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 Patriots lead the Giants 17-14 at halftime, the person with 7 on the Patriots axis and 4 on the Giants 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 2011-12 Patriots and Giants games to determine your best bets for Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
The Basics (Using 2011-12 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 (592 times), 7 and 3 – over two-thirds of the possible scores. The least frequent were 2 (42 times), 5, 8 and 9. And the most frequent combinations? 7-0 (151 times), 3-0, 0-0, 7-3 and 7-4. Over 46% of the combinations were made of these five winners. Three combinations did not happen a single time during the past NFL season¬ 2-2, 2-9, 5-5 & 8-8.
(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 Six Years)
The disbursement table for 2011-12 looks remarkably the same as the table that includes data from the past five years (consists of all 1,067 regular season and postseason games from 2006-07 through the 2011-12 playoffs). The latter chart, though, obviously includes six 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, 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 1,600 first quarters of NFL football), there has been just two first quarter winners with an 8 (somehow the Vikings and Adrian Peterson scored 28 in the first quarter against the Cardinals this year in week 5). In fact, when looking at the first quarter, unless you have a 0, 3 or 7, it’s not looking good. 90.0% of first quarter scores have had scores ending in those three numbers, with 0 hitting 45.5% of the time. (And don’t celebrate if you have 2 or 5; 2 has hit six times and 5 hit five times in the last six 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 68.9% of numbers in the second quarter, 59.5% in the third and 47.8% 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 (5.9% to 13.0%), 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 (0.4% combined), in the fourth quarter they have accounted for 13.7% of hits in the last six 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, 4-0 and 7-3. These six account for over 35.9% of the final scores over the past six years. 2-2 has NEVER hit in the past five years.
Super Bowl History
Data from 45 years of Super Bowls tells much of the same story as the past six NFL seasons. The top six combos from 180 Super Bowl quarters are the same as our five-year data (with 4-0 tied for 5th), 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 three of the four that didn’t hit in all of 11-12 (2-9 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 45 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.
Patriots vs. Giants
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 Patriots and Giants most frequent scores this year. The Patriots have played 18 games (72 quarters of football), while the Giants 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!
One number in particular stands out in this bunch: the Giants hit 0 about 25% more than the historical average. You might think that maybe it’s because they haven’t score in the first part of games. In actuality, though, it’s because the Giants are prone to score twice in a quarter – a touchdown AND a field goal. A 10 is the same as a 0 when it comes to squares. In fact, in 12 postseason quarters the Giants have scored 10 points in five of the quarters. Also, in 12 postseason quarters the Giants have finished a quarter with 0 eight times, including every quarter against the 49ers in the NFC Championship.
2012 Super Bowl Squares Prediction
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 NE 7-0, NE 14-10, NE 21-20 and NYG 30-27 in overtime..
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!