Gambling is stupid. I cannot stress this point enough. Small armies with supercomputers are paid vast amounts of money to ensure that everything stacks against Joe Gambler. You and your gut and/or system are nothing compared to their resources. If there was any way to consistently make money, it wouldn't be called gambling, and moreover, the rules of the game would be changed so you stop making money. Don't gamble.
But you're going to gamble, especially on sports. This is what people everywhere do, particularly on the Super Bowl, the Zeus of gambling events. You're going to gamble on weird things, like the color of the National Anthem singer's hair or how many times Peyton Manning yells Omaha. You're going to put a non-trivial amount of money on an outcome you have absolutely no informed opinion about. You're going to do it because it's the Super Bowl.
Far be it for me to stop you. In fact, I want to help. I will not be gambling myself -- because it's stupid! -- but I've taken a look at some common bets and taken a bit of a statistical crack at them. What you do with this information is your own responsibility, but hopefully it will help you make an informed decision. You can be the person at the party who says you put $100 on some prop bet and back it up with serious, honest-to-god stats. This way, you can blame statistical randomness for your loss, not yourself.
Of course, this is the exact reason why you shouldn't gamble. No matter how informed you are, you're betting on one instance. The whole point of a spread or odds is to even the playing field so each bet is equally likely to pay out. You're gambling on chance.
Squares is that 100-box grid where each axis has the numbers zero through nine (one axis is for the winning team, the other for the losing team), and the winner will have the right combination of the last digit of each team's point total. There are a few variations of squares. Some have payouts at the end of each quarter, others are 100 percent for the end of the game. Some allocate the squares through a random draw, others through an auction.
I've taken a look at the results by quarter of all Super Bowls since 1994 (when the two-point conversion era began) to determine the most common winning squares. I have a couple of suggestions, but remember the entire point of this game is to give people who know nothing about football something to focus on during the game. So the most you can do is slightly increase your odds.
In 18 of the 19 Super Bowls since 1994, the winning team had a 0, 3, 4 or 7 at the end of the first quarter. The losing team had a zero 13 of the 19 games (logical!), and had a 3 or 7 the other six games.
The most common number for the winning team was 7 (seven occurrences) and zero (four occurrences). The losing team also had zero a bunch of times (five, to be exact) with 3, 4, 6 and 7 the other possibilities.
Things start to spread out a bit by now as a larger variance of point combinations come into play. 4 and 7 are the most common choices for the winning team (six and five occurrences, respectively) while 7 is the easy choice for the losing team.
The winning team has most frequently had a 1 (five times), 4 (four times) or 7 (three times). The losing team has had a 1 or 7 for ten of the 19 Super Bowls.
Even if your pool pays out for the other quarters, it usually weights the final score heavily (something like a 10 percent pot payoff for each quarter, 70 percent for the final score). Having a 1 for either team puts you in good position for the final score, but you're sacrificing a decent shot at a payoff after any of the quarters, so you'll have to make the call based on what kind of pool you're in.
Any combinations of 4 or 7, with 3 and 1 as second options, should put you in the best position to pay off at some point. Avoid 2, 5, and 8 for either team. If you're trying to predict beyond this, you must have a level of prescience I can't fathom.
How long will it take Renee Fleming to sing the National Anthem?
Over 2 minutes 25 seconds: EVEN
Under 2 minutes 25 seconds: -140
As far as I can tell, past National Anthem performances by the designated singer don't provide much insight into the length of the Super Bowl National Anthem. Some perform it quite differently, others don't. What we do know is Vegas seems to err to one side with their lines.
The last Under on the National Anthem prop bet was Billy Joel in 2007. Since then, every single National Anthem has either been a push or over. The only advice I have for this prop bet is think about whether Vegas might overestimate how much performers will milk the aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyy of "brave".
Of course, if I've noticed this, and it seems so have the odds makers. 2:25 is an extremely high line (the last few years have been 2:05, 1:34, 1:54, 1:41, 2:01, 1:42 and 1:44) perhaps as a result of Fleming being an opera singer. Alicia Keys did clock in at 2:35 last year, so the Over isn't unfathomable, but nobody else since 2007 has come within 15 seconds of the 2:30 mark. For even money, I would say the Over is too risky to justify.
Don't gamble on this as an excuse to care about the National Anthem. This is stupid.
* * *
Let's get to things that actually have to do with the game. I analyzed all NFL games through Week 12 (163 games, thanks to Advanced NFL Stats for the data) for the frequency of certain prop bets so we can make informed decisions. (Again, I'm sure the odds makers have as well, as the line will reflect this.) While there are more prop bets out there than you can shake a Peyton Manning forehead at, I chose a few where some analysis could prove helpful.
All odds are from Bovada.
Will there be a safety?
14 of the 163 games through Week 12 featured a safety, or just about 8.5 percent of games, which is slightly above the typical annual average. For a rare occurrence like a safety, "No" is almost always the right bet, and this is no exception. A safety would have to occur in roughly 16 percent of games to justify a +600, so the line is pretty far off. But, there's always Super Bowl XLVI.
Which will be the highest scoring quarter?
1st Quarter +400
2nd Quarter +180
3rd Quarter +250
4th Quarter +180
Here are the point totals by quarter through Week 12:
The second quarter is the obvious bet. Avoid the temptation of that first quarter line.
Will there be a scoreless quarter in the game?
Yes (Scoreless Quarter) +225
No (Scoreless Quarter) -285
Through Week 12, there were 30 scoreless quarters out of 652, which is 4.6 percent. Poor weather may slightly shift the odds, but probably not enough to make Yes a good bet.
Will the game go to overtime?
Yes (Overtime) +550
No (Overtime) -900
There were nine overtime games (out of 163) through Week 12, or about 5 percent. "Yes" is a terrible bet.
Will there be a defensive or special teams touchdown in the game?
Yes (Defensive or Special Teams TD) +155
No (Defensive or Special Teams TD) -190
Lines tend to overestimate how much certain teams are prone to these types of fairly random events, so it's best to evaluate the league as a whole, particularly when you're betting on one game. 66 of the 163 games featured a special teams or defensive touchdown, or just over 40 percent. I'd say this is too close to call.
How many successful field goals will be kicked in the game?
Over 3½ (+120)
Under 3½ (-150)
Oh yeah, look at that standard distribution.
76 of the games featured fewer than four field goals, while 86 had four or more. So the odds are slightly in favor of the over, which the odds correctly reflect. Cold weather does have a statistically significant impact on field goal distance, so that might come into play. If forced to choose, I would recommend the Under, but just barely.
Total number of penalties by both teams
Over 12½ (-105)
Under 12½ (-125)
According to Pro Football Reference, Terry McAulay, the Super Bowl's referee, was below league average with 11.25 penalties/game for 97.2 yards/game (league average is 12.17 for 105). So, sure, Under sounds fine.
Coin toss results
This is the example stats professors use when demonstrating a completely random event. If you bet on this, your sports book will report you to Gamblers Anonymous.