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.