WHO RUNS TABLE TO SUPER BOWL LI?

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Aaron Rodgers made good on his six-week promise to ‘run the table’ towards a division title, and it was nice.

A win over Philadelphia, followed by home wins over Houston and Seattle before the Packers swept through the remnants of the NFC North.

But will Rodgers and Green Bay double-down and run the table straight through January and first Sunday in February?

My heart roots for a Chiefs/Packers Super Bowl, 50 years after the original. But my gut say it is turn for someone else to run the table, a movie we have seen before.

Trust me, I deeply root for this to be dead wrong.

WILD CARD

  • Oakland (11-5) at Houston (9-7) – In a switch from last year, all four home teams on Wild Card Weekend actually come in favored. I congratulated the Texans back in October for earning their annual place on ESPN’s 4:40 p.m. Saturday telecast, the NFL’s version of March Madness’s First Four. At this point a Ravens/Broncos pairing holds more intrigue, in their current state the Raiders and Texans represent the two worst playoff participants. Who do you have, Connor Cook or Brock Osweiler? I take Khahil Mack. WINNER: Raiders
  • Detroit (9-7) at Seattle (10-5-1) – The Lions limp into Seattle as eight point underdogs, I say they cover. This will follow the script of most Seahawk home playoff/prime time games. Matthew Stafford has a huge night on a depleted Seattle secondary but Pete Carroll’s proxy army ultimately escapes with their patented psy-op/roller derby-like finish. WINNER: Seahawks
  • Miami (10-6) at Pittsburgh (11-5) – The Dolphins also likely go into postseason with a backup quarterback, and anything beyond this stage would be a bonus. The Steelers have lost at home to lesser opponents in postseason in the past, but not this time. WINNER: Steelers
  • NY Giants (11-5) at Green Bay (10-6) – Packers fans flooded Vegas and have bet Green Bay down to 8-1 to win the Super Bowl, yet only find themselves as 4 1/2 point home favorites against the Giants, who the bookies have at 20-1. This feels just like 2008 and 2012.Temperatures are expected to climb all the way to 12 degrees at Lambeau come game-time, that may be too warm for Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, who torch what’s left of the Packers secondary. WINNER: Giants

DIVISIONAL

  • Seattle at Atlanta (11-5) – The NFL stuck the Falcons in the early Saturday window, another franchise the league cannot see eliminated as possible. This one could go either way, but look for the Seahawks luck running out in the divisional round for a second straight year. WINNER: Falcons
  • Oakland at New England (14-2) – You know a 15th anniversary of the Tuck Rule game has to happen. And how do the Patriots get away with signing Michael Floyd straight off a DUI arrest? Anyone for Sheriff Joe as NFL commissioner? This will serve as a scrimmage on the Pats yellow-brick road to the AFC title game. WINNER: Patriots
  • Pittsburgh at Kansas City (12-4) – The teams met early in the season, with Al Michaels forced to dig into his blowout material early after the Steelers hung 36 points in the first half. And why does Mike Tomlin go for two? Because he cannot go for three. Tyreek Hill returns an early punt for a score, other than that I do not see too much that has changed. Add this to the list of Kansas City postseason disappointments. WINNER: Steelers
  • NY Giants at Dallas (13-3) – The league predictably puts the top-seeded Cowboys in the late afternoon window, as they have for more than 40 years. Here Jason Garrett, Dak Prescott and company meet their worst nightmare, the one team that has their number. Eli Manning also tore through Dallas in 2008 and left Terrell Owens in tears. Do not tell Skip Bayless, but history repeats. WINNER: Giants

CHAMPIONSHIP

  • NY Giants at Atlanta – Anyone think the Giants would tear through Green Bay and Dallas, only to lose in Atlanta? New York condemns the Georgia Dome and the Manning family qualifies for their sixth Super Bowl in 11 years. WINNER: Giants
  • Pittsburgh at New England – The Jim Nantz special sees the latest playoff scrum between the Steelers and Patriots. Tom Brady gets his vindication and punches his franchises seventh Super Bowl ticket in 16 years. WINNER: Patriots

SUPER BOWL LI

  • New England v. NY Giants – Fans have feared a Patriots/Cowboys Super Bowl all year, a.k.a the Skip Bayless Bowl. This would be worse, but who thinks Eli Manning rolls over and just be satisfied tied with his older brother with two Super Bowl rings. A late Patriots drive ends in controversial fashion, the final karma on Tom Brady and the team signing Michael Floyd. Eli gets another title and quickly returns to relative obscurity for another four years.

 

SUPER BOWL LI CHAMPIONS: New York Giants (run to the window now!)

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.

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.

 

 

1981 NFL SIM: CHEESESTEAKS AND BARBECUE

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In real time, the 1981 NFL season was best remembered for two teams who came out of nowhere to participate in Super Bowl XVI at the Pontiac Silverdome.

The San Francisco 49ers would beat the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21. For the 49ers it marked the start of a dynasty that lasted throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s.

The Bengals proved to be more of a one-time shot, although they again met the 49ers in a Super Bowl seven years later.

The sim version of the 1981 season provides a different flavor, for starters Jack Patera would be fired on Black Monday in wake of the Seahawks 2-14 season..

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For much of the season it appeared the Bengals would replicate the exploits of Forrest Gregg’s real squad, but fell just short. For some reason the 49ers did not get the same respect and finished third in their own division.

The sim spat out the Philadelphia Eagles against the Kansas City Chiefs. The final 18-1 record seems ridiculous, but one year after the team’s actual Super Bowl XV appearance the Eagles did have the NFC’s best point differential.

In real life the Chiefs stood in the thick of the playoff race with a 8-4 record before quarterback Bill Kenney was lost to injury. Kenney spent nine years in Kansas City and later served as a Missouri state senator. The bellcow was AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year Joe Delaney who averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Delaney’s life and tragic and heroic death in 1983 at age 24 has been chronicled in an ESPN film and other outlets.

Instead of hosting the playoffs, the Bengals would have to venture into the heat and humidity of Miami in the divisional round. Cincinnati rallied from a 20-3 deficit but fell to the Dolphins 27-20. The following week Miami traveled to frigid Kansas City for the AFC Championship, where Delaney rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown to give the Chiefs a 28-16 win and the franchises second Super Bowl appearance.

With the second-best record in the NFC, the Vikings were able to host their final game at Metropolitan Stadium as a divisional playoff against the Dallas Cowboys. Fans got a head start on tearing off seats and other salvage operations as the Cowboys bolted out to a 21-0 first quarter lead en route to a 24-16 win.

The Cowboys would have little left in the NFC Championship as Danny White passes went wildly off course in the icy Philadelphia subzero gale. Wilbert Montgomery outrushed Tony Dorsett and the Eagles advanced with a 17-3 win.

That left two cities whose baseball entires met in the 1980 World Series to do battle for the NFL Championship. Food vendors outside the Silverdome made huge income in cheesesteak and BBQ sales while the Eagles and Chiefs made final preparations.

The Eagles jumped out to a quick lead and held a 24-0 lead at halftime. Kansas City mounted a second half comeback, but Philadelphia provided the dagger with five minutes left when Ron Jaworski evaded a pass rush, scrambled and found Harold Carmichael wide open for a 64-yard score.

We can only imagine Merrill Reese calling such an event.