FALCONS DREAM SEASON NOT SEEN BY MANY

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons

Despite throttling both the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers en route to Super Bowl LI, the talent of the Atlanta Falcons remain unknown on a national level.

The reasons are obvious. Atlanta was not tabbed for a Sunday Night appearance and not even flexed into a late season game, as was the case with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For other late afternoon national broadcasts, FOX likes to roll with known brands such as the Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks while CBS’s number one crew typically work  Broncos, Patriots and Steeler games. The two networks also make sure to get at least one interconference game that involve such teams.

That left Atlanta with a Week 3 Monday night game at New Orleans that drew alarmingly low ratings against a presidential debate, a Week 8 game v. Green Bay and a Thursday night game in Tampa for a national audience. Most other Falcons games were shown regionally.

Week 1 v. Tampa Bay – The season began with the Falcons in the shadow of the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers, who opened on a Thursday night. With the New Orleans Saints also in action, the game aired in Georgia, the Tampa area and some other southern locations.

Week 2 at Oakland – This interconference game would normally air on FOX, but was flexed to CBS. Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon called this game while Colts v. Broncos got the Jim Nantz/Phil Simms treatment.

Week 3 at New Orleans (MNF) – The aforementioned 45-32 Atlanta victory that drew low ratings against Trump v. Hillary.

Week 4 v. Carolina – With the Panthers in town, the Falcons 48-33 victory was shown in most homes in the south during the 1 p.m. Eastern window. A Seahawks v. Jets game aired everywhere west of Denver and in the northeast.

Week 5 at Denver – The Falcons took down the other Super Bowl 50 participant in a 4:05 Eastern start shown to most of the south and west while a Cowboys v. Bengals game aired in the 4:25 window on FOX

Week 6 at Seattle – The Falcons controversial loss in Seattle was shown regionally in Atlanta and the Pacific Northwest as the rest of the nation got Cowboys v. Packers in the 4:25 window.

Week 7 v. San Diego – Another 4:05 start only shown in the Chargers and Falcons markets, while Patriots/Steelers was shown to a national audience on CBS.

Week 8 v. Green Bay – The Falcons 33-32 marked Atlanta’s lone national 4:25 appearance, shown everywhere with the exception of Denver as the Broncos had a home game.

Week 9 at Tampa Bay (TNF) – The Falcons Thursday night appearance fell here, the first game done with the NBC crew and Al Michaels.

Week 10 at Philadelphia – Headlined FOX’s 1 p.m. slate and shown in many regions that included the West Coast and Texas.

Week 12 v. Arizona – This game again got FOX’s number two team of Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch. The 1 p.m. start was only seen in Georgia, Arizona, the Carolina and other upper Midewest areas.

Week 13 v. Kansas City – CBS’s number two team handled this game which aired mainly to the Kansas City and Atlanta markets. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms worked Houston at Green Bay in the 1 p.m. window.

Week 14 at Los Angeles – By this point in the season it became obvious that the Rams did not make for good TV viewing. Dick Stockton called the one-sided contest aired to the Los Angeles and Atlanta markets.

Week 15 v. San Francisco – Another 4:05 local start against a subpar opponent aired regionally. CBS carried Patriots at Broncos in the 4:25 window.

Week 16 at Carolina – Christmas Eve game went out regionally as most of the nation received Vikings v. Packers in 1 p.m. window.

Week 17 v. New Orleans – Aired in the 4:25 window, the Falcons regular season finale played second fiddle to Giants/Washington in the same time slot.

Division playoff v. Seattle – The first true look to many of this team nationally, but got Burkhardt/Lynch as Joe Buck/Troy Aikman worked Packers/Cowboys.

NFC Championship v. Green Bay – Joe Buck finally got his first look at the Falcons, as he was on his World Series assignment during the previous Packers/Falcons meeting.

Talk about a lack of respect. But with a new stadium on the horizon coupled with this year’s success, the Falcons can look forward to infinitely more television exposure in 2017.

THE 2017 NFL ‘BOWL SEASON’

dak_prescott_cowboys

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.

2005 NFL SIMULATION: ALOHA MEANS GOODBYE

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 9.57.56 PM.png

In the actual 2005 season, retiring Jerome Bettis and the Pittsburgh Steelers steamrolled through the AFC field from the number six seed en route to the Super Bowl XL championship.

The simulation Broncos likewise cruised to the number one playoff seed and was able to take advantage of home field and punch their ticket to Ford Field in Detroit. As in real life the Seattle Seahawks earned the NFC’s top seed, but were not as fortunate in postseason.

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 2.56.31 PM

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 2.56.43 PM

The surprises started on opening weekend as the Houston Texans won their season opener for the first time in franchise history, defeating the faux Super Bowl XXXIX Champion Buffalo Bills.

Kansas City’s Larry Johnson began the season on a historic rampage, he rushed for 196 yards and two scores in the season opener and then accounted for a single-game league record of 377 yards from scrimmage and four scores in a Monday Night rout of the Raiders.

The Indianapolis Colts remain a perennial disappointment in sim play, finishing a distant second in the AFC South with a 7-9 record.

Despite being forced to play their entire schedule away from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Saints remained in the mix of the competitive NFC South all season long. The Saints were given a neutral field for simulation ‘home games’ and finished 8-8 compared to their actual 3-13 record.

In a heavyweight AFC Wild Card matchup, the New England Patriots held Fast Willie Parker in check en route to a 25-10 win over Pittsburgh. The Patriots would next visit Denver in the Divisional round as they did in real life and appeared headed to a Conference Championship berth until Denver’s Jake Plummer found Ashley Lelie for a 68-yard touchdown with 1:29 remaining to give Denver a dramatic 20-16 win.

In the NFC, the Seahawks hosted Carolina in the Divisional Round instead of the NFC Championship with a different result. Steve Smith caught six passes for 117 yards in a 14-6 Panthers win. In the other division playoff Washington defeated Chicago by the unique score of 11-3.

Championship Sunday presented intriguing scenarios with both 1995 expansion cousins Jacksonville and Carolina in play, along with the Broncos and Washington. The Broncos held serve with a 16-9 win over the Jaguars behind Mike Anderson’s 136 yards rushing. The win secured Denver’s fifth Super Bowl appearance in 10 years.

The Broncos result meant that if Washington were to beat Carolina, then Clinton Portis and Champ Bailey would face each other two years after the two were traded in a rare player-for-player swap of iconic players in their prime.

Portis did his part with a 79-yard touchdown reception, but Carolina won 19-13, which resulted in the Panthers and Broncos facing off 10 years prior to their actual Super Bowl 50 matchup.

Led by a 55-yard Tatum Bell run, the Broncos won their third championship with a 14-9 triumph. The win marked the AFC’s sixth straight championship, but still trail 24-16 in the series. Carolina’s Super Bowl appearance leaves the Titans, Jaguars, Texans and Buccaneers as the lone teams not to reach football’s grand stage.

And Jake Plummer becomes a two-time Super Bowl champion. Who would have thunk?

jake_plummer_2005_12_24

2003 NFL SIMULATION: CLINTON ADMINISTRATION

Cllinton_Portis_Belt

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 6.22.31 AM

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.

1999 NFL SIMULATION: CONSIDER THE ODDS

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 9.19.29 AM

After San Diego’s Rodney Harrison came down on the knee of projected starting quarterback Trent Green in a 1999 preseason game, the Rams were installed at 300-1 odds to win Super Bowl XXXIV.

Kurt Warner ended up making a lot of coin for those who took up that bet. But what would have been the chances of Warner leading St. Louis to the NFL’s first 19-0 campaign?

That would had been beyond Leicester City odds.

But the Greatest Show on Turf ran roughshod through the NFL and gave opponents its own Y2K crisis, as in how to possibly beat this team. In this sim at least, no one had the answer.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 5.51.57 PM

  • There would be no Music City Miracle in the 1999 postseason. The Buffalo Bills earned the AFC’s top seed with a 12-4 record while the Tennessee Titans missed the playoffs at 9-7.
  • The Rams had little margin for error in securing the NFC’s top seed, as the Dallas Cowboys (8-8 in real life) somehow compiled a 15-1 record themselves.
  • The Rams completed the seventh undefeated regular season in sim history, only one the previous six (’67 Raiders) went on to win the Super Bowl.
  • Green Bay Packers coach Ray Rhodes received a pink slip hours after the completion of his team’s 6-10 campaign.

The AFC Playoffs became an upside down affair. In the wild card round the Jacksonville Jaguars won in New England while the Broncos won at Kansas City behind four Olandis Gary touchdowns. The following week Jacksonville won in Baltimore while the Broncos did the same in Buffalo.

Chalk mostly prevailed in the NFC. The Central Division champion Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers both took care of business in the Wild Card round, with the Buccaneers making QB Kerry Collins look silly in the process of a 23-0 shutout. The Panthers season would end with a 29-17 loss in St. Louis while the Buccaneers nipped the Cowboys 10-9 in Dallas.

For the second time in three years, the number five and six seeds met for the AFC Championship in Jacksonville, who also hosted the actual 1999 AFC title game. For the second time in three weeks Olandis Gary took center stage, the fill-in for the injured Terrell Davis rushed for 164 yards and three scores in a wild 40-34 overtime victory to send Denver to their third Super Bowl in four years.

In the NFC title game, there would be no Bert Emanuel moment. The Rams dominated the Buccaneers from beginning to end in a 33-3 rout to send the Rams to their eighth Super Bowl, and first in 20 years.

Super Bowl XXXIV would not come down to one yard either. The Rams stifled the Denver running game and held a 9-0 lead after three quarters then pulled away for a 26-3 win, ending the Oakland Raiders 32-year reign as the lone undefeated Super Bowl champion. With its fifth title, the Rams join the Minnesota Vikings as having the most Super Bowl wins and become the seventh of 34 actual Super Bowl champs to replicate their championship in the sim.

And Kurt Warner had defeated the odds of going from a camp arm and Hy-Vee stocker to the architect of 19-0. Yes, you can defy the odds.

1998 NFL SIMULATION: ELWAY RIDES OFF

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 2.59.35 PM

As the 1990s drew to a close, time was quickly running out for quarterbacks such as Troy Aikman, John Elway and Dan Marino to win a Super Bowl. 1998 represented their last best chance to grab the brass ring.

1998 also represented the rookie year of Randy Moss and I completely expected him and reborn quarterback Randall Cunningham to dominate the sim as they did in real life until kicker Gary Anderson clanged the upright in the NFC Championship Game.

The 1998 simulation throws some curveballs.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.49.31 PM

  • As in real life, the AFC East became a grudge match between the Jets, Dolphins, Patriots and Bills. Peyton Manning also arrived on the scene in 1998, he and fellow draft choice Ryan Leaf would go on to dominate the 2000s – well at least Peyton did.
  • While the Packers and Cowboys surprisingly cruised to the NFC’s best records at 15-1 and 14-2, Minnesota surprisingly staggered to a 10-6 campaign and the Purple’s bid for a sixth simulation championship quietly died in the Wild Card round.
  • The Arizona Cardinals earned a rare playoff berth in real life with a 9-7 record and proceeded to upset the Cowboys in the Wild Card round. The Cardinals also finish 9-7 here but squeezed out in the tie-breaking procedures by several other teams.

In real life, Dan Marino’s career ended unceremoniously at the hands of Jacksonville in the 1999 Divisional playoffs. In the 1998 sim, the Dolphins win in North Florida to advance one step closer to hosting another Super Bowl in Souuth Florida. The Broncos and Jets, who met in the actual 1998 AFC Championship, met in the Meadowlands for the fictional divisional round. The Broncos won behind 196 rushing yards and 2 TD’s from Terrell Davis.

In the NFC, the Packers suffered yet another devastating home upset, this time at the hands of Atlanta. In the other game Dallas faced a familiar nemesis in the St. Louis Rams. Behind 140 yards by Emmitt Smith, the Cowboys advanced to their 12th conference championship game.

For the first time since a snowy late-September Sunday in 1985, Dan Marino and John Elway met at Mile High Stadium. The weather would be warmer that late-January day, about all you need to know about Denver weather. Terrell Davis rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown to give Denver its second AFC Championship in three years. In the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys broke a 30-year Super Bowl curse behind four Troy Aikman touchdowns in a 31-21 victory over the Falcons.

The Broncos and Cowboys traveled to Miami for Super Bowl XXXIII, and per league rules someone must win. Terrell Davis turned the game into his personal showcase with a Super Bowl record 199 yards and three touchdowns while Emmitt Smith was held to 33 yards on 17 carries. Ed McCaffrey also caught a 38 yard TD pass in the 34-8 rout and John Elway and owner Pat Bowlen finally delivered their championship – the first time since the 1985 Bears that a team replicated its Super Bowl championship in the sim.

1984 NFL SIMULATION: NFC DOMINATION BUILDS

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 8.35.14 AM_Niners_XIX

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 11.33.43 AM

  • 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.

Seahawks_v_Nines