The Playoffs According to Madden NFL 2001

EA Sports traditionally simulates the Super Bowl using the latest Madden game. They’ve done it the past 11 years and will do it again this year. Madden has a pretty good record: 8 correct predictions and 3 incorrect ones. 1)Madden failed to predict the Giants upsetting the Patriots in 2008, the Packers beating the Steelers in 2011, and last year’s Seahawks beating the Broncos. That’s pretty good. Gives me an idea. Why not use an older Madden game and simulate up until the present time, including the entire playoffs? Surely that will be most accurate of all!

It would be positively remiss of me were I not to shout out SB Nation’s Breaking Madden feature for indirectly inspiring this piece. Jon Bois twists and turns Madden video games until they sing crooked, broken, awful melodies. Last year’s Super Bowl edition is still, today, one of the greatest things I have ever seen or read. If I can muster even a fraction of that brilliance with this simulation, I will have succeeded.

For this experiment I will be using the oldest copy of Madden I own: Madden NFL 2001 for the Nintendo 64. There are a few things to note before we get started:

  • The Houston Texans are not in this game at all. They were added during the 2002-03 NFL season and in Madden NFL 2002. As such, there are only 31 teams in this Madden. It shouldn’t matter too much, as Houston missed the playoffs this year entirely.
  • As a result of this, the divisional realignment that occurred when the Texans joined the league is not reflected in Madden NFL 2001. Each conference has only three divisions (East, Central, West) instead of the four that is standard now (East, North, South, West).
  • As a result of THAT, there are some geographical anomalies. The Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons play in the NFC West. The Seattle Seahawks, favorites to win this year’s Super Bowl, play in an entirely different conference: the AFC West. There are a lot of other weird things I won’t bore you with.
  • Most players in this game are now retired. A few, like Peyton Manning, have pretty accurate ratings (93) but are now on different teams (then Colts, now Broncos). Others, like Tom Brady, are on the same team but have…well, let’s just say that Madden NFL 2001 did not predict Brady’s success.
Not even a name.
Not even a name.

For the record, the players rated 100 overall in the game are Buccaneers fullback Mike Alstott, Chargers linebacker Junior Seau (RIP), Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. The lowest overall rating in the game belongs to Patriots fullback Harold Shaw, at 34. Congratulations, Harold! 2)Shaw won ArenaBowl XV in 2001 with the now-defunct Grand Rapids Rampage. Congratulations, Harold!

Here are the rules. I will start a new franchise mode but will not control any of the teams. Everything that happens will be up entirely to the Madden NFL 2001 cartridge. I will simulate from September of 2000, which is where the game starts, all the way to the 2014-15 NFL playoffs. This will take place before the first round of wild card games of the 2014-15 NFL playoffs, though this piece will be published after it. Along the way I will measure what the game does with the results of each NFL season, mainly the Super Bowl. If there are any other significant anomalies I’ll bring those up too.  Let’s get started!

2000-01 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: The Baltimore Ravens defeated the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV by a score of 34 to 7. Ray Lewis justified his 100 overall rating by winning Super Bowl MVP. The San Diego Chargers finished with the worst record in the league at 1-15. Marshall Faulk of the Rams led the league in touchdowns with 26 and won MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.

What should have happened according to Madden NFL 2001: Well, this got off to the wackiest start possible. Rookie Linebacker Rob Thomas of the Indianapolis Colts won MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Defensive Rookie of the Year. 3)Thomas finished with 189 tackles. In real life that year, he finished with 11. He dropped out of the league in 2007. Faulk finished second in MVP but did win Offensive Player of the Year, accounting for 25 touchdowns (so close!). The Giants did not make the playoffs. The Broncos won the Super Bowl over the Rams by a score of 27 to 24. The Ravens lost in the divisional round.

In the offseason, Jerry Rice retired and Junior Seau signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. 4)Rice stayed in the actual league until 2004. Seau played for the Dolphins and Patriots later in his career. The first glut of game-created players entered the league in the 2001 NFL Draft. That actual draft had the Falcons trading for the first pick so that they could draft Michael Vick. Instead, the Pittsburgh Steelers held the pick and drafted quarterback C. Steed. If only he had fallen to the Broncos! Colts running back Edgerrin James and Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace joined the 100 overall club.

2001-02 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: Patriots starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe went down with a season ending injury in week 2. Backup Tom Brady entered the game and the rest is history. The Patriots upset the Rams (the “Greatest Show on Turf”) in Super Bowl XXXVI 20-17 on a last-second field goal. The Carolina Panthers won their first game and lost their next fifteen. Giants defensive end Michael Strahan set the single-season record for sacks at 22.5, which still stands today. Kurt Warner of the Rams won MVP, Marshall Faulk won another OPOY award.

What should have happened: The game has Tom Brady still with no name, but now he’s 58 overall at least! Needless to say, he won’t be saving the Patriots’ season this time around. Keyshawn Johnson of the Cleveland Browns (!?) set a new single-season receiving yards record with 1,899, breaking Jerry Rice’s record of 1,848 in 1995. The Panthers went 10-6 and made the playoffs! QB NO.12 did not attempt a pass. Kurt Warner did win MVP but here he also picked up the OPOY. The Steelers’ first overall pick did not attempt a pass either. The Colts beat the Redskins in the Super Bowl 23-14. The Pats missed the playoffs and the Rams lost in the NFC Championship.

So the game isn’t off to a good start. But I have faith that things will come full circle by the 2014-15 season. Hopefully they will for the Steelers…they just had their second straight first overall pick and they took a wide receiver this time: B. Ferguson. 5)I don’t think Madden NFL 2001 lets you see a player’s full first name. Maybe he’ll play a snap for them! So now we’re in the…

2002-03 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: The Texans actually joined the league this season. Divisional realignment happened. The Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII over the Oakland Raiders by a score of 48-21. Ouch! Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys broke Walter Payton’s career rushing yards record. Rich Gannon of Oakland won MVP. Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles won Coach of the Year.

What should have happened: The Bengals went 14-2 (!?). QB NO.12 did not attempt a pass. Brian Simmons, another linebacker who fell out of the league in 2007, won the MVP for the Bengals. Brett Favre (!!!) won OPOY. Neither the Raiders nor the Bucs made the playoffs at all. War of the big cats in the Super Bowl, though! The Bengals played the Panthers. The Panthers even won, 31-21! It’s their first-ever Super Bowl! I like the way this simulation is going.

We’re three years and three offseasons in now. Year four is upon is. The game hasn’t been super-accurate thus far, with it failing to predict any of the actual Super Bowl champions. But here’s my favorite thing to happen: player progression has resulted in the best player on the Washington Professional Football Team being a 97 overall linebacker named LB NO.56. One problem, though…

You had ONE job.
You had ONE job.

They got his number wrong. Whoops! In real life, that’s LaVar Arrington, the 2nd overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. Like so many linebackers before him, he had a solid but short career, falling out of the league in 2007. In other rating-related news, the 100 overall club now consists of Broncos tight end Bubba Franks (who played eight alright seasons with the Packers), Alstott, Chargers fullback Jermaine Fazande (who has a GREAT Wikipedia article), Seau, James, Thomas, Dolphins fullback Rob Konrad, Pace, and Lewis. Madden NFL 2001 has pretty low standards for fullbacks. Anyway…

2003-04 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: As I know all too well, the Patriots beat the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII 32 to 29. Priest Holmes of the Kansas City Chiefs scored 27 touchdowns, setting a new record. Jamal Lewis of the Ravens set a new record for rushing yards in a game with 295. Peyton Manning and Steve McNair (RIP) split the MVP award. Two Lewises from Baltimore won the POYs: Jamal won Offensive and Ray won Defensive.

What should have happened: QB NO.12 is at 60 overall now but is still a third-string quarterback with no career pass attempts. Wali Rainer, a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns who in real life was out of the league by 2007 won the MVP award. Hmm. Troy Aikman, quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, won OPOY even though in real life he retired after the 2000-01 NFL season due to concussions. The Panthers made the playoffs but lost in the divisional round; the Patriots missed out entirely with QB NO.12 sitting on the bench. The Broncos won their second Super Bowl of this simulation, beating the Packers 31-27.

In this offseason, the Panthers’ quarterback Steve Beuerlein retired at the age of 39. This holds up with real life, as Beuerlein actually retired after this season but as a member of the Denver Broncos. Jake Delhomme, the Panthers’ actual quarterback at this time, is a free agent with a 68 overall. Brett Favre (Brett Favre!!!) became a free agent and signed with the Tennessee Titans. The only new member of the 100 club is Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli, who in real life had retired due to injuries by this point, though he holds a place in the Jaguars Hall of Fame. Junior Seau now sits at 99 overall, the first person to fall out of the 100 club. This takes us to…

2004-05 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: The Patriots repeated as Super Bowl champs in Super Bowl XXXIX by beating the Eagles 24 to 21. The Pittsburgh Steelers went 15-1 but lost in the AFC Championship. At the other end of the spectrum, the San Francisco 49ers went 2-14. Peyton Manning threw a then-incredible 49 touchdown passes, setting a new record. Manning won MVP and OPOY. Ravens safety Ed Reed won DPOY. The Offensive Rookie of the Year was a quarterback by the name of Ben Roethlisberger.

What should have happened: My new favorite fucking thing in this simulation happened. Brett Favre, of the Tennessee Titans, threw 49 touchdown passes, setting a new record. Christ. His Titans went 13-3, as did Manning’s Colts. 6)Manning threw 38 TDs. But, somehow, Favre only won OPOY. Your MVP was LB NO.53 of the Jacksonville Jaguars. T.J. Slaughter, in real life, played for six teams in his career, which ended around…you guessed it, 2007. I don’t get this game. QB NO.12 is at 61 overall now, and the game lists him as “HOT” although he has yet to attempt a pass. The Pats missed the playoffs. Eagles lost first round. The Colts beat the Saints in the Super Bowl, 30-27. The Brett Favres lost in the AFC Championship.

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Peyton Manning’s past (Colts) and present (Broncos) teams have so far won four of the five Super Bowls in this simulation. Is this an omen? The only new member of the 100 club is a fullback for the Seahawks named L. Gilbert. Since the game says he has spent four years in the league and we are in year six of a simulation, I must assume L. Gilbert does not actually exist in real life. I have chosen to gift him with the first name Lump. Lump Gilbert is the Seattle Seahawks’ best player right now. That’s just the reality.

2005-06 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: The Steelers beat the Lump-less Seahawks in Super Bowl XL 21-10. The Houston Texans went 2-14. Shaun Alexander of the Seahawks scored 28 touchdowns, breaking Priest Holmes’s record. Alexander won MVP and OPOY. Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears won DPOY.

What should have happened: Alexander is a member of the Cardinals in the game, for some reason. Neither do the Texans. The Favres went 13-3, the Vikings went 3-13. Another random-ass linebacker won MVP. This time it was Raynoch Thompson, who was out of the league by this point in real life. He also never actually played for the Eagles, who he won the MVP with. Halfback Ron Dayne won OPOY—he too would be out of the actual league by 2007. In the Super Bowl, after both the Seahawks and Steelers missed the playoffs, the Eagles beat the Favres 34-24. Decades of heartbreak for Eagles fans washed away in the virtual world!

So far, what have we learned? Well, the best players on earth are mostly fullbacks, except when it comes to MVP voting when it’s best to be an average linebacker. In a just world, Tom Brady would have rotted on the bench as an anonymous quarterback for his entire career. Any team Brett Favre plays for will be exclusively referred to as the Favres. Anyway, during this offseason, Chiefs fullback Tony Richardson (who actually was a four-time Pro Bowler) and fictional Radiers fullback I. McMahon joined the 100 club. Lump Gilbert is now a Detroit Lion. I. McMahon is now…Illmatic McMahon.

2006-07 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: Though Peyton Manning has two Super Bowl rings to his name in the virtual world, it took him until now to get his first in the real world. His Colts beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI. The Oakland Raiders went 2-14 and doomed themselves to picking JaMarcus Russell in the next NFL draft. LaDainian Tomlinson scored 31 touchdowns, 28 of them rushing, to break Shaun Alexander’s records. He would win MVP and OPOY honors.

What should have happened: LT does not exist in the harsh realm of Madden NFL 2001. Parity does, however. In this season no team finished with more than 11 or less than 4 wins. Also, Brett Favre does. Favre won MVP, edging out Peyton Manning in what must have been a close vote. Marshall Faulk won OPOY and LB NO.53 won DPOY, this time for the San Diego Chargers. The Colts lost in round one of the playoffs to the Jaguars. The Bears missed the playoffs. Instead, the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLI by beating the Denver Broncos 31-14, led by former ECU quarterback Jeff Blake. 7)Blake played for seven different teams in the real NFL, none of them the Saints. Drew Brees, who many people know as the Saints’ quarterback, entered the league one year after Madden NFL 2001 came out.

So far we have a Super Bowl win for the Panthers and a Super Bowl win for an alum of my dad’s alma mater. And we’re inching ever closer to that climactic season of 2014-15, when this game will no doubt supervise every card falling into place, predicting a perfectly accurate Super Bowl champion. In any case, only one new member joined the 100 club: Ravens tight end W. Swinger, who has been in the league only two years by now. His new name is Winger. Winger Swinger.

2007-08 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: The Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season, won their first two playoff games, and then, thank God, they lost Super Bowl XLII to the Giants by a score of 17-14. The Miami Dolphins finished 1-15. Brett Favre broke the career records for passing touchdowns, passing yards and interceptions. Tom Bra—I mean, QB NO.12—threw 50 TDs, though, breaking Peyton Manning’s record. Randy Moss caught 23 of them, also a record. QB NO.12 won MVP and OPOY.

What should have happened: Still no career attempts for QB NO.12. The Patriots finished 9-7. We did have a 1-15 team, though: the 49ers. It’s the worst record of the simulation. Kurt Warner, of the Cardinals in real life but of the Rams in the game, won MVP. OPOY went to Donovan McNabb of the Eagles. The Pats made the playoffs but lost in the first round, firing head coach Tony Dungy. 8)In real life, Bill Belichick has coached the Pats for the last fifteen or so years. Your Super Bowl XLII is a matchup between the Rams and Steelers, and the Rams won 24-20. The Greatest Show on Turf is still alive and well!

In the offseason, Junior Seau finally retires as a member of the Chiefs. M. Moye, a fullback from Denver, joins the 100 club and is given the name Muddy. So does L. Phifer, a tight end from San Diego. He is given the name Lando. F. Schulters, a tight end from Miami, also joins those hallowed ranks. He is given the name Flanders. B. Lyght, a fullback from San Francisco, joins as well. He is given the name Beemovie. K. Sauer, a fullback from Minnesota, is the last addition. He is given the name Kanye.

So, the market is very top-heavy with fullbacks and tight ends.

2008-09 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: Most notably, the Detroit Lions became the first team to go winless since 1982, losing all sixteen of their games. Super Bowl XLIII ended in heartbreak defeat for Kurt Warner’s Arizona Cardinals against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Steelers won, 27-23. QB NO.12 went down with an injury in the first game of the season and backup Matt Cassel went 11-5 but the Pats still missed the playoffs. Peyton Manning won MVP. Drew Brees won OPOY.

What should have happened: The Lions aren’t going to go 0-16 on Lump Gilbert’s watch! But they did go 5-11. The worst record of the season belonged to the Atlanta Falcons, at 2-14. Ron Dayne of the Cowboys scored 27 TDs, 26 of them rushing, to set new records in this fucked up reality. He won MVP, beating, yep, Peyton Manning. Both the Steelers and Cardinals made the playoffs, but the Steelers lost in the wild card round and the Cards in the divisional round. Kurt Warner advanced to the Super Bowl, but with the Rams. Peyton Manning’s Colts beat him 31-24.

That makes three Super Bowl rings for Peyton Manning. And the game accurately predicted that Kurt Warner would lose Super Bowl XLIII! Things just keep getting better and better. In a no-doubt heartbreaking press conference after the season’s end, Brett Favre announced his retirement after 18 years. Unfortunately there is no unretire feature in this game. In free agency, the Panthers signed their old quarterback Kerry Collins, and now he is their starter. That might be my new favorite thing so far. 9)Actually, it’s still Brett Favre throwing 49 touchdown passes for the Titans. M. Mirer of the Bills is the latest addition to the 100 club. He is a fullback and his new name is Mortimer. P. Gowin, a Jaguars tight end, also joined and was awarded the name Pumpy. Other 100 club baptisms: Washington Professional Football Team fullback Kinky Goldsby, Saints fullback Jub-Jub Brien, and Vikings fullback Disneysplanes Emanuel. I’ll let you know if one of these random-ass fullbacks ever has an actual impact.

2009-10 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: The Colts made it to Super Bowl XLIV but Manning failed to win his second ring. The Saints won 31-17. Those Colts went 14-2. The St. Louis Rams, long without Kurt Warner, went 1-15. Brett Favre unretired (again) and came back to play for the Vikings. Manning won MVP. Running back Chris Johnson of ECU and, professionally, the Titans, won OPOY after rushing for over 2,000 yards. Defensive back Charles Woodson of the Packers won DPOY.

What should have happened: Chris Johnson is not in this game, but Woodson is, though he plays for the Lions. Favre isn’t coming back. 10)Moment of silence. The Packers went 2-14. Ouch. QB NO.12 is still waiting for his first shot. A Titans running back did win OPOY honors, as well as MVP. Eddie George, cover athlete for Madden NFL 2001. 11)George retired in 2004. The Colts lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Saints missed out entirely. Instead, Super Bowl XLIV matched up the Rams and Bills. Would the Bills finally win a Super Bowl after losing four straight during the 90s? Yes! They won 32-20! Mortimer Mirer rushed for one touchdown over the course of the season! He’s relevant!!! The Bills’ quarterback? Second-year pro O. Justice, who has earned the name…Opollo.

The Bills, Eagles, and Panthers have all won Super Bowls during this simulation. Wonderful! Opollo Justice is the next big thing. QB NO.12 lost an overall point of progress, and now he sits at 60, his NFL dream in the gutter. No new 100 club members this year, but many of them changed teams, and most of them are still irrelevant fullbacks and tight ends who might manage one or two touchdowns a season. Such is life.

2010-11 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: QB NO.12’s NFL dream is alive and well. He won MVP this year. In Super Bowl XLV, the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25. My Carolina Panthers went 2-14. Brett Favre throws his 70,000th career yard and 500th career touchdown pass, and then finally retires for real. QB NO.12 wins OPOY to go with his MVP. The Steelers’ Troy Polamalu wins DPOY.

What should have happened: Donovan McNabb of the Eagles wins MVP and OPOY. Whoo! I only now realize that Madden NFL 2001 does not track career records or even statistics. Whoops. QB NO. 12’s NFL dreams gets some traction, as he gets the first playing time of his career at age 33, in his tenth year in the league. He goes 21 for 49 for 294 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. Rough start, but it’s never too late! The Packers and Steelers both miss the playoffs. Super Bowl XLV is a win for the Buccaneers, who defeat the Broncos 37-21. Shaun King quarterbacked the Bucs and Brian Griese quarterbacked the Broncos. Both real people!

Kerry Collins retires a Panther. Drew Bledsoe retires a Patriot, opening the door for some more playing time for ol’ QB NO.12. Michael Strahan retires a…Raider? Kurt Warner and Issac Bruce both retire as Rams. The old guard is finally leaving. Well, the Patriots jockblock QB NO.12 in free agency by signing 38-year-old Jon Kitna, a 75 overall QB. I have also elected to stop reporting on and baptizing members of the 100 club that are fullbacks or tight ends. That leave one player: Colts halfback Edgerrin James.

2011-12 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: Peyton Manning missed the entire season due to neck surgery and never played a game for the Colts again, signing as a Denver Bronco after the season’s end. The Colts went 2-14 without him, setting themselves up to draft Andrew Luck. The Green Bay Packers went 15-1. Drew Brees threw for 5,476 yards, QB NO.12 and Lions QB Matthew Stafford also broke 5,000 yards. Tim Tebow also did Tim Tebow things. Brees won OPOY. Aaron Rodgers won MVP. The Giants beat the Patriots in a Super Bowl again, winning Super Bowl XLVI 21-17.

What should have happened: Packers went 2-14 with no Aaron Rodgers in sight. In his stead, John Mobley, a 37-year-old linebacker for the Denver Broncos won MVP. 12)Mobley played all eight seasons of his career for the Broncos, but he retired before the 2004 season. Jamal Lewis won OPOY honors, while Peyton Manning finished second with a good neck. QB NO.12 went 5 of 13 for 50 yards and 2 interceptions. His totals are now 26 for 62 for 344 yards with no touchdowns and five interceptions. Yikes. Neither the Pats nor the Giants make the playoffs. Instead, we get a Jets/Eagles Super Bowl. The Eagles win 24-17. Please send congratulations to Donovan McNabb.

Jon Kitna retires, opening another door for QB NO.12. Marshall Faulk retires well after he actually did in real life. Then it becomes apparent that QB NO.12 has been quietly removed from the game. It appears that players without long, notable careers do not “retire” in the terms of the game. Instead they just vanish. In any case, QB NO.12’s entire career can be summed up with the above statistics. We were so close, too!

During my search to see of QB NO.12 had switched teams, I found evidence of a worrying trend as we approach the final three seasons of this simulation. The league is markedly weak at quarterback. The only QB above 90 overall is Peyton Manning, who at age 36 in the game is still at 93 overall, which might even be a bit low considering we are on the cusp of his best two offensive seasons ever in real life. Next up is C. McGee, a created seven-year pro for the Pittsburgh Steelers who is 86 overall. He, too, gets a name: C.C.

2012-13 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: As stated prior, Peyton Manning returns to the league after nearly having to end his career and wins Comeback Player of the Year. Adrian Peterson rushes for over 2,000 yards and earns the league MVP. Other notables from this season include the infamous replacement refs during the brief referee lockout as well as the Saints bounty scandal ruining their season. In the postseason, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had an out-of-body experience, throwing 11 touchdowns to no interceptions. Super Bowl XLVII, which not only featured a matchup between Jim and John Harbaugh, brothers coaching opposite teams, but also a blackout in the middle of the game. John’s Ravens won 34-31 in Ray Rice’s last NFL game.

What should have happened: QB NO.12’s quiet departure from the league hits the Patriots hard—they go 1-15 in their first season without him. Ron Dayne, at age 34, wins his second MVP award by rushing for 1,961 yards and 25 touchdowns. Dayne rushed for almost 600 yards more than the second-place finisher, a 5’7’’ and 241-pound sight for fucking sore eyes named N. Hanson from the Buffalo Bills. He gets a name, too: Norbit. 13)To give you an idea how deep we are, Norbit is a created player but he has been in the league for ten years. C.C. McGee leads the league in passing. With no Harbaughs, neither the 49ers nor the Ravens make the playoffs. Instead, Super Bowl XLVII is a matchup between Peyton Manning’s Colts and G. Wilson’s Giants. Wilson leads his team to victory 28-14 and earns the name Gumby.

Manning has now made it to four Super Bowls and won three. This was his first loss. A bunch of halfbacks, including Eddie George, retire in the offseason. We have learned something else here: running backs enjoy much longer careers in Madden. Case in point: Edgerrin James, who only at age 35 managed to slip from the ranks of the 100 club, which now is made up entirely of anonymous fullbacks and tight ends. As I have said before, such is life.

2013-14 NFL SEASON

What really happened: Peyton Manning happened. Though his Broncos lost Super Bowl XLVIII 43-8 to the Seahawks, Manning rewrote the record books in the regular season. Totals of 55 touchdowns and 5,477 passing yards set new records in each category. The Broncos scored 606 points during that season, setting a new NFL record. Manning, of course, won his fifth actual MVP as well as an OPOY award. Panthers linebacker Luke Keuchly won DPOY in his second season.

What should have happened: The Steelers were the league high in points this season, scoring 481. A mortal and hobbled Peyton Manning threw for a mere 1,174 yards and 9 touchdowns in a season marred by injury. S. Schulz, a halfback in his fifth year for the 49ers, win MVP and was christened with the name Stump. Neither Manning team, past or present, made the playoffs. However, the Seahawks did, winning the AFC Championship and making it to the Super Bowl against the Cardinals. 14)Remember: the Seahawks moved to the NFC after Madden NFL 2001 came out. The game is as close as it’s ever been to making a correct prediction, but the Cardinals win 27-23. Cards QB P. Tuggle wins his first ring and earns the name Pug in his seventh year in the league.

In any case, things are trending in the right direction. There’s no better time for it, either: we’re finally almost caught up with real life. At the beginning of Madden NFL 2001’s 2014-15 NFL season, no members of the 100 club that are not fullbacks or tight ends exist. The majority of the game’s players are fictional, but each team does have about one to five players that actually do exist. Most of them were out of the league well before this point in real life. I did some quick (read: time-consuming) research to essentially find a Venn diagram of players still active in the 2014-15 season of Madden NFL 2001 as well as the 2014-15 season of real life. Here are the results:

  • Chargers linebacker John Abraham. Abraham was the 13th overall selection of the 2000 NFL draft and has made five Pro Bowls with the Jets, Falcons, and Cardinals. Abraham has been inactive since Week 1 of the season due to an injury and will likely retire once the season concludes.
  • Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. No need to go over him.
  • Lions cornerback Charles Woodson. Woodson remains the last defensive player to win the Heisman award in college and he lived up to that potential in the NFL. Currently an Oakland Raider, Woodson also spent some time in Green Bay, winning Super Bowl XLV with them. Woodson is a nine-time Pro Bowler and is the only player in NFL history with at least 50 sacks and 20 interception.
  • Patriots kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Janikowski was drafted by Oakland in 2000 and has played every year of his professional career with the Raiders. Janikowski is the highest scoring player in Raiders history and is the only kicker with two makes of over sixty yards.
  • Raiders punter P NO.2. In other words, Shane Lechler. Lechler, like Janikowski, was drafted by Oakland in 2000. He stayed with the Raiders until signing with the Texans in 2013. Lechler is a 7-time Pro Bowler and was the punter on the NFL 2000s All-Decade team. Lechler is the active leader in consecutive NFL games played with 206.

The game also features a few players like Champ Bailey, David Akers, Randy Moss, and Plaxico Burress who have recently retired. In short, this is pretty stunning. If we throw QB NO.12 back in the mix and assume no other still-active players have retired or been removed from the game, that makes a mere six players on the opening-day Madden NFL 2001 roster that are still active in the NFL. That number goes back down to five if we eliminate John Abraham, who is essentially retired. The game is a lot different than it was in 2000. Careers are shorter. Players are more aware than ever of the toll the game takes on their bodies.

None of these six players are with the teams they are with in real life at this point. In other words, every single team in the 2014-15 season of Madden NFL 2001 is without any player at all they have in real life. For all intents and purposes, a random number generator would be a better predictor of the outcome of the NFL playoffs than this simulation.

But that’s just the way I want it.

Let me tell you a story. In eighth grade, my science teacher had a Rubik’s cube. He issued me a challenge: if I could solve it on my own by the end of a class period, I would earn an A in the class no questions asked. I, unlike him, had no concept of the tricks and methods used to solve a Rubik’s cube. I went in blind. After twenty minutes of twisting and turning thinking I was making progress, he took it from me and promptly said, “This is the most mixed up I’ve seen this thing in a while.” He then solved it in about five minutes.

The years and years of simulation up until this point are akin to 8th grade me shuffling a Rubik’s cube without success. The result of this final simulated season is akin to my science teacher solving it perfectly and without extreme effort. Without further ado…

2014-15 NFL SEASON

What actually happened: We won’t know who wins the awards until the 4th annual NFL Honors ceremony on January 31st. As it stands, the MVP is a neck and neck race between Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt. The former is the favorite for OPOY and the latter for DPOY. The favorites to reach and win the Super Bowl are the Patriots and Seahawks. Colts QB Andrew Luck led the league with 40 passing TDs. DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys rushed for 1,845 yards and is an outside shot to win OPOY. Tampa Bay and Tennessee both went 2-14.

In lieu of the typical “What should have happened” here, we’re going to take a little more in-depth look at how the final standings fleshed out (and how they match up with real life) as well as the awards.

Real-life playoff seeds:

AFC: 1. Patriots 2. Broncos 3. Steelers 4. Colts 5. Bengals 6. Ravens

NFC: 1. Seahawks 2. Packers 3. Cowboys 4. Panthers 5. Cardinals 6. Lions

Madden NFL 2001 playoff seeds:

AFC: 1. Colts 2. Steelers 3. Chiefs 4. Bills 5. Jaguars 6. Ravens

NFC: 1. 49ers 2. Lions 3. Eagles 4. Falcons 5. Bears 6. Cowboys

Bold denotes teams that made the playoffs in both worlds. Bold and italics denote the Ravens because the game managed somehow to get their seeding correct. This is tremendous especially because of the change to the playoff format that has happened since Madden NFL 2001 came out. There are only three division winners per conference in the simulation. There are now four in real life. That the Ravens ended up the 6-seed in both worlds is amazing.

  1. McKinnon, quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars, won MVP. G. Wilson of the Giants won OPOY. T. Toczek of the Broncos won DPOY. They were blessed with the names Dewey, Gooey, and Tuey respectively. Peyton Manning was 252 of 411 for 3,338 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions before tearing his PCL and ending his season. 15)The great cosmic irony is at it again. Compare those numbers to 395/597, 4,727, 39, and 15 in real life.

So, playoff time! Let’s simulate that first round.

  • Ravens 31 – 17 Chiefs
  • Jaguars 24 – 30 Bills
  • Cowboys 34 – 31 Eagles
  • Bears 9 – 22 Falcons

What have we learned? Well, the two teams involved in the first round in both real life and the game both won. Does it matter that the Cowboys’ QB is second-year pro P. Clark and not Tony Romo? No! He’s Pinto Clark now! Does it matter that Ron Dayne is the Cowboys’ running back and not DeMarco Murray? No! You can’t stop the Dayne Train! What about the Ravens? Does it matter that Joe Flacco was never born as far as Madden NFL 2001 is concerned? Of course not! D. Gibson has eight years of experience and he was patient enough to wait until now to earn his name, which is now Dingus.

All five teams involved in the playoffs in both the simulation and real life play in this next round, which is the divisional round. In fact, we have a playoff matchup from real life! The Ravens traveled to play the Steelers in the wild card round this year but in the simulation they wait until the divisional round for their grudge match. In all, all four games this week involve teams with real-life stakes. Let’s see what happens.

  • Ravens 23 – 19 Steelers  16)Actual result: Ravens 30 – 17 Steelers. Nailed that one.
  • Bills 13 – 27 Colts 17)Indy advanced to the divisional round as well.
  • Cowboys 31 – 28 49ers 18)So too did the Cowboys…
  • Falcons 9 – 16 Lions 19)…because they beat the Lions.

Holy shit. I…I honestly can’t believe this. I wish I was making this up. Every team involved in both the simulation and real life won their game, save for the Steelers. In short, that leaves the Madden NFL 2001 playoffs with four teams left that could possibly win the Super Bowl. We are guaranteed to have a Super Bowl winner in this simulation that actually has a chance of winning the real life Super Bowl. I’ll re-emphasize here that this simulation took place before the Ravens actually played the Steelers during wild card weekend. Let’s just say buy low on the Ravens and sell high on the Steelers.

We are now at the conference championships. Your AFC Championship is between the Ravens and Colts, with the game being played at Indianapolis. This outcome is very possible: Should the Ravens and Colts both win the first two games of their playoff run, they will meet in the AFC Championship with the game being played at Indianapolis. 20)This is still in play. Your NFC Championship is between the Cowboys and Lions, with the game being played at Detroit. This matchup is impossible—the two teams are actually playing each other during wild card weekend and the game is actually in Dallas. Let’s see if the result here gives us any indication as to how that game will go.

  • Ravens 17 – 24 Colts
  • Cowboys 16 – 23 Lions

The Lions are one of four current NFL teams to have never played in a Super Bowl, the others being the Texans, Jaguars, and Browns. If the simulation has its way, that streak will end this postseason. Perhaps the road to that streak ending will begin with the Lions beating the Cowboys 23 to 16 in real life? 21)*deep deep sigh* Who knows. I’m sure we’ll have a footnote added after this sentence to update us on what actually happens. 22)Here we go… Nevertheless, put all of the money you have on a Colts/Lions Super Bowl XLIX. 23)Don’t do that. And put even more money on…

  • Colts 21 – 37 Lions

THE DETROIT LIONS ARE YOUR SUPER BOWL XLIX CHAMPIONS! WHAT A STORY!!! God, it’s going to be embarrassing if they lose in the wild card weekend to the Cowboys. 24)My face is buried in my hands. BUT THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE! THEY ARE A TEAM OF DESTINY! THE WAY OF MADDEN NFL 2001 IS THE WAY THE FOOTBALL GODS HAVE DETERMINED IS THE ONLY WAY. Sell your house. Sell your car. Sell your family. Put all of that money on the Detroit Lions. 25)Again: don’t do this. They’re 50-1 odds right now but who cares about that. That’s good! You already know they’re guaranteed to win it all! Why even play the games in real life?

In the postseason, his heart broken first by his PCL tear and second by his team still making it to the Super Bowl only to fall, Peyton Manning finally retires. So too does John Abraham of the Chargers. Janikowski and P NO.2 stick around for another year. Charles Woodson helped the Lions to a Super Bowl victory and decided to come back for another year. For the 2015-16 NFL season, the salary cap has ballooned to over $196 million dollars. The Steelers go 14-2 and C.C. McGee wins MVP. The Lions’ dreams of a repeat end in the first round against hated rivals Green Bay. C.C. McGee takes his Steelers all the way to the Super Bowl only to lose to the Washington Professional Football Team, which is still coaxing playing time out of Champ Bailey. Bailey retires on top of the world. Charles Woodson retires as well, along with Randy Moss, P NO.2, Donovan McNabb, and the battered skeleton of Ron Dayne. The NFL ushers in a new era led by players like C.C. McGee, Lump Gilbert, Opollo Justice, and Dingus Gibson. Houston never gets another NFL franchise. The Patriots never reach the Super Bowl again. In that sense, at the very least, all is right with the world.

Thanks for reading. I will now beat my head against a wall until the N64 Madden NFL 2001 menu music is out of my head.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Madden failed to predict the Giants upsetting the Patriots in 2008, the Packers beating the Steelers in 2011, and last year’s Seahawks beating the Broncos.
2. Shaw won ArenaBowl XV in 2001 with the now-defunct Grand Rapids Rampage. Congratulations, Harold!
3. Thomas finished with 189 tackles. In real life that year, he finished with 11. He dropped out of the league in 2007.
4. Rice stayed in the actual league until 2004. Seau played for the Dolphins and Patriots later in his career.
5. I don’t think Madden NFL 2001 lets you see a player’s full first name.
6. Manning threw 38 TDs.
7. Blake played for seven different teams in the real NFL, none of them the Saints. Drew Brees, who many people know as the Saints’ quarterback, entered the league one year after Madden NFL 2001 came out.
8. In real life, Bill Belichick has coached the Pats for the last fifteen or so years.
9. Actually, it’s still Brett Favre throwing 49 touchdown passes for the Titans.
10. Moment of silence.
11. George retired in 2004.
12. Mobley played all eight seasons of his career for the Broncos, but he retired before the 2004 season.
13. To give you an idea how deep we are, Norbit is a created player but he has been in the league for ten years.
14. Remember: the Seahawks moved to the NFC after Madden NFL 2001 came out.
15. The great cosmic irony is at it again.
16. Actual result: Ravens 30 – 17 Steelers. Nailed that one.
17. Indy advanced to the divisional round as well.
18. So too did the Cowboys…
19. …because they beat the Lions.
20. This is still in play.
21. *deep deep sigh*
22. Here we go…
23. Don’t do that.
24. My face is buried in my hands.
25. Again: don’t do this.

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