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NFL playoff games and lines: The computers make their picks

tom bradyJim Rogash/Getty

  • After a slow start to the season, Cortana stormed back
    and was on fire the final ten weeks.
  • Cortana correctly picked 68% of the games overall and
    75% of the games over the final ten weeks.
  • Cortana also went 3-1 during the Wild Card
  • Elo also had a strong showing during the regular
    season, correctly picking 64% of the games.

The NFL regular season is now over, and despite a slow
start, Microsoft’s Cortana stormed back and won the head-to-head
showdown with Elo.

We took a look at two popular systems used to pick NFL games:
Microsoft’s digital assistant, and Elo, the modeling system used
by Nate Silver’s
. In both cases, the computers pick outright
winners and not against the spread. However, each gives a
likelihood of a team’s winning, which, in theory, could help
measure the strength of certain lines.

Cortana won the regular season matchup, going 162-78 (68%)
overall, and 111-38 (75%) over the last ten weeks (we did not
track Week 17 because of the wonky nature of the final week). Elo
was not far behind, going 154-86 (64%) overall.

Cortana kept up the hot streak during the Wild Card round, going
3-1, missing only the Titans’ upset of the Chiefs. Meanwhile, Elo
was 2-2.

Here are the picks for the divisional round, with each model’s
percent chance of winning in parentheses. Games in bold are
where the two models disagree on who has the best chance to win.
Point spreads are just for reference, via Vegas Insider as of Thursday morning.


  • Atlanta Falcons (-3) at Philadelphia Eagles — EAGLES
    (Elo 57%), FALCONS (Cortana 58%)
  • Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-13.5) — PATRIOTS
    (Elo 85%, Cortana 74%)


  • Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7) — STEELERS
    (Elo 76%, Cortana 67%)
  • New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (-5) — VIKINGS (Elo
    63%, Cortana 58%)

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