In real life the 1988 season became known as when Joe Montana won his third Super Bowl in come-from-behind fashion in the final moments against the Cincinnati Bengals.
In this alternative universe however, the San Francisco 49ers found way too much competition within its own conference while the Buffalo Bills got continued their head start losing Super Bowls.
- In the actual NFL season, the Bills and Bengals tied for the AFC’s best record at 12-4. Buffalo held their end of the bargain in the sim as they easily earned the number one seed at 13-3. Meanwhile the Bengals found themselves up against it in the AFC Central and Sam Wyche’s ball club finished last at 7-9.
- The numbers simply did not add up for the New England Patriots, who would go winless until the final game of the season. In real life the team went 9-7, things would not really fall apart in Foxboro until two years later.
- Jerry Glanville earns a playoff appearance as Houston managed the AFC’s number two seed at 10-6.
- The newly rebranded Phoenix Cardinals crashed the NFC playoff party, but their 12-4 record would only give them a number five seed behind the Giants, Bears, Vikings and 49ers.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recorded a rare winning season at 9-7
- Note the 49ers were not especially dominant in the actual regular season, they finished at 10-6 as opposed to 13-3 in the sim.
- The Bears and Vikings met on the final Monday night of the regular season. The Bears recorded a 17-0 shutout to earn the number one seed while the Vikings would be forced to navigate the difficult wild card waters.
Form would hold in the AFC as the Oilers and Bills met for the conference championship in upstate New York with the Bills winning easily, 41-10 to earn their second Super Bowl trip. Along with his previous appearance with Kansas City, Marv Levy joins George Allen, Don Coryall and Chuck Knox in making Super Bowls with multiple franchises.
The Vikings opened up the postseason with a come-from-behind 21-14 win over Phoenix. The Vikes followed up with a 27-6 win at the Giants while the 49ers and Bears met in an instant classic at Soldier Field. The winners of the previous four Super Bowls battled into overtime with San Francisco earning a 23-20 decision.
Minnesota traveled to San Francisco for the NFC Championship, a game that proved even more memorable. The Vikings look a late fourth-quarter lead on a 58-yard Wade Wilson to Hassan Jones touchdown followed by a Chuck Nelson field goal. The Niners Mike Cofer would force overtime with a 55-yard field goal before Nelson sent the Vikings to the Super Bowl with a walk-off 57-yarder. The Vikings would deliver their third Super Bowl title in as many appearances with a 20-9 win over the Bills.
Was Minnesota’s win a fluke going up amongst the other NFC heavyweights? The metrics say no, the Vikings lead the NFL with a point differential of +174, the Los Angeles Rams ranked second at +114 while the 49ers were a mere +74.