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.

2007 NFL SIMULATION – VI SEED, VI-TIME KINGS

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The 2007 NFL season provided many talking points and storylines. Tom Brady broke the single-season touchdown record as the Patriots eyed a historic mark, on the other end of the spectrum, the Miami Dolphins chased 0-16. Terrell Owens made a spectacle of himself as the Dallas Cowboys earned the NFC’s number one seed. Adrian Peterson broke the single-game rushing record as part as his rookie season and Brett Favre led the Packers back into contention in what appeared to be his NFL swan song.

In November the league was rocked by the death of Washington safety Sean Taylor at age 24, a number five overall pick who became a two-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the league’s most feared players in his all-too brief time win the league.

In real-life the New York Giants parlayed their spot at the playoff table into a Super Bowl championship. In the simulation the Green Bay Packers suffer an even worse gut punch as an even more hated rival won the championship – again.

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In Week 1 the Patriots lost, and the Dolphins won. As late as Week 6 the Patriots and Dolphins tied for the division lead at 4-2. Miami remained in playoff contention for the entire season and finished 8-8 compared to their actual 1-15 mark.

2007 marked a rare year where the Cleveland Browns contended. In real life they missed the playoffs at 10-6 but made the postseason here at 9-7.

The Patriots, Steelers and Jaguars all finished the regular season at 13-3, but a late-season home loss to the Steelers dropped New England to the number three seed. The San Diego Chargers also easily won their division with an 11-5 mark.

The Cowboys won a competitive NFC East, but the worst amongst NFC division leaders. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came away with the top seed at 14-2, followed by the Cardinals whose 13-3 record bested the Packers via tiebreaker.

Being forced to play on Wild Card weekend proved to be Green Bay’s worst nightmare as the Vikings snuck in with the number six seed. The Packers easily swept the regular season series in both real life and simulation. Did not matter, the Vikes won easily at Lambeau 31-21 and Brett Favre would next be seen in purple two years later. Terrell Owens and the Cowboys also went home crying early, losing to Carolina 23-17.

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The Browns playoff appearance was short-lived, and am not even sure they got the memo that they made the postseason, falling to New England 31-0. The Chargers advanced behind a LaDainian Tomlinson touchdown run in the closing seconds to defeat Indianapolis 24-20. The Chargers also won a regular season meeting between the two teams by scoring 31 points in the fourth quarter.

As in real life, the Patriots and Jaguars met in the divisional round, this time in Jacksonville where the Jaguars prevailed 34-24. The Jags bid for a second consecutive faux-AFC Championship ended the following week with a 24-17 loss to the Steelers.

On the NFC side, the Vikings were just warming up as they traveled to Tampa and defeated the Buccaneers 17-13. In the NFC Championship at Carolina the Vikings jumped off to a quick start, Adrian Peterson rushed for 144 yards and scored twice, and the Purple Express was headed to Arizona with a 37-27 win.

Super Bowl XLII featured teams with faux Super Bowl records of 5-0 and 4-0 respectively. Fast Willie Parker scored his fifth touchdown of the playoffs with a late fourth quarter score, but proved as just a consolation tally as Minnesota won 26-13 with Adrian Peterson taking MVP honors.

2002 NFL SIMULATION: RUN, RICKY, RUN..

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Our 2001 NFL situation featured Kordell Stewart making a triumphant return to the city of New Orleans to claim a Super Bowl title for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 2002, Ricky Williams was acquired via trade with the New Orleans Saints, who traded all of their draft picks to acquire the rights to draft the Heisman Trophy winner. 2002 proved to be by far Williams best season as a pro with 1,853 yards rushing and his lone Pro Bowl appearance.

In the sim, Williams returns to his San Diego roots for Super Bowl XXXVII and provides a performance for the ages.

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  • Realignment takes place following the 2001 season to accommodate the arrival of the Houston Texans. The new format of eight four team divisions remains unchanged as of 2016.
  • The Texans lost the first 15 games of their existence in alternate reality but finish their inaugural season on a high note with a home upset of the division champion Tennessee Titans, the franchise that previously graced Houston.
  • The New York Giants enjoy their best sim regular season in franchise history, their lone blemish a Week 16 loss at Indianapolis.
  • In real life, 2002 represented the Cleveland Browns lone playoff appearance since their 1999 return, where they lost to the Steelers. In the sim both Cleveland and Pittsburgh both finished 6-10.
  • In their first season in the NFC West, the Seattle Seahawks had a respectable real-life record of 7-9. In the sim the team took their lumps with a 1-15 campaign.

The Cincinnati Bengals 8-8 record earned them the AFC North Championship and the right to host 11-5 Denver on Wild Card Weekend. The Bengals won that game but lost in the divisional round to the Dolphins, who then traveled to Oakland and defeated the 14-2 Raiders for the AFC Championship.

The NFC West Champion San Francisco 49ers welcomed the 13-3 Carolina Panthers in the wild card round and won 24-10. The Niners defeated the 13-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to advance to the NFC Championship game against the St. Louis Rams, who upset the top-seeded Giants.

The Rams and 49ers met to determine who would represent the NFC for the 15th time in the Super Bowl between the two franchises. The 49ers won 27-15 to earn a return trip to San Diego, where the franchise won a faux Super Bowl XXXII for their fourth and most recent championship.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Williams rewrote Super Bowl history with 257 rushing yards and three scores in the Dolphins 39-10 victory for Miami’s second title in four Super Bowl appearances. Williams scored from 12 yards out in the first quarter, followed by a 47-yard scamper before halftime and a 24-yard run to put the Dolphins up 39-3 in the fourth quarter.

Needless to say, Ricky’s career reached an all-time high that day.

1994 NFL SIMULATION: MOONSHINE OVER MIAMI

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The Minnesota Vikings could have rested on their laurels after the pieces fell into place en route to winning Super Bowl XXVIII.

Head coach Dennis Green, along with offensive Coordinator Brian Billick, Defensive coordinator Tony Dungy and General Manager Jeff Diamond could not allow that to happen with Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions along with the rapidly improving Green Bay Packers just in their own division, not to mention the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.

The defense carried the 1993 team, but an upgrade at quarterback was needed. So Diamond triggered a trade to bring Warren Moon to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Moon would delivered as advertised, beginning with a 4 TD performance in an early-season 34-30 win over Detroit and culminating in the Vikings quest for a fifth world championship in 25 years.

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Five of the six real-life division champions replicated their titles in the virtual reality, the exception being the Dallas Cowboys, edged out by the Philadelphia Eagles (actual record 7-9) in the NFC East. The Bills and Raiders replaced the Patriots (somehow 3-13 in the sim) and Chiefs as AFC Wild Cards.

Despite finishing behind the Steelers, the Browns entered the playoffs with sky-high expectations after a 12-4 season. But for the third time in eight years Cleveland lost at home to the Raiders, this time in the Wild Card Round. A back-breaking Greg Biekert Pick Six proved the difference in a 10-9 Raiders win.

In the other AFC Wild Card, Dan Marino and the Dolphins rolled to a 49-17 win over Buffalo. The Packers lost for the second straight season at Dallas while the 13-3 49ers shut out the Bears 34-0.

The Raiders season ended in Pittsburgh a week later, meanwhile the Dolphins traveled to San Diego as they did in real life for a divisional playoff where an officiating crew led by Johnny Grier help hand the Chargers a 22-21 win. The sim proved different with Miami winning 38-21.

In the NFC, the Niners won in dramatic fashion at Philadelphia with a Steve Young touchdown pass in the closing seconds. The top-seeded Vikings prevailed at home against Dallas in an equally contested 23-21 result.

Unlike real-life, the Steelers would not come within three yards of the AFC Championship, the Dolphins booked their second conference championship of the Dan Marino era (and first in 11 years) with an easier than expected 34-16 triumph. In the NFC, the Vikings downed the real-life champion 49ers 23-7.

The Dolphins became the third team in the sim to play a Super Bowl in its own stadium, and either Marino or Moon would be able to get a championship off their late-career bucket lists.

Minnesota won Super Bowl XXIX by the exact same scoreline as they won the NFC Championship with a 23-7 win, as they had the previous year. With a second straight title, the Vikings can now claim the mid-1990s and enter dynasty discussion with three championships over seven years. The Vikings also become the first franchise to win five Super Bowls, with a 5-0 record instead of their 0-4 real-life slate (and 0-0 since 1977).

Just think if they hadn’t made that Herschel Walker trade…

 

1983 NFL SIM: RUNNING HOG WILD

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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.

 

1973 NFL SIM: 2,008, AN O.J. ODYSSEY

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The Miami Dolphins have been very protective of their undefeated 1972 season. In 1988 members of the team went off when an ESPN/NFL Films series called Dream Season had the 1972 Dolphins lose to the 1978 Steelers in the all-time championship game.

The real truth is that many believe that the 1973 Dolphins represent the franchise’s best team – and unlike the 1972 team get their just due in the simulation world.

Pro football’s other story of ’73 involved O.J. Simpson and his quest for single-season history. In KACSPORTS sim of the 1973 season, Simpson ran slightly behind his real-life production, then caught fire in the final few games, much like O.J. did in reality.

In the sim’s final regular season game at snowy Shea Stadium, O.J. went over the top in dramatic fashion, rushing for a 71-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to bring his season total to 2,008 yards.

To this day, six running backs have recorded 2,000 yard rushing seasons, but Simpson remains the only one to achieve the feat in just 14 regular season games.

Other events of the WhatIfSports simulation…

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The Dolphins, Raiders and Cowboys cruised to division championships. A number of playoff tie-breakers would be settled via strength of victory, past the head-the-head, divisional, common opponent and conference record tie-breakers. This included…

  • The Bengals over the Dolphins for divisional playoff home field.
  • The Steelers over the Chiefs for the AFC playoff.
  • The Rams over the Falcons for the NFC West Championship
  • The Falcons over 11-3 Washington for the NFC Wild Card.

In the divisional round Miami won at Cincinnati 20-10 while the Raiders shut out the Steelers 22-0. On the NFC side, the Rams defeated Minnesota 24-13 while the Cowboys beat Atlanta 13-7.

Both top seeds fell in the Championship round, the Raiders lost to the Dolphins 9-3 while the Cowboys season ended at home for a second consecutive year with a loss to the Rams.

In Super Bowl VIII at Houston, Larry Csonka and the Dolphins rebounded from an early deficit to record a 20-10 victory, giving Coach Don Shula his first NFL title.

The Rams became the first three-time Super Bowl participant while the Cowboys have now gone 39-3 over the past three regular seasons without even a conference championship to show for it.

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