Swarming the NFL: AI Picks for the Divisional Playoffs

In the world of sports forecasting, the on-air expert is widely accepted as the gold-standard. Every week, highly paid analysts and former players fill hours of pregame shows with their predictions and ( sometimes subtle ) tips for would-be gamblers. But for all of their insider information, there is one other predictive model that these experts must often contend with: Paul the Octopus. This eight-legged wonder rose to fame during the 2010 World Cup when he correctly identified the winner of 12 out of 14 matchups. With all due respect to Paul, his performance at the World Cup might be the clearest case on record for the existence of blind luck in forecasting.

None of this is to say that animals aren’t intelligent. Just the opposite. Thanks to Swarm Intelligence, animals in nature are capable of solving and optimizing incredibly complex problems. The point is, when judging Paul’s predictive performance ( or anyone’s for that matter), it’s crucial to track results over an extended period of time. Consistency over the long run is the most reliable way to gauge performance.

To that end, all season long researchers at Unanimous AI have been tracking their Swarm AI platform’s ability to forecast NFL games in comparison to 120 experts from places like ESPN, Sports Illustrated, NFL.com and more. Those expert results, compiled at NFL Pick Watch, show that the highest-performing expert achieved an impressive 70% accuracy throughout the NFL season. In comparison, the Swarm AI system produced 75% accuracy across the 17 weeks of the season. The technology is based on Swarm Intelligence, but this is no circus trick. Unanimous has produced an AI super-expert by combining the intelligence and intuition of a group of regular NFL fans.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the insight generated by Unanimous AI for the NFL Division Playoffs. The field has been narrowed down to eight teams, and it’s time to separate the true contenders from the pretenders. You can click the chart below for links to replays of all of the predictions.

As you can see, the predictions have been sorted according to confidence, although the “Bet” isn’t a recommendation that anyone place a wager so much as an expression of the AI’s relative conviction. To see how that confidence is captured, it’s worth taking a moment to compare two matchups. Up first is the highly anticipated clash between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. This contest pits the Saints’ longtime star Drew Brees against the “ultimate breakout” sensation, Case Keenum. The Saints are widely considered one of the toughest outs in the playoffs, but they have to go on the road to Minnesota, who recorded their best regular season record since 1998. As a result, the Swarm AI system expressed significant support for both teams en route to an optimized prediction of Minnesota to win, albeit with Low Confidence. The movement of the puck shows quite clearly why researchers at Unanimous filed this game under the “Proceed with Caution” banner.

In comparison, despite the brewing controversy between Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft, the research produced by Unanimous AI suggests that the Patriots’ on-field relationship is as healthy as ever. The dominant franchise in the NFL over the past decade or so is the current odds-on favorite to claim yet another Lombardi Trophy. The replay below shows that this group of NFL fans was able to quickly converge on a predicted Pats’ victory, and with High Confidence. So, while it’s too early for the technology to register its own Super Bowl prediction, barring another Mariota-to-Mariota miracle, it’s a “Best Bet” that Tom Brady & Co. will advance.

Every week, Unanimous AI forms swarms of enthusiasts and fans to make predictions in the NFL, NBA, NHL, EPL, MLB and more. If you’d like to join us and take your chance at the weekly prize, or just have the picks emailed to you, follow the link below…

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