Super Bowl squares: The best and worst combinations


Even in this digital age, if you find yourself at a Super Bowl party on a Sunday, you might be asked if you’d like to join a box pool. also known as the ideal leftover use of poster board and sharpies; also known as Super Bowl squares. No skills are required – participants don’t really “pick” anything other than a random square on a grid – but there’s a chance of a decent payout if you have one of the winning boxes. And, most interesting for our purposes, when the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles enter the field, you can tell instantly if the odds are in your favor from the numbers you get.

First step back. For the unfamiliar, Super Bowl squares require contestants to place their name or initials in one or more of 100 squares in a 10 by 10 grid. These initialized squares eventually cover the entire grid, at which point each column and row is labeled with a random number from 0 to 9, with each axis corresponding to one of the teams. To determine which box is a winner, take the last digit of each Super Bowl team’s score — sometimes at the end of each quarter, at each score change, and/or at the final whistle — and find the corresponding square on the grid. If you have Chiefs 4 and Eagles 7 and the final score is 34-27 Chiefs – or 27-24 Eagles – you win.

Tips, props and best bets for Super Bowl 57

However, while each contestant has an equal chance of filling in the numbers, not every combination of numbers has the same chance of winning. NFL scoring clusters around the numbers three and seven, making boxing with those numbers (or 0) the most lucrative. Since 2015, when the league pushed back the line of scrimmage for extra point kick attempts, the best square for an NFL game has been 0|0, a scoring combination found at the end of about eight percent of quarters of all games in the last eight seasons, including the playoffs. In an imaginary $1 pool that awards $25 at the end of each quarter (for a game that usually ends), this combination has an expected value of $7.59 per $1 wagered. It is by far the most lucrative field to own, followed by 7|0; 0|7; 0|3; 3|0; and 7|7. In general, the more 0, 3, and 7 squares you have, the better.

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(The first number listed in these combinations is for the home team, which is technically the Eagles in this Super Bowl. Obviously, even though the Eagles are slight favorites in the game, there is no real home field advantage in the Super Bowl.)

The worst squares to own are those numbered 2, 5, 8, and 9. Most of them fetch less than $0.50 on the dollar, with some – like 5|2, 2|2, and 9|8 – return less than a cent for every $1 wagered. If you get the 4|2 square, just enjoy the start of the game or the buffet table: it’s the worst for a first quarter payout. Feel free to feel sorry for anyone who has 2|9, 9|8, or 5|9, as those are terrible options too.

Historical trends are a good place to start, but we can get a little more specific using data from the teams in Sunday’s matchup. For example, in games with an over/under total of about 50 or 51 points, similar to this Super Bowl, the frequency of the 0|0 field drops from 16 percent to 12 percent in the first quarter, while the 3|3 field almost is hit doubles in frequency, from 4 percent overall to 7 percent. (The over/under total is the betting term for the total score available in the game.) There are some small sample size biases in these calculations, but they are revealing nonetheless.

Of course, what we really want to know is which boxes work best for that particular game. It’s a relatively easy task since we know how each team has fared compared to their competition this season. The Chiefs led the league with 2.7 points per drive while the Eagles were second at 2.6 points per drive, playoffs included. However, Philadelphia’s defense was much better at limiting opponents (1.7 points per drive allowed, sixth) than Kansas City (2.0, 19th), which should slightly skew which boxes are most coveted in this game .

This can be further broken down by quarter, allowing for even more detailed data to be used to model a potential score. Using this data and simulating the game 10,000 times while recording how many points are expected in each frame can provide some reasonable expectations for a squares pool. Based on this model, the most likely outcome after the first quarter is 3-3, which occurs 14 percent of the time, almost twice as often as in games with an over/under total of 50 or 51.

In fact, a 3-3 tie after the first quarter is expected to be the best square/quarter combination this Super Bowl Sunday, beating all other squares in every interval. One of the teams leading 3-0 after the first quarter is the next best option (11 percent chance for 0|3 and 3|0), closely followed by a goalless first quarter (10 percent of the simulations). A box of 3|0 or 0|3 is best for halftime and a 0|3 box, meaning the Eagles end their score with a zero and the Chiefs have a three, is considered the best square, to own at the end of the third quarter. Our predictions are that the box most likely to take home the final prize at the end of the game is 3|6, which could mean the Eagles win 23-16, 33-26, or even 13-6 – or a 36-33 victory for the Chiefs.

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For even more ways to enjoy the Super Bowl, don’t miss our extravagant printable odds, our look at first touchdown odds and our favorite in-game bets.

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