Winning the Super Bowl . . . pool

By Chris HorymskiConsumer Reports

We're going to wager that you're at least aware of Super Bowl pools and wouldn't be surprised that you're participating in one, whether it's with colleagues at work, your neighbors, or your friends at your favorite watering hole.

The rules can vary, but basically, you and other people buy one or more of the 100 squares in a 10-by-10 grid for a set price, say $5 each. After all the squares are bought, numbers 0 through 9 are randomly drawn and written along the edges of the grid. As the game unfolds, prizes are awarded for end-of-quarter scores, with the largest payout—say, 50 percent usually reserved for the final score.

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You don’t need any special insight about the Seahawks’ third-down efficiency to win, just dumb luck, which somewhat limits the advice we can dispense about the office tradition. However, a few informative and fun observations couldn’t hurt.

If you buy multiple squares, don’t pick a single row or column. From a cold, probabilistic standpoint, it doesn’t matter which squares you choose—before the numbers are assigned to the grid, each square has the same value. If you ended up purchasing half of the squares where the Broncos score ends in a 6, you’ll have a very specific rooting interest.

Sevens and zeros aren’t what they used to be. Thank the two-point conversion. The NFL reintroduced the two-point conversion in 1994, leading to special-team coaches carrying around conversion charts and making 20-17 finals slightly less common occurences. About one out of four NFL games this year had a two-point conversion attempt.

On the other hand, don’t expect to win with a 2-and-2 box. Deuces aren’t wild in the NFL. According to the Pro Football Reference website, of the nearly 15,000 NFL games played since 1922, only six ended with both teams scoring either 2, 12, 22, 32, or 42 points (including the October 8, 1922, tilt between the Milwaukee Badgers and the underrated Toledo Maroons).

If you’re trading squares, you’re taking this game way too seriously. Or wagering too much, or perhaps both. Besides, the unlikely can and has happened. In 2004's Super Bowl XXXLIII, the Patriots beat the Panthers 32-29. Both the 2 and the 9 are considered unlikely digits. So enjoy the game instead of swapping $5 boxes.

Make sure final is final. There’s never been overtime in a Super Bowl, but there’s always a first. So make sure your pool ringleader is clear about the difference between the end of 4th quarter and the final score.

Stop worrying about what might happen to your retirement savings when the Broncos win Sunday. According to the incredibly scientific Super Bowl indicator, investors are supposed to worry if an original NFL franchise doesn’t win the Super Bowl. This year, neither team can trace its roots back to George Halas and Paul Brown. We’ll take the half-full approach: With no original franchise around to lose, Sunday’s game will have no bearing on your investments.

—Chris Horymski

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