Zoltar is my NFL football prediction computer program. It uses reinforcement learning and a neural network. Here are Zoltar’s predictions for week #6 of the 2021 season. It usually takes Zoltar about four weeks to hit his stride and takes humans about eight weeks to get up to speed, so weeks six through nine are usually Zoltar’s sweet spot.
Zoltar: buccaneers by 1 dog = eagles Vegas: buccaneers by 6.5 Zoltar: dolphins by 0 dog = jaguars Vegas: dolphins by 2.5 Zoltar: panthers by 2 dog = vikings Vegas: panthers by 1 Zoltar: packers by 0 dog = bears Vegas: packers by 4.5 Zoltar: colts by 6 dog = texans Vegas: colts by 7.5 Zoltar: bengals by 0 dog = lions Vegas: bengals by 3.5 Zoltar: rams by 1 dog = giants Vegas: rams by 6.5 Zoltar: ravens by 6 dog = chargers Vegas: ravens by 3 Zoltar: chiefs by 0 dog = redskins Vegas: chiefs by 5.5 Zoltar: browns by 1 dog = cardinals Vegas: browns by 3 Zoltar: raiders by 0 dog = broncos Vegas: broncos by 2.5 Zoltar: cowboys by 0 dog = patriots Vegas: cowboys by 1 Zoltar: steelers by 4 dog = seahawks Vegas: seahawks by 2.5 Zoltar: bills by 0 dog = titans Vegas: bills 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.
Note: 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 Eagles against the Buccaneers
2. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Bears against the Packers
3. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Lions against the Bengals
4. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Giants against the Rams
5. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Redskins against the Chiefs
6. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Steelers against the Seahawks
7. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Titans against the Bills
For example, a bet on the underdog Eagles against the Buccaneers will pay off if the Eagles win by any score, or if the favored Buccaneers win but by less than the point spread of 6.5 points (in other words, win by 6 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 #5, against the Vegas point spread, Zoltar went 4-2 (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 #5, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar went 12-4 which is pretty good.
In week #5, just predicting the winning team, Vegas — “the wisdom of the crowd” — also went 12-4.
Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory, which means the two teams are evenly matched. There are seven such games in week #6. 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. Almost all cultures seem to have some form of fortune tellers. From left to right: Russian fortune teller, Chinese fortune teller, Egyptian fortune teller.