Zoltar is my NFL football prediction computer program. It uses reinforcement learning and a neural network. Here are Zoltar’s predictions for week #5 of the 2021 season. These predictions are semi-tentative, in the sense that it usually takes Zoltar about four weeks to hit his stride.
Zoltar: seahawks by 2 dog = rams Vegas: rams by 1 Zoltar: falcons by 4 dog = jets Vegas: falcons by 4.5 Zoltar: panthers by 6 dog = eagles Vegas: panthers by 3.5 Zoltar: packers by 0 dog = bengals Vegas: packers by 3.5 Zoltar: patriots by 0 dog = texans Vegas: patriots by 6.5 Zoltar: titans by 4 dog = jaguars Vegas: titans by 7.5 Zoltar: vikings by 6 dog = lions Vegas: vikings by 8.5 Zoltar: steelers by 5 dog = broncos Vegas: broncos by 1.5 Zoltar: buccaneers by 6 dog = dolphins Vegas: buccaneers by 10 Zoltar: saints by 0 dog = redskins Vegas: saints by 1 Zoltar: raiders by 6 dog = bears Vegas: raiders by 7.5 Zoltar: browns by 0 dog = chargers Vegas: chargers by 1.5 Zoltar: cardinals by 6 dog = fortyniners Vegas: cardinals by 2.5 Zoltar: cowboys by 6 dog = giants Vegas: cowboys by 7.5 Zoltar: chiefs by 1 dog = bills Vegas: chiefs by 3.5 Zoltar: ravens by 6 dog = colts Vegas: ravens by 6.5
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 much too strongly biased towards Vegas underdogs. I need to fix this.
1. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Bengals against Packers
2. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Texans against Patriots
3. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Jaguars against Titans
4. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Steelers against Broncos
5. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Dolphins against Buccaneers
6. Zoltar likes Vegas favorite Cardinals over 49ers
For example, a bet on the underdog Bengals against the Packers will pay off if the Bengals win by any score, or if the favored Packers win but by less than the point spread of 3.5 points (in other words, win by 3 points or less).
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 #4, 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 #4, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar went 11-5 which is mediocre.
In week #4, just predicting the winning team, Vegas — “the wisdom of the crowd” — went 10-6.
Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory. There are four such games in week #5. 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 fortune teller machine you can find in arcades. Two nice classical-style paintings of fortune tellers. Center: “The Egyptian Fortune Teller” by Rudoplh Ernst (1854-1932). Right: “The Fortune Teller” by Edouard F. W. Richter (1844-1913).