THE 2017 NFL ‘BOWL SEASON’

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As writers and college football executives clamor for an expanded College Football Playoff, someone has to wonder if it is actually the National Football League that must change course.

I feel the NFL product must ensure that their best products appear in the Super Bowl. Based on the standings, chances seem good for a Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks or Oakland Raiders to make an appearance in the big game.

That would be good, all four franchises bring either tons of recent success and/or huge fanbases. But a 12-team playoff can jeopardize that possibility. What if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dare crash the party?

That can be solved with a ‘Pro Football Playoff’ along with a bowl season. Four teams get a chance at the Lombardi trophy while nine other games give the majority of teams a taste of the postseason life and massive bowl playoffs paid by the television networks.

Through Week 13, 20 teams stand ‘bowl eligible with 6-6 records. That can be stretched into an 11-game bowl season over one weekend, perfect for the daily fantasy industry.

Here is the projected model:

Pro Football Playoff:

  • PlayStation Bowl: No. 2 New England Patriots (10-2) v. No. 3 Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1)
  • Chick-Fil-A Bowl: No. 1 Dallas Cowboys (11-1)  v. No. 4 Oakland Raiders (10-2)

The Patriots and Seahawks return to Phoenix for a sequel of their Super Bowl XLIX classic while two of the league’s flagship franchises square off in Atlanta. The winners square off in Super Bowl LI, which for the first time could feature two conference rivals.

Can their possibly be a better format!

‘Week After New Year’s Six’:

  • Rose Bowl: Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) v. Detroit Lions (8-4) – The Raiders/Chiefs Thursday night game in frigid Arrowhead Stadium already looms large. But imagine if a PFP spot was on the line? It would be the NFL version of Michigan v. Ohio State. Whatever the case the game and setting sells itself with its traditional ‘West Division’ v. ‘North Division’ matchup.
  • Sugar Bowl: Atlanta Falcons (7-5) v. New York Giants (8-4) – The Sugar Bowl committee gets its ‘SEC’ team in the Falcons while Odell Beckham makes his New Orleans homecoming.
  • Orange Bowl: Miami Dolphins (7-5) v. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) – The Orange Bowl often has problems selling tickets. That would be solved this year with the hometown Dolphins and the Steelers traveling fan base.
  • Cotton Bowl: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5) v. Denver Broncos (8-4) – The Bucs late season surge lands Tampa into the Week After New Year’s Six while Cotton Bowl officials are overjoyed to see the Broncos still available.

Rest of the Bowls:

  • Citrus Bowl: Baltimore Ravens (7-5) v. Washington (6-5-1) – The newly sponsored B-Dubs bowl lands the two Beltway teams, not bad for the local hotel business.
  • Outback Bowl: Green Bay Packers (6-6) v. Tennessee Titans (6-6) – The Packers late-season surge earns them a postseason bid where they try to avenge a regular season humiliation at the hands of Marcus Mariota and the Titans.
  • Holiday Bowl: Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) v. Indianapolis Colts (6-6) – That tie against the Seahawks could come back to haunt the Cardinals although their APR score (least amount of suspensions and fines) should help Arizona get in at 7-8-1 if necessary.
  • Pinstripe Bowl: Minnesota Vikings (6-6) v. Buffalo Bills (6-6) – The Vikings really need to finish the season at 8-8 because the franchise usually does not do well on APR. Meanwhile Buffalo fans will be overjoyed to make the trip downstate for postseason action.
  • Independence Bowl: Houston Texans (6-6) v. New Orleans Saints (5-7) – In real life, the Texans could very well host an AFC Wild Card Game at 4:30 ET on Jan. 7. Here their 6-6 record only gets Brock Osweiler and company a short trip to Shreveport to take on New Orleans in a regional clash.

2006 NFL SIMULATION: THE LONGEST YARD

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The grind of pro football begins with off-season workouts and a grueling training camp along with a four-game exhibition season followed by 16 regular season games and playoffs. Injuries test the depth of every spot of a 53-man active roster and practice squad.

Often it comes down to a play or series of plays sometime in January, and the end result is frequently heartbreak and defines a franchise and player careers.

One such case highlights this 2006 NFL simulation.

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The Patriots started 0-3, but went on to win their next 13 games and throttled the Steelers in a marquee Wild Card round matchup. The Ravens became the eighth team in the simulation to finish the regular season, and the sixth to ultimately lose in the postseason. Baltimore stunningly lost to Jacksonville 42-3 in the divisional round. The rest of the AFC provided little drama with the Chargers and Jags easily winning their divisions. After a 4-1 start, the Indianapolis Colts proved to again be a massive disappointment, losing their next nine games.

The NFC provided no dominant team, with the Eagles earning the number one seed followed by Chicago. The Saints did not quite replicate their real-life run to the NFC Championship game but did earn a wild card spot.

The NFC Wild Card round was punctuated by a see-saw game between the Saints and Falcons won by Atlanta with a late Michael Vick touchdown drive. The Packers also earned a playoff slot in Brett Favre’s potential final season and won their first game in Seattle before being routed 55-27 in the divisional round. The other NFC division playoff saw the Falcons blown out in Chicago 40-6, we would know for sure in the months that followed that this would be Michael Vick’s last NFL appearance for a while.

As in real life, the Patriots traveled to San Diego for an AFC divisional playoff. The outcome would be different with the Chargers prevailing 6-0. The Jaguars followed for the AFC Championship and one of the most head scratching finishes in league history.

The Jags led before a LaDainian Tomlinson touchdown run cut the deficit to 31-26. The Chargers got the ball back in the waning moments and had first and goal at the Jacksonville one when Marty Schottenheimer and his coaching staff dialed up the following sequence to ruin Rivers and Tomlinson best chance at a title.

  • Antonio Gates is lined up as an apparent lead blocker but gets the ball, and stuffed for a loss.
  • A handoff to fullback Lorenzo Neal with a similar result.
  • On third and goal from the three Philip Rivers throws into the end zone, incomplete.
  • On fourth down, Tomlinson is finally given the rock but stopped for a loss of five.

Needless to say, Rivers and Tomlinson were not happy as the Jags celebrated their first Super Bowl appearance, leaving Houston, Tampa Bay and Tennessee and the lone franchises not to reach the big game.

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The Jaguars opponent would be the Chicago Bears, who won the NFC Championship in Philadelphia 30-13.

The faux Super Bowl XLI does get credit for being the closest Super Bowl in 14 years, which does not say much. A Thomas Jones touchdown proved to be the lone score as the Bears win their third Super Bowl in four attempts with a rain soaked 13-6 win, highlighting the Lovie Smith/Brian Urlacher era.

 

2003 NFL SIMULATION: CLINTON ADMINISTRATION

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Throughout Mike Shanahan’s reign as Denver Broncos head coach the team featured an elite run game. It started with Terrell Davis in the late 1990s, and the zone blocking scheme became a staple no matter who carried the rock. Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell all excelled as Denver running backs throughout the first half of the 2000s.

Clinton Portis was drafted in the second round in 2002 and spent two years as Denver’s featured back, exceeding more than 1,500 rushing yards both years before his assets were flipped to Washington for cornerback Champ Bailey in a rare player-for-player swap of elite players.

In simulation, Portis regular season highlight involved a historic 295-yard rushing day (320 yards overall) and five touchdowns in a 52-26 win over Kansas City.

Portis, along with quarterback Jake Plummer proved large in the simulation. The Broncos went 15-1 in the regular season before navigating a star-studded playoff field.

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Simulations have not been kind to the Green Bay Packers over 38 years, they did not appear in either of the first two Super Bowls, the lone appearance in the big game being a Super Bowl IX fart in the wind.

In real life, the Packers played their best ball of the season towards the end of the 2003 season, but it appeared they would miss the postseason until a Minnesota Vikings meltdown in the final minutes at Arizona provided Green Bay’s lifeline to the playoffs.

The Packers defeated the Seattle Seahawks in dramatic fashion and all but sealed a divisional round win in Philadelphia until coach Mike Sherman elected not to go for it on fourth and about three inches followed by Freddie Mitchell’s infamous fourth and 26 catch.

If not for that, many believed the Packers would had advanced to Super Bowl XXXVIII. By this time Brett Favre had completed his 12th year as starting quarterback and both Coach Mike Holmgren and Reggie White had left Green Bay without a Super Bowl appearance in this alternative reality.

Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan met in simulation for the first time in the playoffs in the divisional round. The Broncos scored the home win in dramatic fashion as Jake Plummer found Rod Smith for a 25-yard touchdown with 1:23 remaining.

At 14-2, the Baltimore Ravens were the Broncos equal for most of the season as Jamal Lewis ran for 2,066 yards in the actual season. In the sim Baltimore defeated the Tennessee Titans in the division round to set up a dream AFC Championship matchup between the Ravens and Broncos. The game was won by Denver 26-10, sending Shanahan and the Broncos to their fourth Super Bowl in eight years.

In the NFC the Packers did not sweat out a playoff berth with a NFC North title and 13-3 record. Green Bay also handed the Broncos their lone loss in the regular season finale. The Packers memorable Wild Card game against the Seahawks at Lambeau Field was replicated in the divisional round.

Matt Hasselbeck did not win the opening coin toss, and Seattle did not score as the Packers recorded a 30-0 shutout. A week later Green Bay traveled to Carolina and easily defeated the top-seeded Panthers 23-3 behind Ahman Green’s 155 yards rushing.

The Packers and Broncos met in Houston six years after their actual Super Bowl XXXII matchup. This showdown proved one-sided as Portis rushed for 157 yards with three scores and Rod Smith added two TD receptions as Plummer out-gunslinged Favre in a 45-20 rout, giving Denver their second world championship.

Other brief notes on the 2003 season.

  • The sim likes the Buffalo Bills, who won the AFC East at 12-4 and swept the New England Patriots.
  • In real-life the Indianapolis Colts had established itself as contenders with a 12-4 record, but finished 6-10 in the simulation.
  • Jamal Lewis season highlights included 209 yards and two TD’s v. Arizona and 179 yards and three TD v. Jacksonville. Ahman Green put up video game numbers with240 yards and five touchdowns against St. Louis while Portis rushed for 216 yards in a 48-10 win over Minnesota and also eclipsed 200 against Indianapolis. Cincinnati’s Rudi Johnson had 240 yards in a game while Atlanta’s Warrick Dunn rushed for a 206-yard day.

2000 NFL SIMULATION: THE DEFENSE RESTS

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Many of football’s most memorable champions feature a marquee quarterback, along with perhaps an elite running back, plenty of points scored and a highlight reel of offensive fireworks.

However an old adage also says defenses win championships, and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens ranked as amongst the best of all time.

For that reason, it comes as little surprise that the Ravens become the third consecutive team to repeat their actual World Championship in simulation.

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  • Everything was nice and spread out between both conferences. The second place team in all six divisions earned playoff berths.
  • The AFC East in particular was competitive with no easy touches. Peyton Manning made his first playoff appearance in his second year in the league.
  • The Ravens and Tennessee Titans comprised possibly the NFL’s best two teams in the AFC Central. They would not get a chance to meet up in the playoffs however.
  • The Cleveland Browns appear to be on the right track, with a competitive 6-10 record in their season season.
  • The NFC provided no dominant teams, with the Giants, Buccaneers and Rams all posting 12-4 campaigns. A strong strength of victory resume vaulted Tampa to the number one seed and the possibility of playing Super Bowl XXXV in its own stadium.

The Colts return to the playoffs went out with a whimper, losing at home to the Dolphins in the wild card round. Kicker Mike Vanderjagt questioned Peyton Manning’s mindset on Canadian television two days later, Manning returned the favor and destroyed Vanderjagt in a sideline interview during the AFC’s 59-58 Pro Bowl victory.

Kerry Collins and the New York Giants did not make it to Tampa, the Giants lost at home to the 49ers on Wild Card Weekend while the Eagles dispatched the Minnesota Vikings and the Titans escaped with a 19-17 win over the Oakland Raiders.

The Ravens opened playoff competition with an 18-0 shutout over the Dolphins while the Titans lost on the road in Denver, 22-17. In the NFC, Tampa Bay defeated the 49ers 21-13 while the Eagles made a major statement with a 47-13 rout at St. Louis.

The Broncos traveled to Baltimore to play their old rival who they know as the Cleveland Browns in drag. In a brutal and bloody affair the Ravens punched their Super Bowl ticket with a 10-6 win. The Buccaneers hosted their franchises first-ever NFC Championship game appearance but lost to the Eagles 17-10, giving Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb a Super Bowl appearance prior to the first of their four real-life championship game appearances.

Days later the Eagles returned to Tampa with designs on the franchises third championship in as many Super Bowls. The Ravens would have none of it as they added their name to a recent list of Super Bowl routs. The game featured only one touchdown  but kicker Matt Stover etched his name in the Super Bowl record books for eternity and beyond with seven field goals in the Ravens 28-3 win.

For the postseason, the Ravens defensive dominance became a performance for the ages by not allowing a single touchdown, just three field goals. WhatIfSports listed Tony Banks and not Trent Dilfer as the quarterback of record, proving just how far an elite defense can take a team.