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.

 

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1990 NFL SIMULATION: NIGHTMARE SCENARIO

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One of the most iconic players of his era was running back Christian Okoye. A track star at Azusa Pacific University, Okoye played football for the first time at age 23 and his rare skill set at 6’1″, 260 pounds earned him an early second round draft selection by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Okoye soon picked up the handle of Nigerian Nightmare as his career peaked in 1989. Slowed by injury the following year, Okoye would be joined by Barry Word to give coach Marty Schottenheimer the most devastating one-two running punch in the league.

Meanwhile, pull up any Detroit Lions game from the 1990 season on the WhatIfSports software and you will see ridiculous stat lines out of Barry Sanders.

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Sanders Gretzkied the single season record books with the following stat line: 2,587 rushing yards, 2,734 yards from scrimmage and 31 touchdowns.

Barry scored four times in a Thanksgiving Day win before out-doing Bo Jackson with a legendary performance on Monday Night Football. In the first quarter alone Sanders ripped the Raiders defense with touchdown runs of 25, 27 and 27 yards. Late in the second quarter Sanders took off on a 54-yard run which led to a field goal. On the first play of the second half Sanders added another 25-yard run and would later score his fourth touchdown of the night to cap off a 48-17 win. For the night Barry finished with a ridiculous 368 yards, a total not close to being surpassed in an actual game to this day.

After the season simulation I ran additional sample games involving the Lions and Sanders. In one game against Kansas City he rushed for 265 yards and six TD, 272 yards and two TD against the Saints, 250 yards and two TD against the Giants, 306 yards and a score against Denver and finally 337 yards and two scores against the Chicago Bears.

According to the metrics, Wayne Fontes should have ran Barry on every play.

Other highlights of the 1990 season.

  • Following a 1-15 season, the Chicago Bears rebounded with a 13-3 season with Jim Harbaugh at quarterback.
  • The Los Angeles Raiders appeared poised for a third AFC Championship in four seasons on the back of Bo Jackson with a 14-2 campaign.
  • The simulation Super Bowl XXIV champion (and actual Super Bowl XXV champion) New York Giants saw their season on the brink with a 6-6 record at one point. The G-Men would win their last four games to advance to the postseason.
  • It was a good year for the NFL to expand the playoff field, as all 12 playoff participants won 10 games.
  • This was also the year Derrick Thomas recorded 20 sacks, including seven in an actual game against the Seattle Seahawks. The game ended with Seattle quarterback David Krieg eluding an eighth Thomas sack and throwing the winning TD pass. Had the Chiefs won that game they would had been the number two seed in the AFC.

As in the actual season, Kansas City traveled to Miami for the Wild Card round, but in fiction the Chiefs prevail behind three Barry Word scores and a pick six. The Giants defense of their previous years championship ended with a loss at Philadelphia while the Lions lost at Washington, with Earnest Byner outrushing Barry Sanders 170 to 132.

In the AFC Divisional Round the Steelers scored a 20-17 upset at Buffalo behind two Louis Lipps touchdown receptions. Meanwhile the Chiefs and Raiders renewed their longstanding rivalry. Kansas City scored the final 20 points after Bo Jackson went down in the third quarter. Little did Kansas City sports fans realize the Chiefs success that day would ultimately doom the Kansas City Royals. In the NFC, Chicago and San Francisco easily scored home wins en route to the championship round.

In the AFC Championship, the Chiefs earned a Super Bowl trip behind three Derrick Thomas sacks in a 21-6 win at Pittsburgh. Later that day the 49ers and Bears met in another epic postseason battle, with Mike Ditka getting his third Super Bowl trip in an 18-15 overtime win that became an instant classic.

While the actual Super Bowl XXV became defined by wide right, the simulation version featured a clutch kick. The Kansas City front four again took center stage as Neil Smith recorded three sacks. At the end of regulation the Chiefs holder kneeled near the Super Bowl logo with a Chicago return man stationed under the goal post with  Kick Six in mind.

He never got the chance, Nick Lowery’s 58-yard effort cleared the crossbar, the AFC had its first Super Bowl title in 11 years, Schottenheimer chased his label as postseason failure and Lamar Hunt proudly hoisted the trophy of the game he helped conceive a quarter-century earlier.

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In simulation, Barry Sanders rewrote the record books in 1990.

 

 

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.

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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1979 NFL SIM: STEELERS END RAMS FOUR-PEAT BID

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After only six of the first 26 teams replicated their Super Bowl appearances, and just two repeated their world titles – KACSPORTS 1979 NFL simulation delivers a repeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl XIV victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

The simulation also features a wild race in the NFC East and a first-time playoff participant.

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  • Four teams in the jumbled AFC East won 10 games and even the last place Colts finished 8-8. After a series of tie-breakers, Miami would be the odd team out.
  • As expected, the Steelers rolled to a division crown with the league’s best record. More notably the WhatIfSports simulation was not kind to Bum Phillips Houston Oilers, who went 6-10
  • Air Coryell arrived on schedule, as the Chargers pulled away from a competitive AFC West with a 12-4 record.
  • In real life, Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington battled hammer and tongs in the NFC East, in the sim Washington came away with the NFC’s number one seed at 13-3.
  • The Bears made the playoffs as a wild card in the actual season, in the sim they cruise to the division championship. The actual division champ Buccaneers got off to a slow start and would be a non-factor.
  • As in the real season, the Rams sputtered throughout the season and finished 9-7. The Saints would beat them in the final regular season game to win the NFC West.

The bad news was the Rams played in the Wild Card round, the good news is they got to go to Dallas and for the sixth time in eight years eliminated the Cowboys at Texas Stadium with a 30-9 win. Roger Staubach’s career ends without a Super Bowl appearance.

Unlike Dallas, the Steelers did not disappoint in the postseason, routing the Patriots 52-21 and throttling the Jets 44-17 on their way to the Super Bowl.

In the NFC, the Rams postseason run continued with a 31-5 win at Washington while the Bears beat New Orleans 22-19 to earn the right to host the NFC Championship at Soldier Field. The Rams would prevail 10-9, their second consecutive one-point win in the conference title game.

The Rams appeared in their seventh Super Bowl in 14 years, and for the fourth time in as many Super Bowls in Los Angeles or Pasadena. As in the actual game, the Rams proved to be a tough out, but Franco Harris rushed for 115 yards for a 27-21 Steelers victory in the most compelling Super Bowl to date.

With their third championship the Steelers improved to 3-0 in the Chuck Noll era, compared to the actual team’s four titles. But with six appearances and three titles, the Rams still own the sim version of the 1970s, the Carter years in particular.