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 2022 season.
Zoltar: patriots by 1 dog = bills Vegas: bills by 5 Zoltar: steelers by 0 dog = falcons Vegas: falcons by 1 Zoltar: packers by 0 dog = bears Vegas: packers by 3 Zoltar: lions by 4 dog = jaguars Vegas: lions by 1 Zoltar: browns by 0 dog = texans Vegas: browns by 7.5 Zoltar: vikings by 6 dog = jets Vegas: vikings by 3 Zoltar: commanders by 0 dog = giants Vegas: commanders by 2.5 Zoltar: titans by 0 dog = eagles Vegas: eagles by 5.5 Zoltar: ravens by 4 dog = broncos Vegas: ravens by 8 Zoltar: rams by 6 dog = seahawks Vegas: seahawks by 8 Zoltar: fortyniners by 5 dog = dolphins Vegas: fortyniners by 3 Zoltar: chiefs by 0 dog = bengals Vegas: chiefs by 2.5 Zoltar: raiders by 4 dog = chargers Vegas: chargers by 2 Zoltar: cowboys by 6 dog = colts Vegas: cowboys by 9.5 Zoltar: buccaneers by 6 dog = saints Vegas: buccaneers by 3.5
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 #13 Zoltar likes five Vegas underdogs:
1. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Patriots against the Bills.
2. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Texans against the Browns.
3. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Titans against the Eagles.
4. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Rams against the Seahawks.
5. Zoltar likes Vegas underdog Raiders against the Chargers.
For example, a bet on the underdog Patriots against the Bills will pay off if the Patriots win by any score, or if the favored Bills win but by less than 5 points (i.e., 4 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 #12, against the Vegas point spread, Zoltar went 2-3 using 4.0 points as the advice threshold, but went 6-4 using a 3.0 threshold. Weeks 12 to 18 are the most difficult for Zoltar.
For the season, against the spread, Zoltar is 41-22 (~65% 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 #12, just predicting the winning team, Zoltar went 12-4 which is OK but not great. Vegas was similar with 11-5 at just predicting the winning team.
Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory. There are six 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. That machine is named after the Zoltar machine from the 1988 movie “Big”. And the 1988 Zoltar was named after the “Zoltan” arcade fortune teller from the 1960s.
I’ve always been fascinated by electro-mechanical arcade devices. Center: The “Mystic Ray” machine (circa 1950) actually wrote out a fortune using a pen. Amazing tech for the time.
Right: The “Zodi” machine (circa 1940) actually typed out a fortune using a pneumatic powered typewriter. Also amazing.