NFL 2021 Week 13 Predictions – Zoltar Likes Vegas Favorites Bengals and Dolphins

Zoltar is my NFL football prediction computer program. It uses reinforcement learning and a neural network. Here are Zoltar’s predictions for week #13 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:      saints  by    2  dog =     cowboys    Vegas:     cowboys  by    5
Zoltar:  buccaneers  by    3  dog =     falcons    Vegas:  buccaneers  by  9.5
Zoltar:   cardinals  by    0  dog =       bears    Vegas:   cardinals  by    7
Zoltar:     bengals  by    5  dog =    chargers    Vegas:     bengals  by  1.5
Zoltar:     vikings  by    2  dog =       lions    Vegas:     vikings  by  7.5
Zoltar:       colts  by    4  dog =      texans    Vegas:       colts  by    7
Zoltar:      chiefs  by    6  dog =     broncos    Vegas:      chiefs  by  9.5
Zoltar:    dolphins  by    6  dog =      giants    Vegas:    dolphins  by  2.5
Zoltar:      eagles  by    0  dog =        jets    Vegas:      eagles  by  6.5
Zoltar:     raiders  by    4  dog =    redskins    Vegas:     raiders  by  1.5
Zoltar:      ravens  by    0  dog =    steelers    Vegas:      ravens  by    3
Zoltar:        rams  by   10  dog =     jaguars    Vegas:        rams  by   12
Zoltar:    seahawks  by    1  dog = fortyniners    Vegas: fortyniners  by  3.5
Zoltar:       bills  by    4  dog =    patriots    Vegas:       bills  by  3.5

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 #13:

1. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Saints against the Cowboys
2. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Falcons against the Buccaneers
3. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Bears against the Cardinals
4. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Lions against the Vikings
5. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Broncos against the Chiefs
6. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Jets against the Eagles
7. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Seahawks against the 49ers
8. Zoltar likes Vegas favorite Bengals over the Chargers
9. Zoltar likes Vegas favorite Dolphins over the Giants

For example, a bet on the underdog Saints against the Cowboys will pay off if the Saints win by any score, or if the favored Cowboys win but by less than the point spread of 5.0 points (in other words, by 4 points or less; if the Cowboys win by exactly 5 points the wager is a push).

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 #12, against the Vegas point spread, Zoltar went 5-2 (using the standard 3.0 points as the advice threshold; using a conservative 4.0 points threshold Zoltar was 4-0). Overall, for the season, Zoltar is 46-35 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 #12, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar went 9-6 which is poor — as has been the case for the past few weeks, there were many upsets in week #12.

In week #12, just predicting the winning team, Vegas — “the wisdom of the crowd” also went 9-6, the same as Zoltar.

Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory, which means the two teams are evenly matched. There are three such games in week #13. 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. Fortune teller machines have been around for many years. Center: This “Gypsy” machine was made about 1906 and is worth over $1 million dollars. Right: This is “Princess Doraldina”, made about 1928.


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