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.