Zoltar is my NFL football prediction computer program. It uses reinforcement learning and a neural network. Here are Zoltar’s predictions for week #11 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: patriots by 0 dog = falcons Vegas: patriots by 3.5 Zoltar: bills by 6 dog = colts Vegas: bills by 7.5 Zoltar: panthers by 4 dog = redskins Vegas: panthers by 2 Zoltar: ravens by 0 dog = bears Vegas: ravens by 6 Zoltar: browns by 9 dog = lions Vegas: browns by 10 Zoltar: fortyniners by 0 dog = jaguars Vegas: fortyniners by 6.5 Zoltar: packers by 2 dog = vikings Vegas: packers by 2.5 Zoltar: dolphins by 0 dog = jets Vegas: dolphins by 2.5 Zoltar: titans by 11 dog = texans Vegas: titans by 10 Zoltar: saints by 0 dog = eagles Vegas: saints by 1 Zoltar: raiders by 5 dog = bengals Vegas: bengals by 0.5 Zoltar: chiefs by 6 dog = cowboys Vegas: chiefs by 2.5 Zoltar: cardinals by 0 dog = seahawks Vegas: seahawks by 1.5 Zoltar: steelers by 0 dog = chargers Vegas: chargers by 3.5 Zoltar: buccaneers by 7 dog = giants Vegas: buccaneers by 12.5
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 #11:
1. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Falcons against the Patriots
2. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Bears against the Ravens
3. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Jaguars against the 49ers
4. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Bengals against the Raiders
5. Zoltar likes Vegas favorites Chiefs over the Cowboys
6. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Steelers against the Chargers
7. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Giants against the Buccaneers
For example, a bet on the underdog Falcons against the Patriots will pay off if the Falcons win by any score, or if the favored Patriots win but by less than the point spread of 3.5 points (in other words, 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 #10, against the Vegas point spread, Zoltar went 3-2 (using the standard 3.0 points as the advice threshold). Overall, for the season, Zoltar is 38-29 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 #10, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar went 7-6 which is very poor — there were many upsets in week #10.
In week #10, just predicting the winning team, Vegas — “the wisdom of the crowd” also went 7-6 which is also terrible.
Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory, which means the two teams are evenly matched. There are seven such games in week #11. 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 that you can find in arcades. Arcade Zoltar is named after the machine from the 1988 movie “Big” where it grants the wish of a boy to become an adult. And movie Zoltar was named after an old arcade machine named Zoltan.