Super Bowl Coin Toss Betting: History and Trends
by Trevor Whenham - 1/27/2015
There is not a dumber bet out there than betting on the Super Bowl coin toss. Over the long term you are just throwing money away. There is no skill involved and no chance of winning in the long term. As much as I know that it's a waste of time, I am fascinated by it. I love that people still bet on it - quite aggressively, for that matter. So, while it's a silly bet that I would never actually make myself, I can't resist breaking it down and looking at the history of it - just in case I can find an edge. Which I can't, of course - this is as random as it gets. Still…
Before we delve into history, let's look at the odds. Bovada is offering four different coin toss props this year. You pay -105 on either side to take heads or tails or that the Patriots or Seahawks will win the toss. The price jumps to -115 to bet whether the team that wins the coin toss will win the game or whether the team that calls the coin toss is correct.
If this comes as a shock to you then you really need to brush up on some basic math before you bet any more. There are two sides to a coin. Each side is equally likely to wind up facing up after the coin is tossed. That means that, over a long period of time, you should see exactly as many heads as you see tails. One side could go on a run, but over the long term that will level out and things will be equal. The sample size is small on Super Bowls - only 48 have been played - but the math is surprisingly accurate in this case. Heads has come up 24 times. Those counting along at home also know, then, that tails has come up 24 times. Perfectly split. Shocking.
While history would suggest that betting on the outcome of the coin toss isn't a great bet, it turns out that betting on whether the team that wins the coin toss goes on to win the game is even worse - only because you have to pay a bigger price. Think about it for a second - the coin toss is totally random, so each team has the exact same chance of winning the toss. Over the long term, then, the team that wins the toss should go on to win the game just as much as they go on to lose it. As fate would have it, that is exactly the case right now - the team that has won the coin toss has won 24 of 48 Super Bowls played.
This is the third time that the Seahawks have played in the Super Bowl. They have one win, but in one regard they are unbeaten - they have never lost a Super Bowl coin toss. It's up to you to decide whether they are on a roll that will continue or if they are due for a loss. Or you can just accept that the toss is completely random, save your money, and go grab another beer from the fridge while the toss happens.
The Patriots have much more Super Bowl experience but much less coin toss success. They are a dismal 2-5 in Super Bowl coin tosses and just 1-4 in the Brady-Belichick era. They did win their last coin toss, though, so they are riding a killer wave of momentum into this one.
Here's a trend we can really take to the bank. This is the third time that the Super Bowl has been played in the greater Phoenix area. Not only did it come up tails both times, but the NFC team won both the toss and the game each time. Of course, the first of those tosses was in Tempe, while the last one and this are in Glendale. You'll have to consider whether the shift west has an impact on your expectations, or if it somehow weakens your faith in this rock-solid trend.
I'll admit that this one is a little odd - the NFC has won 17 of the last 20 coin tosses, including a string of 14 straight starting in 1998. Maybe it's destiny for the Seahawks. There's one twist that complicates things, though - two of the three AFC winners have been the Patriots.
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