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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.

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  • 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.



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1996 proved to be a fascinating NFL season. The 49ers and Cowboys were still considered the class of the NFC, with the Green Bay Packers quickly closing the gap as Brett Favre’s career peaked. The Packers goal was to finish with the conferences best record and get the 49ers and Cowboys at Lambeau in Januaray. Then there was the second-year Carolina Panthers, who did not get the memo that they weren’t supposed to compete with pro football’s upper echelon so fast.

Behind John Elway, Terrell Davis, Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey and Shannon Sharpe, the Denver Broncos had passed the eyeball test and graduated from merely a good team capable of winning the AFC to a squad capable of winning it all. Then there was the second year Jacksonville Jaguars coached by Tom Coughlin, a team that jelled late in the ’96 season and suddenly proved a squad not afraid to play anyone, anywhere.

In the actual season the Packers took advantage of winning the NFC’s number one seed and ultimately won Super Bowl XXXI while the Broncos were derailed by the Jaguars in a divisional playoff. In what ways would a random simulation play different?

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  • The sim produced not one, but two undefeated teams in the regular season. The Packers appeared to have exorcised their last demons with a Monday night win in Dallas and also defeated the Broncos in December. The Bills also ran the table, which seemed more puzzling. Pro-Football-Reference had an expected win total of 9.7 for the Bills, compared to 13.8 for Green Bay.
  • The AFC Central became ultra-competitve, with the Steelers crowned division champs via a three-team tie-breaker with the re-branded Baltimore Ravens at 8-8. Unlike real life, the Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7 season did not earn a playoff spot.
  • In their second year in their new venue, the St. Louis Rams crashed the NFC playoff party with an 8-8 record while the Detroit Lions qualified at 10-6 behind 2,074 rushing yards by Barry Sanders.

The top seeds prevailed in the AFC divisional round, the Broncos defeated the Steelers 33-12 behind a 48-yard Terrell Davis touchdown run and 68-yard Ed McCaffrey touchdown catch. The NFC divisional playoffs featured the same teams as real life. The San Francisco 49ers visited Green Bay while the Carolina Panthers played the Cowboys, only in Dallas instead of Charlotte.

Steve Young tried to play hurt in the actual 49ers/Packers clash, taking numerous injections for what had been reported as bruised ribs that were actually broken. Desmond Howard broke two punt returns early in the game and the Packers cruised to a muddy 35-14 victory. In the sim Steve Young is healthy and throws an early TD pass to Brent Jones – field conditions then deteriorate and Brett Favre throws three devastating picks in a 16-6 loss. The Panthers/Cowboys result also flipped from real life, as home field was good enough to give Dallas a 14-6 win.

Not surprisingly, the Bills bid for a 19-0 season went by the boards in the AFC Championship. Steve Atwater scored on a first quarter pick six, Terrell Davis rushed for 138 yards and the Broncos finally earn their first ever simulation Super Bowl berth with an easy 37-3 win. For the second consecutive year the 49ers and Cowboys clashed for the NFC crown to the joy of television executives. Deion Sanders had joined the Cowboys by this juncture of his career while San Francisco had a young receiver named Terrell Owens whose talent and volatility would also make an impact on both franchises over the next decade.  The game lived up to all expectations, as Troy Aikman rallied Dallas from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit with a 62-yard TD pass to Kevin Williams and a Chris Boniol FG with 34 seconds left. However that gave Steve Young just enough time to put his team into position for Jeff Wilkins to hit a 58-yard bomb to send the Niners to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year and fifth overall, and the Cowboys to their 10th consecutive conference championship loss.

Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans would be a reprise of the actual Super Bowl XXIV between Denver and San Francisco. The Broncos defense kept the game close for three quarters, but the 49ers pull way in the fourth quarter to give the 49ers their third Super Bowl crown as Coach George Seifert and Defensive Coordinator Pete Carroll rode off to their next career endeavors while Steve Young got his elusive first title as quarterback.

With Denver finally making an appearance 19 years after their actual Super Bowl XII debut, the Oilers, Buccaneers and Falcons remain the lone teams not to play in the Super Bowl along with the newbie Jaguars, Ravens and Panthers.


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In 1983, first quickly became worst.

I thought the Buffalo v. Philadelphia Super Bowl from the previous season was bad enough, then came the results that spat out in the 1983 season simulation.

The Bills finished 1-15, the Eagles topped that by somehow going 0-16.

That would be a combined 1-31 and some of WhatIfSports metrics have me scratching my head. The Bills were nothing special with an actual 8-8 record, although the team had a -68 point differential and Pro-Football-Reference game them an ‘expected’ won-loss record of 6-10.

The Eagles 0-16 trophy should look just fine next to their 1981 and 1982 Super Bowl titles and their faux 0-14 season from 1971. The team went an actual 5-11 that season, they did suck – but still should have won at least a few games.

More surprises await in the final standings in a season that saw Eric Dickerson, John Elway and Dan Marino arrive on the scene along with Lawrence Taylor entering his third year. Parity reigned as 12-4 marked the leagues best record.

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Yes, the actual Super Bowl XVII goes down a year later in simulation and Marino debuts in the big game in his rookie season. Without having to worry about Jack Squirek reading a late first-half screen pass ran in the regular season like a book, Joe Theismann completes 16 of 17 passes with four touchdowns while both Joe Washington and John Riggins eclipse 100 yards rushing to earn Joe Gibbs his first championship. The 124 points accumulated in three postseason games was no fluke as Washington racked up 541 points in the actual regular season.

Other bullet points from the 1983 campaign include…

  • In his first year as Seattle coach, Chuck Knox leads the Seahawks to their first playoff berth in the franchises eight-year history. The head-to-head tiebreaker allowed Seattle to edge past the Los Angeles Raiders and San Diego Chargers.
  • In real life, Washington and Dallas not only battled for the NFC East Championship but also the top playoff seed. Despite a real-life 3-12-1 mark, the New York Giants crashed the party and wound up hosting a Wild Card game.
  • The Green Bay Packers sported a 5-7 record and trailed the Chicago Bears by three games with four games remaining. But Green Bay would run the table, including two wins over the Bears to win the NFC Central title for a second straight season.
  • The San Francisco 49ers make the playoffs easily for the first time in simulation during the Bill Walsh era.

A number of simulations repeated events from the actual season. Washington hosted the Rams in a divisional playoff and 49ers in the NFC Championship in both real-life and the simulation. The Seahawks advanced to the AFC Championship with a win in Miami in real life but lose to the Dolphins in the conference title game at home in the sim.

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Wherever Chuck Knox goes, he wins.