1988 NFL SIMULATION: PURPLE REIGN

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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.

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  • 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.

1987 NFL SIMULATION: BO’S HOBBY? THE SUPER BOWL

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The 1987 NFL season was interrupted by a four week players strike that resulted in three weeks of games that involved ‘replacement players’.

The labor situation affected some more than others. Solidarity prevailed with squads such as Washington and San Diego as their replacement teams won all three games.

In the case of the Los Angeles Raiders the strike derailed their season. By the final week more than half their players crossed the picket line, but still lost a home game to the Chargers.

Through a 5-10 train wreck of a season the Raiders still showed off a rookie asset named Vincent ‘Bo’ Jackson in a Monday night game versus the Seattle Seahawks, when Bo steamrolled Brian Bosworth for one touchdown run and blew past Eugene Robinson on a 91-yard sprint where he ran halfway up the stadium tunnel.

Jackson had been selected number one overall the previous year by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but used his ‘get out of Tampa’ card by signing with baseball’s Kansas City Royals, where he became equally legendary. The Raiders drafted Jackson in the seventh round the following year, when Jackson announced that he would play football as time permits ‘as a hobby’.

Jackson only played 38 regular season games over four seasons, averaging a mind-boggling 5.6 yards per carry.  In the WhatIfSports simulations he is featured as a starter, so for simulation purposes he plays the entire season, just as Deion Sanders juggled baseball and football for a few years.

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  • Buoyed by the 15-1 49ers and 14-2 Bears, the NFC once again manifested their dominance over the AFC.
  • As in real-life, the Indianapolis Colts enjoyed a brief period of relevance after the in-season blockbuster trade of running back Eric Dickerson. The Colts would edge the Dolphins and Jets to win the competitive AFC East.
  • Unlike a year earlier, the Cleveland Browns matched their real-life exploits and earned the AFC’s number one seed. The same could not be said for the actual AFC Champion Broncos who went 5-11.
  • Washington easily won the NFC East with an 11-5 record. For the WhatIfSports sim Jay Schroeder was listed as the starting quarterback with Super Bowl hero Timmy Smith buried on the depth chart. The parts on Joe Gibbs squad in those days were interchangeable on a weekly basis.
  • The Packers crashed the NFC playoff party with a Week 16 win at New Orleans and the right to play the Saints at home the following week. Behind three Dave Brown interceptions Green Bay advanced to the divisional round.
  • Home field advantage would be decided between the Bears and 49ers on Monday Night Football, a field goal fest won by the Niners 12-6.

The Browns survived the divisional round with a 16-13 overtime win over the Jets while the Colts fell to the Raiders 21-12 with the final dagger being an electrifying 72-yard touchdown run by Bo Jackson.

The Raiders traveled to the icy shores of Lake Erie on a day when the Browns were supposed to exercise all of Cleveland’s demons that had jumped species and affected the city’s NBA and MLB entries. There would be no drive, fumble or Red Right 88 – just an old-fashioned butt-whooping. Bo Jackson literally iced the Raiders third Super Bowl appearance (and eighth for a Los Angeles Coliseum tenant) with a 44-yard TD in a 31-9 win.

After their Wild Card win, the Packers stepped up in weight class and traveled to San Francisco in the division playoff, but lost to the 49ers for the third time in five years, this time by a 37-6 count. Washington and Chicago replicated their actual divisional playoff that wound up being Walter Payton’s final game. In the sim Payton extends his career by rushing for 127 yards and a touchdown in a resounding 39-17 rout.

The winners of the previous three (soon to be four) sim Super Bowls met at Candlestick Park to decide the NFC Championship. The 49ers would again dominate in a 30-13 win.

California’s kissing cousins made the trip down Highway 101 for Super Bowl XXII. Bo Jackson owned media day and would provide one last electrifying 57-yard TD run. But that would be the Raiders lone score as Bill Walsh recorded his second Super Bowl title with a 23-7 decision.

 

 

 

MLB FANDUEL PICKS: APRIL 25, 2016

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This is a picture of the Coors Field scoreboard after a game last September. As is the case throughout baseball there have been a lot of changes to the rosters of these two teams since. Aramis Ramirez has retired, Justin Morneau is out of work, Corey Dickerson has been traded to Tampa Bay and catcher Tom Murphy is back with the Rockies AAA affiliate.

The names change but the point remains the same. Consider any warm body for games in Colorado, beyond the usual suspects. You have to actually attend a game there to see how the ball carries as though someone injected helium.

The humidor cannot fully stop it. You can build a wall and build that wall ten feet higher. All it does is turn Trevor Story home runs into triples (or thrown out at third thanks to an equally altitude-aided throw). It will not change much at 5,280 feet.

A wall will not stop Coors Field, only a Gamow bag constructed by taxpayers large enough to cover the stadium, and that would take the fun out of seeing Rockies pitchers get hammered all season.

Here is my lineup for 4/25/2016, subject to change as I check for scrubs who end up with a start in Pirates v. Rockies, where the over/under stands at 12. Projected totals per Fangraphs.

  • Pitcher – Danny Salazar (CLE @ MIN) $9,200 (43.47) – Noah Syndergaard at  $11,400 is projected at 46.66 and carries a higher win probability. That said, Tanner Roark struck out 15 Twins in seven innings over the weekend. Tanner Roark! (not to be confused with Kerry Wood). Even by sacrificing the win for four K’s you come out even and the Twins still have MLB’s second worst record.
  • Catcher – Victor Martinez (DET v. OAK) $2,600 (9.69) – Vic usually serves as my default choice as long as penciled in at DH.
  • First Base – Justin Smoak (TOR v. CHW) $2,300 (9.51) – After he reached the majors after seven years of independent ball and hit .321 last year, Chris Colabello was suspended 80 games by MLB and banned from 2016 postseason play. Colabello has no idea how an illegal drug got into his system and began the year in a 2-29 slump as he dealt with the emotional stress of the appeal process. You connect the dots. For the time being, roll with Smoak as long as Toronto plays him.
  • Second Base – Josh Harrison (PIT @ COL) $3,900 (11.29) – Harrison carries a .329 average thus far on the season and also has four stolen bases.
  • Third Base – David Freese (PIT @ COL) $3,200 (11.97) – Not a Freese fan but for that price and 12 projected points sign me up.
  • Shortstop – Jedd Gyorko (STL @ ARI) $2,300 (7.89) – Punt play. Faces Zack Greinke but Jedd got six hits in two games over the weekend.
  • Outfield – Ezequiel Carrera (TOR v. CHW) $3,100 (9.72) Averaged 20 points in three games over the weekend going 7-14 at the top of Toronto’s batting order.
  • Outfield – Andrew McCutcheon (PIT @ COL) $4,900 (15.12) – Elite talent at under $5,000 at Coors.
  • Outfield – Sean Rodriguez (PIT @ COL) $3,500 (10.14) – Averaged 22 points over the weekend going 5-14 at the plate.

PROJECTED POINT TOTAL: 128.80

Others to consider:

  • Carlos Gonzalez (COL v. PIT) – OF $,4000 (facing left-hander).
  • Starling Marte (PIT @ COL) – OF $4,600
  • Jody Mercer (PIT @ COL) – SS $3,600
  • Curtis Granderson (NYM v. CIN) – OF $3,800
  • Angel Pagan (SF v. SD) – OF – $2,800 (Use Pagan/Granderson v. Carrera/Rodriguez)

1986 NFL SIMULATION: ENCORE PERFORMANCE

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The 1985 Chicago Bears remain amongst the greatest single-season teams in NFL history. The rap about the team is that although they remained contenders, they did not follow up with multiple championships or even multiple Super Bowl appearances like Washington, the 49ers, Cowboys or even Broncos.

Like Nena and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Super Bowl Shuffle became a one-hit wonder. Or maybe more like Corey Hart, ‘Sunglasses at Night’ and ‘Never Surrender’ if you really remember. Mike Ditka’s team did not go mega-platinum like David Bowie or Prince.

Much of the blame goes to the lack of longevity of quarterback Jim McMahon, who at his brief peak still outclasses any Bears quarterback since 1950.

McMahon always played with a bullseye on his back. McMahon must go down to the Soldier Field turf and go down hard, even if it happens three seconds after he throws the ball which is exactly what Green Bay’s Charles Martin did.

The 1986 NFL simulations serves as a referendum of the Bears staying power if No. 9 had stayed in one piece.

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  • Nothing much separates the Giants, Bears, Niners or even Vikings (actual record 9-7 and out of playoffs). The real-life point differentials were Bears +165, Giants +135, Niners +127 and Vikings +125, all better than any AFC team.
  • The Saints easily earned the second NFC Wild Card slot with a 12-4 campaign, easily surpassing their actual 7-9 record (point differential) -1
  • There would be no Broncos/Browns AFC Championship game. Cleveland missed the playoffs at 9-7 while Denver finished 7-9. Meanwhile the Bills somehow earned the AFC’s top seed despite a 4-12 real life record.
  • Other teams that bombed in the sim included Washington (actual record 12-4) and Patriots (11-5)
  • The wooden spoon went to the Lions (actual record 5-11) who became the sim’s sixth team to go winless at 0-16. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers two wins came at the expense of Detroit while Green Bay’s 7-9 record was buoyed by four wins over the Bucs and Lions.

As a number five seed the Vikings won playoff games in New Orleans and San Francisco, replicating an actual playoff upset that occurred after the 1987 season. The Bears would be awarded home field advantage and defeated the Giants and Vikings to book a Super Bowl return trip.

Buffalo lost at home in the divisional round while Seattle defeated the Bengals and then the Raiders 38-27 behind four touchdown passes by Milton College graduate David Krieg. It would be Seattle’s second AFC Championship in three years

Seattle and Chicago met in Pasadena for Super Bowl XXI, the Bears led 24-0 after three quarters and held off a furious Seattle rally to prevail 24-19. Mike Tice scored the initial Seahawks touchdown followed by two Curt Warner runs.

1985 NFL SIMULATION: BEARS PUT TITLE IN REFRIGERATOR

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I fully expected the Chicago Bears to repeat their dominating Super Bowl title in KACSPORTS 1985 NFL simulation. I projected at least 18-1 and very possibly 19-0. Like the Saturday Night Live skit I expected the Bears to win every game 148-3.

The Bears indeed won the title, but it came much tougher than anticipated. The undefeated season went by the boards early with a loss to Washington, and the Bears would also lose to the 49ers, Dolphins (as in real life) and Jets. But the division title was never in doubt as the Bears finished four games ahead of their nearest division rival.

The picture above is from the Bears late-season meeting with the Jets at the Meadowlands. The Jets wore white at home that year, so this gives an idea of how a Super Bowl between the two teams would have looked.

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  • Both the Giants and Jets earned number one seeds, which had New York in a frenzy headed into the postseason.
  • Raymond Berry’s New England Patriots lived good throughout the real AFC playoffs, collecting a ridiculous amount of turnovers along the way. The Pats were not nearly as lucky in simulation, missing the playoffs with a 7-9 record.
  • In a game remembered in real-life for Refrigerator Perry’s goal-line exploits, Walter Payton had a legendary night on Monday Night Football v. the Packers as he scored five times.
  • Another memorable Monday Night game saw the Broncos defeat the 49ers on an icy night at Mile High Stadium. In the simulation Denver did not stand a snowballs chance, with the Niners victorious 45-13.
  • The next week provided another infamous moment on MNF. The Giants added insult to Joe Theismann’s injury in a 43-13 win.

The playoffs began with a memorable performance by Dan Marino, who threw five touchdown passes in a 45-21 win over Seattle. The home team prevailed in all four games on the AFC side, with the Jets not allowing a touchdown in their two victories.

The Cowboys faced the Los Angeles Rams in a playoff game for the seventh time at Texas Stadium, and for the first time emerged victorious when Danny White found Doug Cosbie for a TD pass with 16 seconds remaining. After a local civic celebration, the Cowboys traveled to San Francisco and upset the 49ers, again in dramatic fashion in the final seconds.

Chicago started the playoffs as the NFC’s number three seed, sending the Bears to the Meadowlands for the divisional playoffs. They would defeat the Giants then return home to methodically dispatch the Cowboys, who they dominated in the regular season.

The season concluded with the real-life champion replicating its title in the simulation, as Payton scores twice in the Bears 23-3 victory over the Jets, who drop to 0-3 all-time in Super Bowl competition.

 

 

1984 NFL SIMULATION: NFC DOMINATION BUILDS

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In the actual NFL, the NFC began a 13-game Super Bowl winning streak that began with the San Francisco 49ers dominating victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.

The years that followed saw the NFC develop some of the most legendary teams in pro football history, with many Super Bowls decided in blowout fashion.

In real life, at least the Raiders recorded victories in Super Bowls XV and XVIII, but in this alternative universe the NFC has already gotten a jump-start with championships in the previous four seasons to take a commanding 12-6 lead in the series.

Is the NFC possibly on its way to a 17-game winning streak? Well, in 1984 Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers makes an overdue arrival.

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  • Dan Marino had a record-setting year en route to the leading Miami to the AFC Championship. The Dolphins do not fare nearly as well in the alternative universe, missing the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
  • The Cleveland Browns appeared out of playoff contention with a 5-7 record going into their final four games. Cleveland would run the table and overtake the Bengals and Steelers for the AFC Central title. The Browns also won the Central in real life with an 8-8 record and gave the Dolphins a scare in the divisional round.
  • At the peak of his eight year career, Neil Lomax was a poor-man’s Marino in the NFC. The Cardinals hold off Washington in the sim to win the AFC East.
  • A year after an 0-16 campaign, the Philadelphia Eagles rebounded with a 10-6 season and narrowly missed the playoffs.
  • The Vikings suffered their worst season ever at 1-15, google Les Steckel to find out why.
  • We see the first true glimpse of the Mike Ditka era, in real life the Bears won in Washington to advance to the NFC Championship. Here they win the division with a 13-3 record.
  • Green Bay somehow finishes 12-4 and then staged a dramatic comeback to eliminate Washington in the Wild Card Game. For a second straight year, the Packers season ends in San Francisco in the divisional round.
  • How dominant were the 49ers in the NFC West? They clinched the division title after Week 11.

The story in the AFC became a team familiar to the current NFC. Following up on an AFC Championship Game appearance the previous season, the Seattle Seahawks returned to the playoffs where they clashed with future  real-life rival. Seattle defeated their Super Bowl XLVIII opponent Denver Broncos 15-3 in the wild card round and then knocked off Super Bowl XLIX foe New England 17-7 on the heels of a pick six. The Seahawks completed their road show with a 33-20 win at Kansas City to become the second five seed to advance to the Super Bowl.

In the NFC, the Cardinals upset the Bears at Soldier Field to earn a trip to Candlestick Park for the conference title. St. Louis held a late lead until Joe Montana threw a touchdown pass with :16 remaining to win an instant classic.

So the Seahawks and Niners made the short trip to Palo Alto for both franchises first Super Bowl appearance. It marked coach Chuck Knox’s fifth trip to the big game with his third different team (an indictment on his real-life playoff failures?). A forgotten star for Seattle was safety Kenny Easley, who rivaled Ronnie Lott going back to their days at UCLA and USC. Easley was drafted fourth overall in 1981, four picks before Lott.

Long before the berths of Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman, Seattle gave their future NFC West rivals their best shot, but fared no better than the Miami Dolphins in real life, as the 49ers emerged victorious 37-22 to become the fifth team to replicate their actual championship in simulation.

At this point 21 of the 28 existing teams have played in the Super Bowl. The exceptions at this point include the Oilers, Broncos, Giants, Bears, Buccaneers, Falcons and Saints.

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SPURS WILL OVERTAKE LEICESTER

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How is that for a bold prediction? The defining moment of the Premier League season possibly occurred last Sunday when Jamie Vardy tried to draw a penalty but instead called for simulation and a second yellow card which resulted in him being sent off and also suspended for next Sunday’s clash with Swansea.

Vardy has also been charged by the Football Association for ‘improper conduct’ for confronting the referee. The Leicester squad was also cited for protesting a later penalty.

For now,  Leicester has been left to twist in the wind but it is possible that Vardy’s suspension could be increased to two games, leaving him unavailable when the Foxes visit Manchester United May 1.

Even though Leicester rescued a point after being given a gift penalty in the waning seconds, their lead at the top of the table would still be reduced to five points with four matches left after Tottenham throttled Stoke City 4-0.

Can Leicester hear  footsteps? Could that 5,000 to 1 shot fall apart at the last minute after all?

Their is no postseason playoff in the regular Premier League season. Teams with the highest bankrolls almost always win and the lesser teams exposed over 38 matches even when everything breaks right.

One can understand the angst of Leicester supporters. For Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal et al., there will always be next year to collect more trophies. For Leicester this is a Haley’s Comet, once in a lifetime event.

Even Tottenham traditionally runs a step behind the top clubs. The Spurs have only won the top tier of English football twice, 1951 and 1961. Tottenham has done better in the FA Cup, the March Madness-like tourney that runs concurrent to the Premier League, winning that trophy eight times.

Worst case scenario, Leicester has already clinched a Champions League berth for 2016-17. That appeared beyond any pundit’s wildest dreams back in August.

Here is how I see the last weeks playing out, Leicester does clinch with eight points in its last four games. (Odds per Paddy Power)

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  • Home to Swansea (3/4) – Draw
  • Away to Manchester United (12/5) – Loss
  • Home To Everton (11/10) – Win (Everton pasted 4-0 by Liverpool on Wednesday)
  • Away to Chelsea – Draw

 

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  • Home to West Brom (1/4) – Win
  • Away to Chelsea (11/8) – Draw
  • Home to Southampton (4/7) – Win
  • Away to Newcastle United – Win – Wild card for Survival Sunday is Newcastle could avoid relegation with a win. No, the three worst Premier League teams do not get rewarded with a top draft pick.

 

That would give Spurs 10 points to Leicester’s five, enough to give Tottenham the title via goal differential tiebreaker.