NFL 2021 Week 14 Predictions – Zoltar Likes the Redskins Against the Cowboys

Zoltar is my NFL football prediction computer program. It uses reinforcement learning and a neural network. Here are Zoltar’s predictions for week #14 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:    steelers  by    0  dog =     vikings    Vegas:     vikings  by  3.5
Zoltar:    panthers  by    4  dog =     falcons    Vegas:    panthers  by  2.5
Zoltar:     bengals  by    4  dog = fortyniners    Vegas:     bengals  by  2.5
Zoltar:      ravens  by    0  dog =      browns    Vegas:      ravens  by    1
Zoltar:    seahawks  by    1  dog =      texans    Vegas:    seahawks  by  6.5
Zoltar:      chiefs  by    7  dog =     raiders    Vegas:      chiefs  by   10
Zoltar:      saints  by    1  dog =        jets    Vegas:      saints  by  6.5
Zoltar:      titans  by   11  dog =     jaguars    Vegas:      titans  by  9.5
Zoltar:    redskins  by    2  dog =     cowboys    Vegas:     cowboys  by    5
Zoltar:     broncos  by    6  dog =       lions    Vegas:     broncos  by  8.5
Zoltar:    chargers  by    6  dog =      giants    Vegas:    chargers  by  7.5
Zoltar:  buccaneers  by    6  dog =       bills    Vegas:  buccaneers  by  3.5
Zoltar:     packers  by   10  dog =       bears    Vegas:     packers  by   11
Zoltar:   cardinals  by    6  dog =        rams    Vegas:   cardinals  by  2.5

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 and last 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 #14:

1. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Texans against the Seahawks
2. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Jets against the Saints
3. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Redskins against the Cowboys

For example, a bet on the underdog Texans against the Cowboys will pay off if the Texans 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 #13, against the Vegas point spread, Zoltar went 2-4 (using the conservative 4.0 points as the advice threshold). Overall, for the season, Zoltar is 48-39 against the spread (~55%).

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 #13, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar went 8-6 which is poor — as has been the case for the past several weeks, there were many upsets in week #13.

In week #13, just predicting the winning team, Vegas — “the wisdom of the crowd” also went 8-6, the same as Zoltar.

Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory, which means the two teams are evenly matched. There are two such games in week #14. 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 has become quite well-known in popular culture. Here are two Zoltar-based toys. You press a button and then the toy plays a recorded message — sort of an electronic fortune cookie.


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