The Microsoft engine that predicts NFL games is back -- here are its picks for Week 1

Microsoft Cortana — the virtual assistant that began picking NFL games last season after a successful 2014 World Cup — is back for another year of NFL predictions.

Cortana uses an algorithm put together by Bing Predicts to pick a winner in every NFL game. The algorithm takes into account advanced stats and home-field advantage, and there’s a public-perception element that incorporates data from Twitter and Facebook.

Last season, Cortana correctly predicted 67% of all NFL games. It has since picked 71% of Wimbledon results and 75% of the Women’s World Cup knockout stage correctly. The model has dabbled in areas outside of sports — including American Idol and the Grammy’s — but is sticking to sports this NFL season.

We’ll be tracking Cortana’s progress week to week and seeing how it compares to other algorithmic picks, including Nate Silver’s ELO model and the Vegas betting line. We’ll also be making our own picks against the spread each week, partially using Bing’s help but mostly based on blind instinct. Maybe we’ll even do better.

Here are Cortana’s Week 1 predictions as of Wednesday morning. We’ll update these throughout the week to see if they change. Vegas favourites, with point spreads, are in parentheses.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots — Patriots win, 64.4% chance. (Patriots -7)
  • Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears — Packers win, 71.6% chance. (Packers -7)
  • Carolina Panthers at Jacksonville Jaguars — Panthers win, 58.2% chance. (Panthers -3)
  • Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams — Rams win, 56% chance. (Seahawks -4)
  • New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals — Cardinals win, 56% chance. (Cardinals -2.5)
  • Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos — Broncos win, 64.4% chance. (Broncos -4.5)
  • Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Bucs win, 64.4% chance. (Bucs -3)
  • Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons — Falcons win, 52% chance. (Eagles -3)
  • Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills — Colts win, 53.3% chance (Colts -3)
  • Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans — Texans win, 65.9% chance. (Texans -1.5)
  • Cleveland Browns at New York Jets — Jets win, 61.4% chance. (Jets -3)
  • Miami Dolphins at Washington Redskins — Dolphins win, 53.3% chance. (Dolphins -3.5)
  • Detroit Lions at San Diego Chargers — Chargers win, 59.8% chance. (Chargers -3)
  • Cincinnati Bengals at Oakland Raiders — Bengals win, 59.8% chance. (Bengals -3.5)
  • New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys — Cowboys win, 70.2% chance. (Bengals -6)
  • Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers — 49ers win, 58.2% chance. (Vikings -2.5)

Cortana mostly agrees with Vegas this week, except for a few notable exceptions. Cortana appears to value home teams more than Vegas, giving the Rams, Falcons, and 49ers slight edges despite the fact that they’re all betting underdogs. The biggest surprise of these three discrepancies is certainly that Cortana favours the Rams over Seattle. That said, last year in St. Louis the Rams did upset the Seahawks with the help of some crafty special teams play, so this will definitely be one game to keep an eye on.

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