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.
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.