Zoltar is my NFL football prediction computer program. It uses custom reinforcement learning and a neural network. Here are Zoltar’s predictions for week #20 (division championships) 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: titans by 6 dog = bengals Vegas: titans by 3 Zoltar: packers by 6 dog = fortyniners Vegas: packers by 5 Zoltar: buccaneers by 5 dog = rams Vegas: buccaneers by 3 Zoltar: chiefs by 6 dog = bills Vegas: chiefs by 2
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 #20 (division championships):
Zoltar likes Vegas favorite Chiefs over the Bengals
A bet on the favorite Chiefs will pay off only if the Chiefs win by more than the point spread of 2.0 points (in other words by 3 points or more). If the Chiefs win by less than 2.0 points or if the Bills win by any score, the wager on the Bills is lost. If the Bills win by exactly 2 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 #19, against the Vegas point spread, Zoltar went 0-2 (using the standard conservative 4.0 points as the advice threshold). Zoltar liked the underdog Raiders who came close against the Bengals, and Zoltar liked the underdog Steelers but they got crushed by the Chiefs. Overall, for the season, Zoltar is 65-53 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 #19, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar went 5-1 which is quite good.
In week #19, just predicting the winning team, Vegas — “the wisdom of the crowd” also went 5-1, the same as Zoltar.
Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory, which means the two teams are evenly matched. There are no such games in week #20. 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.
Center: On the “Mystic Mirror” machine, you set a pointer to one of six questions — 1. Your future wife. 2. Am I going to travel? 3. Shall I be wealthy? 4. Am I going to marry? 5. Shall I have a family? 6. Your future husband. The answer is displayed in a mutoscope screen, sort of an early motion picture device that works like a flip book with opaque photographs.
Right: The “Wizard Fortune Teller” machine is similar. The six questions are 1. (men) My future occupation. 2. What is my principal quality? 3. What is my greatest defect? 4. How many times shall I marry? 5. Shall I soon fall in love? 6. (women) My future occupation. The answer is displayed in a sign in a small window.