About the authors: Casey Frushour is a freelance graphic designer and web designer. Andy Frushour is an amateur stat nerd who loves Excel spreadsheets and playing sports — particularly Monkeyball. Both reside in Michigan.
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 Seahawks lead the Broncos 17-14 at halftime, the person with 7 on the Seahawks axis and 4 on the Broncos 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 to help you determine your best bets for Super Bowl XLVIII in NYC.
The Basics (Using 2013-14 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 (556 times), 7 and 3 – almost two-thirds of the possible scores. The least frequent were 5 (30 times), 2, 9 and 8. And the most frequent combinations? 7-0 (143 times), 3-0, 7-3, 4-0 and 0-0. 43% of the combinations were made of these five winners. Multiple combinations did not happen a single time during the past NFL season, including 2-2, 5-2, 5-5 and 6-5.
As I’ve written this article through the years, a number of readers have pointed out a flaw in combining like-numbered squares. For instance, yes, 7-0 hit 143 times in 2013-14 – but how many times did the home team have 7 and how times did the visiting team have 7? Turns out the home team had 7 (and visitors 0) a total of 77 times, while the visiting team had 7 66 times. In the image below, the home score is on the vertical axis, the visitor score is on the horizontal access.
In some respects, this next table is a better view of the likelihood of each combination. 7-0 hit 143 times this year for a total of 13.44%. In actuality, as we determined in the previous paragraph, there are two 7-0s on the board (7-0 and 0-7), so a better general representation is to halve 13.44% and make it 6.72% (although we know the actual split was 77 and 66 out of 143, which is not exactly half). Note that the percentage for 0-0 (and 1-1, 2-2, etc.) did not change because there is only ONE of those combinations on the board.
(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 Eight Years)
The disbursement table for 2013-14 looks remarkably the same as a table that includes data from the past eight years (consists of all 1,067 regular season and postseason games from 2006-07 through the 2013-14 playoffs). The latter chart, though, obviously includes eight 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 for each combination (like-numbered squares are COMBINED in this table).
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 seven 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 eight years (over 2,100 first quarters of NFL football), there has been just three first quarter winners with an 8. In fact, when looking at the first quarter, unless you have a 0, 3 or 7, it’s not looking good. Almost 90% of first quarter scores have had scores ending in those three numbers, with 0 hitting 44.7% of the time. (And don’t celebrate if you have 2 or 5; 2 has hit 13 times and 5 hit six times in the last seven years; although in 2013-14, 2 hit six times in the first quarter!)
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 68.2% of numbers in the second quarter, 58.2% in the third and 47.5% 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 (0.5% combined), in the fourth quarter they have accounted for 14.0% of hits in the last eight 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 3-0, 7-0, 7-4, 4-1, 7-3 and 4-0. These six account for over 34.9% of the final scores over the past seven years.
2013 Week 1 Oddity
For whatever reason, there were some strange “squares” happenings in week 1 this season. The 2 square gave the 3 a run for its money in the first week of the year. A 2 hit only 54 total times during the season, but 12 of those happened in the opening week (3 only hit 15 times that week). The 2-barrage was thanks to first quarter safeties by the Jets, Steelers and Jaguars. The Jets followed it up with 10 in the second quarter and 0 in the third (thus, three 2s), while the Steelers went 0 and 0 in the middle two quarters. The hapless Jags actually went scoreless the rest of the game, and finished with 2 total points for the game.
2014 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 DEN 7-3, DEN 10-6, DEN 17-13 and DEN 20-16.
But really, since I’ve NEVER been right, 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!