Zoltar is my NFL football prediction computer program. It uses reinforcement learning and a neural network. Here are Zoltar’s predictions for week #7 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: browns by 6 dog = broncos Vegas: browns by 6 Zoltar: packers by 8 dog = redskins Vegas: packers by 7.5 Zoltar: dolphins by 4 dog = falcons Vegas: dolphins by 3 Zoltar: patriots by 6 dog = jets Vegas: patriots by 7 Zoltar: panthers by 0 dog = giants Vegas: panthers by 3 Zoltar: titans by 2 dog = chiefs Vegas: chiefs by 3 Zoltar: ravens by 6 dog = bengals Vegas: ravens by 7 Zoltar: raiders by 6 dog = eagles Vegas: raiders by 2.5 Zoltar: rams by 10 dog = lions Vegas: rams by 13.5 Zoltar: cardinals by 10 dog = texans Vegas: cardinals by 14.5 Zoltar: buccaneers by 6 dog = bears Vegas: buccaneers by 10 Zoltar: colts by 0 dog = fortyniners Vegas: fortyniners by 3.5 Zoltar: saints by 0 dog = seahawks Vegas: saints by 3
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. In middle weeks I sometimes go ultra-aggressive and use a 1.0-point threshold.
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 Titans against the Chiefs
2. Zoltar likes Vegas favorite Raiders over the Eagles
3. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Lions against the Rams
4. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Texans against the Cardinals
5. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Bears against the Buccaneers
6. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Colts against the 49ers
For example, a bet on the underdog Lions against the Rams will pay off if the Lions win by any score, or if the favored Rams win but by less than the point spread of 13.5 points (in other words, win by 13 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 #6, against the Vegas point spread, Zoltar went 7-5 (using the aggressive 1.0 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 #6, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar went 10-4 which is about average.
In week #6, just predicting the winning team, Vegas — “the wisdom of the crowd” — went 8-6.
Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory, which means the two teams are evenly matched. There are three such games in week #7. 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. That machine is named after the Zoltar machine from the 1988 movie “Big”. And the 1988 Zoltar was named after the “Zoltan” arcade fortune teller from the 1960s. I’ve always been fascinated by electro-mechanical arcade devices. Center: The “Mystic Ray” machine actually wrote out a fortune using a pen. Amazing tech for the time. Right: The “Zodi” machine actually typed out a fortune using a pneumatic powered typewriter. Also amazing.