NFL 2021 Week 4 Predictions – Zoltar Has Some Questionable Predictions

Zoltar is my NFL football prediction computer program. It uses reinforcement learning and a neural network. Here are Zoltar’s predictions for week #4 of the 2021 season. These predictions are semi-tentative, in the sense that it usually takes Zoltar about three or four weeks to hit his stride.

Zoltar:     bengals  by    6  dog =     jaguars    Vegas:     bengals  by   10
Zoltar:    redskins  by    0  dog =     falcons    Vegas:    redskins  by  1.5
Zoltar:       bills  by    8  dog =      texans    Vegas:       bills  by 16.5
Zoltar:       bears  by    6  dog =       lions    Vegas:       bears  by    3
Zoltar:     cowboys  by    2  dog =    panthers    Vegas:     cowboys  by    4
Zoltar:    dolphins  by    4  dog =       colts    Vegas:    dolphins  by    2
Zoltar:      browns  by    0  dog =     vikings    Vegas:      browns  by    2
Zoltar:      saints  by    8  dog =      giants    Vegas:      saints  by  7.5
Zoltar:      titans  by    4  dog =        jets    Vegas:      titans  by  7.5
Zoltar:      chiefs  by    0  dog =      eagles    Vegas:      chiefs  by  6.5
Zoltar:        rams  by    5  dog =   cardinals    Vegas:        rams  by    6
Zoltar:    seahawks  by    0  dog = fortyniners    Vegas: fortyniners  by    3
Zoltar:      ravens  by    0  dog =     broncos    Vegas:     broncos  by    1
Zoltar:     packers  by    6  dog =    steelers    Vegas:     packers  by    7
Zoltar:  buccaneers  by    0  dog =    patriots    Vegas:  buccaneers  by    7
Zoltar:     raiders  by    0  dog =    chargers    Vegas:    chargers  by  3.5

Zoltar theoretically suggests betting when the Vegas line is “significantly” different from Zoltar’s prediction. In mid-season I use 3.0 points difference but for the first few weeks of the season I go a bit more conservative and use 4.0 points difference as the advice threshold criterion.

At the beginning of the season, because of Zoltar’s initialization (all teams regress to an average power rating) and other algorithms, Zoltar is too strongly biased towards Vegas underdogs. I need to fix this.

1. Zoltar likes Vegas underdogs Jaguars against Bengals
2. Zoltar likes Vegas underdogs Texans against Bills
3. Zoltar likes Vegas underdogs Jets against Titans
4. Zoltar likes Vegas underdogs Eagles against Chiefs
5. Zoltar likes Vegas underdogs Patriots against Buccaneers
6. Zoltar likes Vegas underdogs Raiders against Chargers

For example, a bet on the underdog Texans against the Bills will pay off if the Texans win by any score, or if the favored Bills win but by less than the point spread of 16.5 points (in other words, win by 16 points or fewer).

Theoretically, if you must bet $110 to win $100 (typical in Vegas) then you’ll make money if you predict at 53% accuracy or better. But realistically, you need to predict at 60% accuracy or better.

In week #3, against the Vegas point spread, Zoltar went 3-3 (using 3.0 points as the advice threshold).

Just for fun, I track how well Zoltar does when just trying to predict just which team will win a game. This isn’t useful except for parlay betting. In week #3, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar went 12-4 which is pretty good but not great.

In week #3, just predicting the winning team, Vegas — “the wisdom of the crowd” — went 9-7.

Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory. There are seven such games in week #4. In those situations, to pick a winner (only so I can track raw number of correct predictions) in the first few weeks of the season, Zoltar picks the home team to win. After that, Zoltar uses his algorithms to pick a winner.

My system is named after the Zoltar fortune teller machine you can find in arcades. Zoltar is relatively new — based on the “Zoltar” machine that appeared in the 1988 movie “Big”. But other fortune teller machines have been around since the earliest coin operated machines were invented.

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