Zoltar is my NFL football prediction computer program. It uses reinforcement learning and a neural network. Here are Zoltar’s predictions for week #10 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. After week nine, injuries start having a big effect.
Zoltar: ravens by 2 dog = dolphins Vegas: ravens by 6.5 Zoltar: colts by 8 dog = jaguars Vegas: colts by 10.5 Zoltar: cowboys by 6 dog = falcons Vegas: cowboys by 3.5 Zoltar: browns by 0 dog = patriots Vegas: patriots by 3 Zoltar: bills by 4 dog = jets Vegas: bills by 13.5 Zoltar: titans by 6 dog = saints Vegas: titans by 2.5 Zoltar: steelers by 11 dog = lions Vegas: steelers by 9.5 Zoltar: buccaneers by 3 dog = redskins Vegas: buccaneers by 7.5 Zoltar: cardinals by 9 dog = panthers Vegas: cardinals by 10 Zoltar: chargers by 6 dog = vikings Vegas: chargers by 3 Zoltar: broncos by 6 dog = eagles Vegas: broncos by 1.5 Zoltar: packers by 6 dog = seahawks Vegas: packers by 5 Zoltar: chiefs by 0 dog = raiders Vegas: chiefs by 3 Zoltar: rams by 0 dog = fortyniners Vegas: rams by 3
Zoltar theoretically suggests betting when the Vegas line is “significantly” different from Zoltar’s prediction. In mid-season I usually 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.
For week #10:
1. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Dolphins against the Ravens.
2. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Jets against the Bills.
3. Zoltar likes Vegas favorite Titans over the Saints.
4. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Redskins against the Buccaneers.
5. Zoltar likes Vegas favorite Broncos over the Eagles.
For example, a bet on the underdog Dolphins against the Ravens will pay off if the Dolphins win by any score, or if the favored Ravens win but by less than the point spread of 6.5 points (in other words, by 6 points or less).
These predictions are really sketchy – Vegas underdogs Dolphins, Jets, Redskins looked terrible in week #9.
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 #9, against the Vegas point spread, Zoltar went 2-1 (using the standard 3.0 points as the advice threshold). Overall, for the season, Zoltar is 35-27 against the spread (56%).
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 #9, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar went 8-6 which is very poor — a lot of upsets in week #9.
In week #9, just predicting the winning team, Vegas — “the wisdom of the crowd” — also went 8-6 which is also terrible.
Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory, which means the two teams are evenly matched. There are three such games in week #10. 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 (the machine) uses a crystal ball to make his predictions. Many movies of the 1920s and 1930s featured crystal balls — a lot of people in that decade truly believed in spiritualism. Left: “The Black Watch” (1929) is about the British Army in India. Center: “Sinister Hands” (1932) is a classic murder mystery. Right: “The Black Camel” (1931) is a mystery featuring detective Charlie Chan, along with Bela Lugosi as a fortune teller.