In 1976 all the pieces seem to have suddenly fallen into place for the New England Patriots. They earned the AFC Wild Card and traveled to Oakland for a divisional playoff against a team they beat 48-17 in the regular season. The Patriots lost largely due to a roughing the passer call in the final minutes.
25 years later the Patriots evened history with their own controversial playoff win over the Raiders in Foxboro. Officiating psy ops become magnified in the playoffs, would home field advantage have changed anything in 1976?
Here is the sim, with one glaring exception it played similar to the actual season.
- The Patriots also finished 11-3 in real life and were the AFC Wild Card
- The Colts are 10-4 and the Wild Card opposed to 11-3 and AFC East champions.
- The Steelers go 13-1 in the sim v. 10-4 and also division champs in real life.
- The Raiders win the AFC West at 10-4 v. their actual 13-1 record.
- Dallas finishes 13-1 in the sim v. the real-life 11-3 division championship.
- Washington finishes 11-3, in real life the team also earned the NFC Wild Card at 10-4.
- Minnesota misses the playoffs at 9-5 in the sim, opposed to actual 11-2-1 record.
- The Rams went through the sim at 12-2 opposed to their actual 10-3-1 finish.
The anomaly involves the Detroit Lions, who went 13-1 in the simulation. In real life the team represented classic Lions mediocrity, finishing 6-8 after they fired the coach after four games.
A trip to Wikipedia explains the metric that turns the Lions into world-beaters. Quarterback Greg Landry enjoyed a career season and the team ranked 12th of all teams from 1960-2009 in an advanced stat called Passer Rating Differential. Of the 11 teams ranked ahead of the 1976 Lions, seven either reached either the Super Bowl or a pre-Super Bowl league championship game. One member of the 1976 Lions staff included Bill Belichick.
And they let Tommy Hudspeth call the shots?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers debuted as historically bad as they did in real life with an 0-14 record. Their closest game was a seven-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks. In the 13 games against other AFC teams the Bucs lost all of their games by at least 13 points. And now that current Commissioner Roger Goodell has scheduled a regular season in Beijing, Bucs coach John McKay can no longer claim a billion Chinese do not care.
The Seahawks faired somewhat better in year one – along with the Bucs, Seattle defeated the Atlanta Falcons (who they also beat in real life) and the Green Bay Packers.
Tampa nearly had company at 0-14 – The New York Giants started 0-11 before they recorded two late-season wins while the Packers averted an 0-14 season with a Week 14 win in Atlanta.
Now on the downside of his career, O.J. Simpson still exploded for a 265-yard rushing day against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In the Divisional playoffs, Baltimore lost at Pittsburgh 13-6 while the Patriots got a controversial call in their favor in a 26-21 win over the Raiders in Foxboro. In the NFC, Washington lost at Detroit 17-14 while the Cowboys lost at home to the Rams for the third time in five years, this time by a 10-9 score. Over the past five years Dallas has a 71-13 regular season record.
The Patriots post-season route continued to replicate their real postseason route of 25 years later. Behind Sam Cunningham’s 199 yards and two touchdowns, New England won at Pittsburgh 24-10 while the Rams recorded a 30-0 shutout at Detroit. The Rams win marked their fourth conference championship and third Super Bowl appearance in as many games played in the Los Angeles area.
In Super Bowl XI at Pasadena, Chuck Knox’s Rams would then defeat Chuck Fairbanks Patriots, 27-20 in the most competitive Super Bowl played to date.
Steve Spurrier fared better as a future college coach than as the Buccaneers first quarterback.