Zoltar is my NFL prediction computer program. Zoltar uses Reinforcement Learning and a Deep Neural Network. Here are Zoltar’s predictions for week 1 of the 2018 NFL season:

Zoltar: eagles by 6 dog = falcons Vegas: eagles by 4
Zoltar: steelers by 12 dog = browns Vegas: steelers by 6
Zoltar: bengals by 0 dog = colts Vegas: colts by 3
Zoltar: titans by 0 dog = dolphins Vegas: titans by 2
Zoltar: vikings by 10 dog = fortyniners Vegas: vikings by 5.5
Zoltar: saints by 9 dog = buccaneers Vegas: saints by 9.5
Zoltar: patriots by 11 dog = texans Vegas: patriots by 6.5
Zoltar: jaguars by 4 dog = giants Vegas: jaguars by 3.5
Zoltar: ravens by 3 dog = bills Vegas: ravens by 5.5
Zoltar: chargers by 1 dog = chiefs Vegas: chargers by 3
Zoltar: panthers by 6 dog = cowboys Vegas: panthers by 2.5
Zoltar: cardinals by 5 dog = redskins Vegas: redskins by 0
Zoltar: seahawks by 0 dog = broncos Vegas: broncos by 2.5
Zoltar: packers by 6 dog = bears Vegas: packers by 8.5
Zoltar: lions by 6 dog = jets Vegas: lions by 7
Zoltar: rams by 1 dog = raiders Vegas: rams by 3

Zoltar theoretically suggests betting when the Vegas line is more than 3.0 points different from Zoltar’s prediction. For week 1 Zoltar has five suggestions. However, week #1 is a lot of guesswork, for both Zoltar and Las Vegas.

1. Zoltar likes the Vegas favorite Steelers against the Browns. Zoltar thinks the Steelers are 12 points better than the Browns but Vegas says the Steelers will win only by 6.0 points. A bet on the Steelers will pay only if the Steelers win by more than 6.0 points (in other words, 7 or more points).

2. Zoltar likes the Vegas favorite Vikings against the 49ers. Zoltar believes the Vikings will win by 10 points but Vegas thinks the Vikings will win by only 5.5 points, therefore, Zoltar thinks the Vikings will “cover the spread”.

3. Zoltar likes the Vegas favorite Patriots over the Texans. Zoltar thinks the Patriots are 11 points better than the Texans, but Vegas says the Patriots are only 6.5 points better than the Texans.

4. Zoltar likes the Vegas favorite Panthers against the Cowboys. Zoltar thinks the Panthers are 6 points better than the Cowboys but Vegas has the Panthers as only 2.5 points better than the Cowboys.

5. Zoltar likes the Arizona Cardinals against the Washington Redskins. Vegas has this as a “pick ’em game”. Zoltar believes Cardinals are 6 points better than the Redskins.

Update 09/07/2018 – The Vegas point spread for the Eagles vs. Falcons game jumped from Eagles being favored by 4 to the Falcons being favored by 3 when it was announced that the Eagles quarterback, Carson Wentz, was out for the game due to injury. Zoltar now strongly recommends a bet on the Eagles. Zoltar believes that the impact of any single player, even a quarterback, is at most 3 points.

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.

*Here’s what a betting sheet in Las Vegas looks like (top picture). I picked this one up from the MGM Grand Sports Book (bottom picture) while at a recent conference.*

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.

Zoltar sometimes predicts a 0-point margin of victory. There are three such games in week #1 –

Bengals vs. Colts

Titans vs. Dolphins

Seahawks vs. Broncos

In those situations, to pick a winner so I can track raw number of correct predictions, in the first four weeks of the season, Zoltar picks the home team to win. Therefore, Zoltar picks the Colts, Dolphins, and Broncos to win.

After week 4, Zoltar uses historical data for the current season (which usually, but not always, ends up in a prediction that the home team will win).

*The Zoltar system is named after the arcade fortune teller machine, which is named after the wish-granting machine in the 1988 movie “Big” starring Tom Hanks. I saw this Zoltar outside a magic shop inside the New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas.*