Editor's note: Back in August, NFL writer Will Brinson simulated an entire NFL season using the "Madden NFL" video game. It's worth noting that his simulation had the Atlanta Falcons winning the Super Bowl. The story and results are in his story below.
Fiction can be fun. And virtual fiction can be even more fun. Such is the case when you fire up the NFL season with the latest release of EA Sports "Madden."
This year's version is as fun as I can remember. It's got tremendous graphics -- including never-before-seen stadiums -- major improvements in terms of runner control, a difficult level of passing and updated announcer commentary.
On the last point: The "Madden" team switched from Jim Nantz and Phil Simms to Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis. I personally prefer the Nantz/Simms combo to the newer version, but I love what they did by having the commentary update via the EA servers. What this means is you get the announcers discussing real events happening. Davis and Gaudin were discussing Christine Michael's impressive performances for the Seahawks, how Dak Prescott was the talk of the preseason, various injuries that happened in the last 48 hours of me playing, and an anecdote about Dre Kirkpatrick borrowing shoes from a kid.
These are real-time events that make the commentary sing a little bit more. It's a fantastic addition.
Franchise mode is also substantially improved this year. It feels like the guys and gals at EA Sports wanted to throw it back a little bit and get people really interested in running that portion of the game. It's always been my favorite, so it's a welcome addition. The trading block offers a more aggressive way to move players, the preseason is basically skipped (THANK YOU) and there's enough player variation to make you want to engage in the practice exercises.
Online play feels as streamlined as its ever been and now you don't know who your opponent is choosing to play with when you select your team. Go in blind and get weird. (Alternately: expect everyone to show up and pick the Cowboys.)
As is tradition around these parts, we also simulated the entire season to find out exactly what would happen in the real-life NFL in 2016. "Madden" knows all.
Or it might be completely wrong, because this rendition of the simulation chose the Falcons to win.
I fired up as the Browns (didn't want my choice of team influencing anything and wanted to ensure I had someone who couldn't possibly win the Super Bowl) and was fairly stunned to see some of the results.
Here are the full standings:
Some notes on these standings:
- This game LOVES the freaking Rams. When you fire up "Madden" you actually go into this mode where you take over for Jared Goff and the Rams offense, down to the Redskins in the playoffs (again: this is not real life!) in Los Angeles trying to win a playoff game. It feels a little heavy-handed like there's a message to push the L.A. Rams. But maybe that's just the cynic in me. Also, I can't get comfortable with Jeff Fisher holding a 12-4 record.
- This is actually a good representation of the NFC to me. Going 9-7 will get you to the dance in the AFC, but there's going to be some 9-7 NFC team that whiffs on the playoffs because the conference is so deep.
- The Cardinals are easily the biggest outlier here. Going 3-12-1??? Like 70 percent of media members are picking them to win the Super Bowl. Bruce Arians got fired in the simulation and I feel like I can confidently state that even going 0-16 would not get Bruce Arians fired after his year. I'm not even kidding. He couldn't do that, I don't think, because he's too good a coach, but go winless and he still keeps his job. That's a long shot bet right there.
After the regular season came the playoffs and they were even more surprising:
Steelers beat Patriots 43-35
Cowboys beat Redskins 32-20
Jaguars beat Dolphins 31-23
Falcons beat Packers 19-13
Steelers beat Bengals 37-24
Falcons beat Rams 37-31
Jaguars beat Chiefs 20-7
Saints beat Cowboys 24-20
Steelers beat Jaguars 31-28
Falcons beat Saints 27-21
Falcons beat Steelers 41-35
This is the beauty of fake football. Anything can happen? I'm not saying I will literally eat one of my shoes if the four teams in the championship games are the Steelers, Jaguars, Falcons and Saints but, actually eff it, I'll eat a shoe if that happens. Screenshot it and hold me to it.
As far as awards go, there was nothing too crazy. Aaron Rodgers won MVP. Marvin Lewis won Coach of the Year. (But not a playoff game. SAD!)
Statistically there were some interesting results:
- Rodgers threw for 48 (!) touchdowns
- Here's a fun one: Kiko Alonso led the league in tackles (154). Justin Houston was tops in sacks (24.5) while J.J. Watt as a fairly distant second (17.5). Dante Fowler blew up for 14.5 to help Jacksonville make the playoffs.
- Speaking of the Redskins, they traded for Charles Sims before the season began and he ran for 932 yards. It was actually the second time I saw them do that in a franchise simulation. Everyone is aware about the Redskins running back problems.
- The Cowboys led the league in total yardage while the Packers led the league in scoring (32.8). The Redskins were second (30.8) while the Cowboys were third (30).
- The Seahawks were by far and away the best defense in the league, giving up just 286 points.
- Arians wasn't the only weird coaching move -- the Colts also hired John Harbaugh. Which, like, sure that's awesome, but how did this shake out? Was he fired by the Ravens? Traded? I NEED ANSWERS. (Also what an incredible offseason saga that would be.)
- A bunch of people retired too. They will make you sad if you're in your 30s.
We'll check back in after the real season is over and see how close things came. Just start to get scared if that Sims trade goes down in the next week or so.