having to get multiple selections correct in order to win a wager is beyond challenging.
Our view is therefore that parlays are not wagers that you should be placing with any regularity. We’re not telling you to ignore them completely, but we do advise that you use them sparingly. With that being said, there are some circumstances in which a parlay may well be the optimal wager to place.
When a correlated parlay is available
When using free play credits
The term correlated parlay refers to a wager where you combine two or more selections that are directly related, and if one of them happens then the others are likely to happen too. For example, you might combine a bet on a team to win the first half of a game with one on them to also win the second half of a game, and another one on them to win the game overall. Obviously if the first two happen then so would the third one. So by combining all three into a parlay you’d effectively be getting better odds than you should on an outcome.
It’s rare that you’ll find true correlated parlays available at betting sites these days, although they do exist occasionally. If you tried to place a parlay such as the one we’ve referred to above though, it would almost certainly not be accepted. It’s just too obviously an attempt to manipulate the odds.
Semi-correlated parlays are often allowed though. The best example of these is combining a points spread bet selection with a totals selection on the same game. There are a few different spots where this might be advantageous. We’ll demonstrate one of these, based on the following two markets for a football game.
Chiefs vs Pats Point Spread
Chiefs +5 -105
Patriots -5 -115
Chiefs vs Pats Point Spread
Over 42 -108
Under 42 -102
With a spread of -5, the Patriots are clearly the stronger team here. But let’s say that you’ve taken a view on the game that the Chiefs stand a good chance of covering the spread if they can deal with the Patriots’ offense well enough. This would be a good spot to parlay a bet on the Chiefs at +5 with a bet on the under. If the Chiefs are going to win, it will be in a low scoring game. So it makes sense to combine the two bets and get better odds. Your chances of winning the parlay are less than winning a single point spread bet, but the overall value is better due to the increased odds. You’ll lose more often in the long run, but the payouts will be better when you do win.
Another good time to place a parlay would be when there’s a big spread but a comparatively low line set for the total. If you feel that the favorite is likely to cover, there’s a good chance that the total will also go over. So you’d place a parlay combining the favorite on the spread and the over.
Using Free Play Credits
A lot of football betting sites offer bonuses in the form of “free play credits”. With these, you don’t actually get extra funds added into your account. Instead, you’re awarded credits that can be used instead of staking your own money to place wagers. You still get the appropriate payout if the relevant wagers win, but you don’t get the stake money back.
For example, let’s say you had $100 worth of free play credits and you decided to put them on all a wager at odds of +150. If the wager lost, you’ve only lost your free play credits. If the wager won, the free play credits would be spent but you’d get the $150 payout.
Because the free play credits are basically for one time use only, you want to get maximum value from them. By betting a two team parlay, for example, you’re effectively betting the same free play credits on two separate wagers. This could be perceived as offering twice the value. That’s not to say a parlay itself represents better value than a single wager, but as free play credits are essentially “risk free”, using them on parlays does make a lot of sense. Although there’s less chance of a payout, the potential payout is higher.
In addition to the above two uses of parlays, you should also consider using teasers. These are a type of parlay, where the point spread or totals is adjusted in your favor in exchange for lower odds. Teasers are therefore significantly easier to get right, and there are some good strategies for using them when betting on football. Please see the following two pages for more information.
Whether you include parlays in your football betting or not is, of course, entirely your choice. If you do decide to use them, please try to always bear the following advice in mind.
Avoid Fixed Odds Parlays
Earlier we explained the differences between fixed odds parlays and true odds parlays. You should really avoid fixed odds parlays as a general rule, because the payouts are effectively lower than they technically should be. It’s hard enough to make a profit from these wagers in the long run without the odds being shaved.
Most betting sites will automatically calculate the payout for parlay using true odds rather than fixed odds if any of the selections are at odds other than -110. So a good trick here is to always try to include such a selection. Doing basically forces a betting site into paying out at the better odds.
Keep your stakes small
You should never risk too big a percentage of your bankroll on any wager, and this rule is especially applicable to parlays. You could easily place dozens upon dozens of parlays without winning one, so they’re a surefire way to go broke if betting them with big stakes.
There’s no “correct” for how much to stake on parlays, but we’d recommend staking less than you usually do on other wagers. If you typically stake $50 on a point spread wager, for example, then somewhere between $10 and $20 is about right for a parlay.
Keep the number of selections down
This a pretty simple tip, and perhaps a fairly obvious one. It’s worth mentioning nonetheless. The more selections you include in a parlay, the harder it is to get right. The payouts go up of course, but you’re far more likely to turn a profit on parlays in the long run by trying to win a few smaller ones than you are by chasing that one big payout.
Check the maximum payout
Bookmakers and betting sites almost always a maximum payout. This means that the amount you can win on any one wager is limited. This is unlikely to be much of an issue for you unless you’re a serious high roller, but it can potentially come into play with parlays. Let’s say, for example, that you place a $50 15 team parlay. The correct payout for this wager if it won would be $75,000 (based on odds of +150000), but a betting site might have a maximum payout for a single wager of $50,000.
If this was the case, $50,000 is “all” you would get. So there was no point in risking as much as $50. This is something to bear in mind if you bet parlays at fairly high stakes and/or include a lot of selections.
For the serious bettor who has aspirations of making serious profits, football parlays are best avoided for the most part. They are worth considering when using free play credits, or when it’s possible to place a correlated parlay, but that’s about it. Parlays are simply too hard to get right, and are more likely to drain a bankroll than boost one. There need to be fairly exceptional circumstances, outside of those mentioned, for a parlay to represent genuinely good value.
There’s no real harm in recreational bettors placing parlays for a bit of fun, and to try to get a big score, but they should still proceed with caution. Only a small percentage of their bankroll should be allocated to wagers of this type.
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