Zoltar is my machine learning system that predicts the outcomes of NFL football games. The first game of the season is Thursday, September 10, just over three weeks from now, so I’m starting to get Zoltar up to speed.
I’ve made different versions of Zoltar every year for several years. The problem of predicting NFL football scores lends itself to all kinds of interesting approaches. Every year I try a different twist or two, usually some kind of new optimization algorithm.
My preliminary work involved getting some basic infrastructure up and running. Zoltar’s preliminary predictions, which are certain to change before the first game is played, are:
1. Zoltar suggests a bet on the Steelers against the Browns. The early Vegas line has the Steelers as 6-point favorites over the Browns. Zoltar thinks the Steelers are 11 points better than the Browns. A bet on the Steelers will pay off only if the Steelers win by more than 6 points (in other words, 7 points or more). If the Steelers win by exactly 6 points, the bet is a push.
2. Zoltar likes the Vikings over the 49ers. Vegas has the Vikings as 5.5 points better than the 49ers but Zoltar thinks the Vikings are 10 points better.
3. Zoltar likes the Patriots over the Texans. Vegas has the Patriots as 6.5 points better than the Texans but Zoltar thinks the Patriot are 11 points better.
4. Zoltar likes the Panthers over the Cowboys. Vegas says the Panthers are just 2.5 points better than the Cowboys but Zoltar has the Panthers as 6 points better.
5. Zoltar likes the Cardinals over the Redskins. Vegas says the Cardinals are evenly matched against the Redskins (a pick ’em game) but Zoltar thinks the Cardinals are 5 points better.
In all these games, Zoltar likes the favored team, thinking the favorite will cover the spread as the saying goes — win by more than the point spread. I suspect this is a consequence that hope springs eternal, meaning that fans of a bad team are overly optimistic that personnel changes that occurred during the off-season will improve their team more than what will actually occur. So these optimistic fans bet on their teams, which skews the point spread. Later in the season, Zoltar shows a bias towards picking Vegas underdog teams, where a bet wins if the underdog wins outright or if the favored team fails to cover the spread.