NFL 2022 Week 12 Predictions – Zoltar Likes Seven Underdogs

Zoltar is my NFL football prediction computer program. It uses reinforcement learning and a neural network. Here are Zoltar’s predictions for week #12 of the 2022 season.

Zoltar:       bills  by    1  dog =       lions    Vegas:       bills  by   10
Zoltar:     cowboys  by    8  dog =      giants    Vegas:     cowboys  by    9
Zoltar:     vikings  by    1  dog =    patriots    Vegas:     vikings  by  2.5
Zoltar:    panthers  by    1  dog =     broncos    Vegas:     broncos  by  2.5
Zoltar:  buccaneers  by    0  dog =      browns    Vegas:  buccaneers  by  3.5
Zoltar:      ravens  by    0  dog =     jaguars    Vegas:      ravens  by    4
Zoltar:    dolphins  by    6  dog =      texans    Vegas:    dolphins  by 12.5
Zoltar:        jets  by    1  dog =       bears    Vegas:        jets  by  4.5
Zoltar:      titans  by    6  dog =     bengals    Vegas:     bengals  by    2
Zoltar:  commanders  by    2  dog =     falcons    Vegas:  commanders  by    4
Zoltar:   cardinals  by    6  dog =    chargers    Vegas:    chargers  by  4.5
Zoltar:     raiders  by    0  dog =    seahawks    Vegas:    seahawks  by  3.5
Zoltar:      chiefs  by    2  dog =        rams    Vegas:      chiefs  by 14.5
Zoltar: fortyniners  by    4  dog =      saints    Vegas: fortyniners  by    9
Zoltar:     packers  by    0  dog =      eagles    Vegas:      eagles  by    7
Zoltar:       colts  by    2  dog =    steelers    Vegas:       colts  by  2.5

Zoltar theoretically suggests betting when the Vegas line is “significantly” different from Zoltar’s prediction. For this season I’ve been using a threshold of 4 points difference but in some previous seasons I used 3 points.

At the beginning of the season, because of Zoltar’s initialization (all teams regress to an average power rating) and other algorithms, Zoltar is very strongly biased towards Vegas underdogs. I probably need to fix this. For week #12 Zoltar likes seven Vegas underdogs:

1. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Lions against the Bills.
2. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Texans against the Dolphins.
3. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Titans against the Bengals.
4. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Cardinals against the Chargers.
5. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Rams against the Chiefs.
6. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Saints against the 49ers.
7. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Packers against the Eagles.

For example, a bet on the underdog Lions against the Bills will pay off if the Lions win by any score, or if the favored Bills win but by less than 10 points (i.e., 9 points or less). If a favored team wins by exactly the point spread, the wager is a push. This is why point spreads often have a 0.5 added — called “the hook” — to eliminate pushes.

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 #11, against the Vegas point spread, Zoltar went 3-2 (using 4.0 points as the advice threshold). Zoltar missed on predicting underdogs Steelers (vs. Bengals) and Cardinals (vs. 49ers). The Steelers lost by 37-30, not quite close enough to the 5.0 point Vegas line. The Cardinals lost badly, 38-10 and didn’t come close to the 8.0 point spread.

For the season, against the spread, Zoltar is 39-19 (~67% accuracy).

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 #11, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar went only 8-6 which isn’t very good — just slightly better than a coin flip. Vegas was quite good 11-3 at just predicting the winning team.

Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory. There are four such games in week #12. 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. Arcade Zoltar uses a crystal ball to make his predictions. Crystal balls were a common plot device in movies of the 1930s.

Left: In “The Black Camel” (1931), detective Charlie Chan solves the murder of an actress who was filming in Honolulu. The maid did it.

Center: In “Charlie Chan at Treasure Island” (1939), Chan solves a murder committed by Dr. Zodiac who was actually magician Fred Rhadini in disguise.

Right: In “Black Magic” (1944), Chan solves a murder committed at a seance where the bullet disappears and no gun is found. The weapon was a disguised cigar case with bullets made of frozen blood.

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