We’ve all been in one of those Super Bowl Squares pools. You know, the kind – where you put a buck in the pot and are assigned a square on a 10×10 grid. Each square corresponds to a pair of numbers, one for the NFC team and one for the AFC team. The score at the end of each quarter — specifically the ones digit for each team’s score — determines which square wins 25% of the total cash pot. For instance, if the Steelers lead the Packers 17-14 at halftime, the person with 7 on the Steelers axis and 4 on the PAckers axis wins the cash.
I’ve always wondered which squares were most likely to win. Logic tells you that a combination of 0s, 3s and 7s could be good, while 2s and 5s are not so good. So what squares are the best and which numbers should you hope to randomly draw? I looked at data for all NFL games played since the 2006-07 season to determine the answer to that question, and then I looked at results from past Super Bowls and scores from the 2010-11 Steelers and Packers games to determine your best bets for Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.
The Basics (Using 2010-11 Data)
There were 256 regular season NFL games and ten postseason games so far this year for a total of 266 games…or more importantly, 1,064 quarters played and 1,064 combinations of winning scores. Even though there are 100 squares on the board, we’ll group like combinations (e.g. 3-7 and 7-3) to make our findings a little clearer.
As expected, the most frequent scores this year ended in 0 (596 times), 7 and 3 – almost two-thirds of the possible scores. The least frequent were 2 (22 times), 5, 9 and 8. And the most frequent combinations? 7-0 (155 times), 3-0, 0-0, 7-3 and 7-4. Over 45% of the combinations were made of these five winners. Three combinations did not happen a single time during the past NFL season¬ 2-1, 2-2, 2-6, 2-8, 5-5 & 5-6.
(A note about the graphics in this article: I used a color-coding system to show the largest numbers in dark green and the smallest numbers in dark red. The rest of the numbers fall somewhere in the green-yellow-red spectrum.)
More Details (Using Data From the Past Five Years)
The disbursement table for 2010-11 looks remarkably the same as the table that includes data from the past four years (consists of all 1,067 regular season and postseason games from 2006-07 through the 2010-11 playoffs). The latter chart, though, obviously includes five times as many data points and may be a slightly better indicator of the true probability of each of the combinations. Here is the hit percentage (since I know some of you would rather see % rather than the raw #) for each combination.
Breaking It Down Even More (Quarter-By-Quarter)
To this point, our data has simply shown the aggregate number of occurrences for each number across all quarters. What the data hasn’t shown is some numbers are better to have in one quarter over another. For instance, winston cigarettes you might expect a 0-0 to happen much more frequently at the end of the first quarter (because of a scoreless first quarter) compared to the end of the game.
These numbers show the percentage of all quarter-winning scores over the past four years. So, in a 7-7 quarter, 7 is actually counted twice. Although the table above does not tell us what combinations are best for each quarter, logic indicates if you have two low-percentage numbers the odds are not in your favor to win the cash.
First Quarter: If you have an 8 in the first quarter, give up. In the last five years (over 1,300 first quarters of NFL football), there has been just one first quarter winners with an 8 (remember when Mike Vick lit up the Redskins for 28 first quarter points in week 10 this year?). In fact, when looking at the first quarter, unless you have a 0, 3 or 7, it’s not looking good. 90.1% of first quarter scores have had scores ending in those three numbers, with 0 hitting 45.7% of the time. (And don’t celebrate if you have 2 or 5; 2 has hit four times and 5 hit three times in the last five years.)
Last Three Quarters: 0-3-7 continue to be the most popular numbers in the last three quarters, but not by nearly the same dominant margin — 0-3-7 account for 68.8% of numbers in the second quarter, 59.2% in the third and 47.6% at game’s end. So as the game progresses, other numbers are able to get some action. For instance, 4 more than doubles its percentage from the first to second quarter (6.1% to 13.3%), and it even overtakes 3 in the fourth quarter. And although the 2-5-8 combo are the runts of the litter in the first quarter (0.3% combined), in the fourth quarter they have accounted for 13.5% of hits in the last five years.
Final Quarter: In some pools, the end of game score pays more than the rest of the quarters. In these pools, the most valuable combos are 7-0, 3-0, 7-4, 4-1 and 4-0. These five account for over 31% of the final scores over the past five years. 2-2 has NEVER hit in the past five years.
Super Bowl History
Data from 44 years of Super Bowls tells much of the same story as the past five NFL seasons. The top six combos from 176 Super Bowl quarters are the same as our five-year data, and again, almost two-thirds of the scores end in 0, 3 or 7. On the flip side, 18 combinations of numbers have failed to appear in the Super Bowl, including the five of the six that didn’t hit in all of 10-11 (2-8 was the exception). The number you certainly want to stay away from is 5 as it has partnered only with 0, 1, and 9 for winning combinations (not even 5-3 or 5-7 have happened in the Super Bowl!).
The most common Super Bowl final score combination? 7-4 hit in five of the 44 years. Interestingly enough, the NFC had the 7 each time. 1, 2, 5, 8 and 9 have NEVER hit in the first quarter of the Super Bowl.
Steelers vs. Packers
While we can’t do the same type of combination matrix for individual teams as we have in the rest of the analysis, we can look at the Steelers and Packers most frequent scores this year. The Steelers have played 18 games (72 quarters of football), while the Pack played one additional playoff game for 76 quarters.
The Steelers and the Packers also may be more prone to particular numbers compared to what our five-year data would suggest. This table shows the difference between the historical average and the average for each team this year.
In some years, a participating team may outpace the league average for one reason or another. For instance, in 2009-10 the Colts hit 0 about half the times they would have been expected to land on 0. In fact, the Colts had 0 only 10 times last season – and three of them were against the Jets in the AFC Championship!
While the Steelers don’t seem to deviate too far from the historical league averages, The Packers do hit 8 more than history would suggest. The Packers hit 8 at three times more often than expected. Initially I thought this was because the Pack was one of the leading scorers in the league, and thus more likely to get four touchdowns and a score ending in 8. It turns out, though, the Pack is only the 10th leading scorer in the league, just ahead the 12th place Steelers. But when Green Bay did score, they could score in bunches: twice they scored 28 points in a quarter, and 10 times they hit 14 points.
So what does all this analysis tell us about this year’s big game? First of all it tells me I wasted multiple hours proving to myself that 0, 3, 4 and 7 are good, and if I get 2 or 5 I’m screwed. But based on the last four years of data, Super Bowl history and this year’s competing teams, I’ll go with quarter scores of 7-7, GB 14-10, GB 14-13 and GB 28-24.
But really, I’d be just as happy to see an early field goal and a couple of first quarter safeties, no further scoring, and four winning 5-2 quarters. Good luck!!!
Andy Frushour is the commissioner of the Monkeyball World Championships (a popular tournament version of the classic ladder golf game). Casey Frushour is a freelance graphic designer in Ann Arbor, Michigan.