Zoltar is my NFL prediction computer program. It uses a deep neural network and reinforcement learning. The results for the first half of the season were completely crazy. The covid-19 pandemic has had a massive effect on the NFL. I switched Zoltar into experimental mode starting in week #8. For example, I changed the definition of a rout-win from winning by 20+ points to winning by 22+ points.
To me, the most interesting parameter is the home field advantage. For decades, both humans and Zoltar have given 3 points to the home team. But with covid-19, you can argue that the home field advantage is dramatically greater (say 5 or 6 points or more), or dramatically smaller (say 0 or 1 point), or even negative. I won’t know until after the 2020 season is completed and I have enough data to analyze.
Using the experimental parameters, here are Zoltar’s predictions for week #20 (division championships) of the 2020 NFL season:
Zoltar: packers by 5 dog = buccaneers Vegas: packers by 3.5 Zoltar: chiefs by 1 dog = bills Vegas: chiefs by 3
Old Zoltar theoretically used to suggest betting when the Vegas line is more than 3.0 points different from Zoltar’s prediction. At this point, it’s beginning to look like an improved strategy will be something like bet on Vegas underdogs only if Zoltar and Vegas differ by more than 6 points, or bet on Vegas favorites if Zoltar and Vegas differ by more than 2 points. I’ll have to do an analysis after this season is over.
Zoltar closely agrees with the Vegas point spreads in week #20. Therefore, Zoltar has no hypothetical betting advice.
Against the Vegas point spread last week, experimental Zoltar was 1-0. Zoltar correctly liked the underdog Cleveland Browns against the favored Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs won by a score of 22-17 but they didn’t cover the 10-point spread.
For the regular 2020 season, Zoltar finished 43-28 (60.5% accuracy) against the Las Vegas point spread. This is a bit worse than most seasons.
For fun, I track how well Zoltar and the Vegas point spreads do when just predicting which team will win (not by how much). In week #19, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar was 3-1. The Las Vegas point spread was also 3-1. Zoltar and Vegas both missed by predicting the Saints would beat the Buccaneers but the Buccs won by a score of 30-20.
For the season, just predicting which team would win, Zoltar finished 175-80 (68.6% accuracy) and Las Vegas finished nearly the same at 173-82 (67.8% accuracy).
My system is named after the Zoltar fortune teller machine you can find in arcades. Zoltar uses a crystal ball. Before television, magazines were an important form of entertainment. Just as TV today has dozens of crime shows, many old magazines were about crime. Some of these magazine covers featured crystal balls. Left: “Dime Detective Magazine”, September 1939. Center: “Ten Detective Aces”, March 1941. Right: “Detective Fiction Weekly”, August 1940.