I love living in the past and I love drowning in hypotheticals. My favorite thing to explore is the butterfly effect of every individual moment and explore what could happen if certain events never transpired. As such, I thought it would be a fun exercise to run the NFL back to a point in time before everything we know and love about the league today had a chance to come to fruition. But in order to do that, I had to use the ultimate prognosticator in the business: old-ass versions of Madden.
That’s right, we are rerunning the NFL of the last decade. No Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes, no Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan and most importantly, no Bill O’Brien running the Texans.
I placed the NFL timeline back to the 2011-12 season for a couple reasons. For one, it resets virtually every one of the league’s top quarterbacks, creating a massive amount of variance, but Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are both already Super Bowl champions in this timeline and trending towards Hall of Fame resumes. But the more significant reason is that Madden 12 is the earliest version of the game I owned. So yes, we are rolling back to XBOX 360 for these simulations. Going back far but not too far to a reasonably advanced system offers a lot of potential futures, but also some logic with regards to player progression and roster moves. I am not sure how far down the road I will be simming, but plan on it at least bringing us to present day.
Up next, the 2012-13 season.
|Sim Result||Real Life Result|
|NFL MVP||Peyton Manning||Adrian Peterson|
|OPOY||Peyton Manning||Adrian Peterson|
|DPOY||DeMarcus Ware||J.J. Watt|
|OROY||Ja’Terian Batelmy||Robert Griffin III|
|DROY||Shamare Cobb||Luke Kuechly|
|Coach of Year||Lovie Smith||Bruce Arians|
|Best Record||Bears (14-2)||Falcons, Broncos (13-3)|
|Top Passer||Peyton Manning (4,576)||Drew Brees (5,177)|
|Top Rusher||Jamaal Charles (1,707)||Adrian Peterson (2,097)|
|Top Receiver||Marques Colston (1,546)||Calvin Johnson (1,964)|
|Sack Leader||DeMarcus Ware (18.5)||J.J. Watt (20.5)|
|Int. Leader||3-way tie (8)||Tim Jennings (9)|
The Sim Season
Key Address Changes
We didn’t get a deluge of moves this year with the big domino, Peyton Manning, signing with Indianapolis for four more years (only making $48 million over that time, front-loaded deal I guess). Other than that, the quarterback moves, while vast, were relatively insignificant. We do, however, have our first fictional draft class to discuss, as well as a round of major retirements.
- Buccaneers sign Super Bowl MVP Quentin Jammer
- Cardinals sign Steve Smith, Donovan McNabb
- Dolphins sign Matt Hasselbeck
- Bills sign Kevin Kolb
- 49ers sign Vince Young
- Lions sign Navorro Bowman
- Raiders sign Carson Palmer
- Seahawks sign Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Texans sign Chad Ochocinco
- Alex Smith enters the season as a free agent (signs with the Redskins late in the season)
- Ronde Barber
- Ray Lewis
- Jason Taylor
Top Five Picks
- Broncos take Rob Farris, DE, Georgia
- Lions take Dextrell Green, CB, Ole Miss
- Bills take Devonta’ McAlister, LT, Texas
- Cardinals take Teddy Scrivens, HB, UConn
- Colts take Najee Brown, DT, Boise State
First quarterback off the board is Corey Williams out of Ole Miss to the Vikings at 17, followed by Shane Joseph out of Virginia Tech to the 49ers at 23 and Tommy Papagianopoulos from Tulsa to Tennessee at 24. Three running backs went in the top 12. The Vikings drafting Williams at 17 means that they have now drafted a quarterback in the first round two years in a row and Williams will compete with Christian Ponder for the starting job.
The Redskins draft Carter Murphy from BYU in the second, presumably to be their starter with McNabb now in Arizona
Starting rookie QBs: Joseph (SF), Murphy (WAS), Papagianopoulos (TEN), Williams (MIN).
No. 4 pick Teddy Scrivens is the highest-rated rookie at 85 overall.
Aaron Rodgers cannot catch a break. For the second year in a row, he missed a ton of time. And this year, he was well on his way to a runaway MVP, throwing 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in six games before going down in week 6. He game back in week 17 to add four more touchdowns and finished with the highest passer rating in the league, though he did not technically qualify for that title. Once again, Jimmy Clausen played well in relief with 19 and 12 and helped keep the Packers in playoff position. Though they could not hang with the Bears in the division race, they earned a Wild Card spot.
Similarly, Tony Romo also was bitten by the injury bug again, missing nearly half the season. T.J. Yates was OK in relief, but Dallas finished with a 5-11 record. Ben Roethlisberger went out at the exact wrong point in the season, breaking his hand late in week 17 after leading the Steelers to the one seed in the AFC.
This year, we had a far more balanced playoff picture with only two outlier teams: the 14-2 Bears and the 9-7 Buccaneers. Chicago’s defense carried the way for the Bears, ranking first in points allowed while the offense was middle of the pack. In the AFC, the Steelers were the top team and arguably the league’s most balanced, finishing top-10 in scoring on both sides of the ball. Outside of those teams, every playoff team was fairly pedestrian in terms of production. The league simply had a lot of parity this year with very few standouts besides the Bears and maybe the Steelers.
In an incredible turn of events, the Chargers went from the best team in the NFL and Super Bowl champs to one of the worst teams in NFL history. They finished 1-15 with the third-worst offense in football. And it’s not like they were without Philip Rivers for a huge chunk of the season either. Sure, he missed some time, but he played 12 of 16 games. They were just flat out bad. And given how they limped to a Super Bowl last year, I have to say I’m thankful that they have to go back to the drawing board this coming offseason with the No. 1 pick.
The Cardinals and Browns, on the other hand, stayed exactly where they have been. The Cardinals even went down a notch, winning three games instead of four, while the five-win Browns joined the Cowboys, Bengals and Lions with the third-worst record.
We had slightly more realistic passing numbers this year with four quarterbacks hitting the 4,000-yard mark: Peyton Manning (who won league MVP), Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. Manning took home top honors despite 17 picks, most likely as a lifetime achievement award in his age-36 season (because a four-time MVP needs another to feel appreciated).
It again was simply not an impressive passing season, however. Not a single quarterback had at least 60 percent completion, and no one with more than 200 pass attempts averaged eight yards per. Romo was the closest at 7.9 and he missed seven games.
As for rushing, this older Madden game engine loves itself some running backs. 21 backs hit 1,000 yards this year — up from the 17 in 2011. Jamaal Charles took home his second rushing title in a row with 1,707 yards, slightly ahead of Knowshon Moreno, Adrian Peterson and Peyton Hillis. Charles is on a Hall of Fame tear as of late.
We actually saw some true No. 1 receivers top the league in yards this year with Marques Colston leading them all, followed by A.J. Green, Brandon Lloyd and Reggie Wayne. Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Larry Fitzgerald each topped 1,200 yards as well. Greg Jennings was the leading touchdown man, however, with 16 to go along with 1,181 yards.
Defensive Player of the Year DeMarcus Ware led the league in sacks with 18 1/2, two up on second-place Cameron Sheffield. Lions rookie Shamare Cobb recorded 14 1/2 en route to Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, so he looks to be a steal as a second-rounder.
No rookie quarterback did much this year. Williams was OK for Minnesota but missed a few games, and Papagianopoulous was miserable with nine picks and only three touchdowns in nine games. Carter Murphy struggled a bit and was spelled by Alex Smith for Washington after he tore his triceps in week 8. Shane Joseph was the only rookie to start the whole season and he struggled with accuracy issues, completing just 50 percent of passes. He did get the Niners into the postseason, but his dislocated hip will sideline him for the playoffs.
First-round running back Ja’Terian Batelmy won Offensive Rookie of the Year with over 1,200 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. Fourth overall pick Teddy Scrivens failed to hit 1,000 scrimmage yards and only scored two touchdowns, justifying modern analytic views on taking running backs top-five.
|1||Steelers (11-5)||Bears (14-2)|
|Colts (10-6)||Rams (11-5)|
|3||Patriots (10-6)||Giants (10-6)|
|4||Raiders (10-6)||Buccaneers (9-7)|
|5||Ravens (11-5)||Packers (11-5)|
|6||Jets (10-6)||49ers (10-6)|
Wild Card Round
Giants defeat 49ers 17-14
Patriots defeat Jets 13-6
Packers defeat Buccaneers 31-24
Raiders defeat Ravens 16-7
We had exclusively close games in the first round, and one of them was actually quite exciting. The AFC is looking wide open at this point with every playoff team separated by one win and the Steelers without Roethlisberger going forward. The NFC looks tight as well as the weak-link Buccaneers were knocked off by Green Bay. The three seed Giants, not the five seed Packers, head to Chicago for some reason, while Green Bay gets the slightly better matchup of St. Louis.
Rams defeat Packers 35-16
Bears defeat Giants 32-18
Steelers defeat Raiders 30-14
Colts defeat Patriots 30-24
What’s this? All high-scoring games for the winners? The league is rounding into shape. One of the major developments is Sam Bradford slowly approaching superstar territory. He had a solid season, but he showed up big here, throwing for four touchdowns and outdueling Rodgers. Jay Cutler was also at another level with four touchdowns of his own.
The big turn of events, however, was Shaun Hill stepping in for Roethlisberger and leading a hard offensive charge. The Steelers signed him right before the game to get them to the Super Bowl, and he is off to a great start with 341 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh was aided a bit by Carson Palmer getting hurt for Oakland, but still, an impressive win for the AFC’s top seed. As for Colts-Patriots, it did not have the same feel as typical Manning-Brady duels, as Tom Brady struggled early then went down with an injury while Manning was on fire with 343 yards and three touchdowns on 49 pass attempts.
Bears defeat Rams 27-24
Steelers defeat Colts 22-7
The NFC Championship Game was all about the running backs as Matt Forte and Steven Jackson combined for three touchdowns of 30-plus yards, while Cutler and Bradford struggled a bit. Ultimately, the difference here was the Bears were slightly better on third down (7-for-16 vs. 5-for-15) and made more red zone connections (two touchdowns, one field goal vs. one touchdown). While this postseason run seemed a bit like an anointment tour for Bradford, the Bears did just enough to put an end to that.
In the AFC, Manning introduced a younger generation to his patented playoff duds. He threw the ball 42 times, but threw for only 181 yards (4.3 YPA) and an interception. Both teams fell shy of 240 yards total offense, but at least the Steelers got close enough to make field goals. Sebastian Janikowski made five in total, and Antonio Brown scored the game’s lone touchdown on a 12-yard pass.
Oh, that’s right — the Colts scored seven points but did not have a touchdown. They record two safeties and field goal to hit that mark. That alone makes this the most interesting terrible football game of all time.
Anyway, we have a matchup of classic NFL teams with the Steelers taking on the charter franchise. Super Bowl XLVII will have huge historical implications as far as franchise legacies.
Shaun Hill got out ripping hot, throwing for two touchdowns in the first quarter. Cutler, meanwhile, threw for 32 yards on 12 attempts with a pick. The Steelers basically buried the game in the first 15 minutes by building a 17-0 lead. That would get up to 26-0 before the break.
The Bears had a shot to build some momentum with seconds left in the half, getting inside the 10. But with 10 seconds to go, facing pressure, Cutler forced a ball into the middle of the field and it was picked off. The Steelers went into the half up 26-0.
In the third, Hill threw interceptions on back-to-back possessions, his second and third of the game. You know how many points the Bears got out of them? Zero. They had a three-and-out on the first and Cutler threw a pick right back on the second. That’s what made this game a chore to watch. Yeah, the Steelers put up points, but they were completely incompetent after the first quarter. And the Bears, well, they reached levels of offensive ineptitude completely unbecoming of a 14-2 team. At least the Steelers had the excuse of Shaun Hill starting at quarterback.
When the Bears finally started moving the ball late in the third, it came by running the same draw play to Matt Forte over and over. And by moving the ball, I mean they made it past midfield before having to punt.
But then SURPRISE, FAKE PUNT. The snap to the upback leads to a five-yard gain, which gets the first by two inches. Good on ya, Lovie. Some balls for once and the Bears got into field goal range. Of course, they only got a field goal and were still down 26, but hey, they got on the board at least.
No other points would be scored in this game. For the second year in a row, we have a complete dud of a Super Bowl with a defensive back, Chris Crocker, taking home MVP honors. I don’t know why Crocker was MVP when he had one interception and Lamar Woodley had four tackles for loss and two sacks.
Seventeen combined punts. Cutler going 17-40 for 118 yards and four picks. Combined 5-for-34 on third down. Six total points scored in the second half. I didn’t think it could get any worse than last year, but at least that game had drama. This was a blowout of incompetence. Congratulations, Steelers.
The Bears let down the city of Chicago more than 108 years of Cubs angst ever could with one ghastly performance.
Steelers defeat Bears 29-3.