FALCONS DREAM SEASON NOT SEEN BY MANY

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Despite throttling both the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers en route to Super Bowl LI, the talent of the Atlanta Falcons remain unknown on a national level.

The reasons are obvious. Atlanta was not tabbed for a Sunday Night appearance and not even flexed into a late season game, as was the case with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For other late afternoon national broadcasts, FOX likes to roll with known brands such as the Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks while CBS’s number one crew typically work  Broncos, Patriots and Steeler games. The two networks also make sure to get at least one interconference game that involve such teams.

That left Atlanta with a Week 3 Monday night game at New Orleans that drew alarmingly low ratings against a presidential debate, a Week 8 game v. Green Bay and a Thursday night game in Tampa for a national audience. Most other Falcons games were shown regionally.

Week 1 v. Tampa Bay – The season began with the Falcons in the shadow of the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers, who opened on a Thursday night. With the New Orleans Saints also in action, the game aired in Georgia, the Tampa area and some other southern locations.

Week 2 at Oakland – This interconference game would normally air on FOX, but was flexed to CBS. Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon called this game while Colts v. Broncos got the Jim Nantz/Phil Simms treatment.

Week 3 at New Orleans (MNF) – The aforementioned 45-32 Atlanta victory that drew low ratings against Trump v. Hillary.

Week 4 v. Carolina – With the Panthers in town, the Falcons 48-33 victory was shown in most homes in the south during the 1 p.m. Eastern window. A Seahawks v. Jets game aired everywhere west of Denver and in the northeast.

Week 5 at Denver – The Falcons took down the other Super Bowl 50 participant in a 4:05 Eastern start shown to most of the south and west while a Cowboys v. Bengals game aired in the 4:25 window on FOX

Week 6 at Seattle – The Falcons controversial loss in Seattle was shown regionally in Atlanta and the Pacific Northwest as the rest of the nation got Cowboys v. Packers in the 4:25 window.

Week 7 v. San Diego – Another 4:05 start only shown in the Chargers and Falcons markets, while Patriots/Steelers was shown to a national audience on CBS.

Week 8 v. Green Bay – The Falcons 33-32 marked Atlanta’s lone national 4:25 appearance, shown everywhere with the exception of Denver as the Broncos had a home game.

Week 9 at Tampa Bay (TNF) – The Falcons Thursday night appearance fell here, the first game done with the NBC crew and Al Michaels.

Week 10 at Philadelphia – Headlined FOX’s 1 p.m. slate and shown in many regions that included the West Coast and Texas.

Week 12 v. Arizona – This game again got FOX’s number two team of Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch. The 1 p.m. start was only seen in Georgia, Arizona, the Carolina and other upper Midewest areas.

Week 13 v. Kansas City – CBS’s number two team handled this game which aired mainly to the Kansas City and Atlanta markets. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms worked Houston at Green Bay in the 1 p.m. window.

Week 14 at Los Angeles – By this point in the season it became obvious that the Rams did not make for good TV viewing. Dick Stockton called the one-sided contest aired to the Los Angeles and Atlanta markets.

Week 15 v. San Francisco – Another 4:05 local start against a subpar opponent aired regionally. CBS carried Patriots at Broncos in the 4:25 window.

Week 16 at Carolina – Christmas Eve game went out regionally as most of the nation received Vikings v. Packers in 1 p.m. window.

Week 17 v. New Orleans – Aired in the 4:25 window, the Falcons regular season finale played second fiddle to Giants/Washington in the same time slot.

Division playoff v. Seattle – The first true look to many of this team nationally, but got Burkhardt/Lynch as Joe Buck/Troy Aikman worked Packers/Cowboys.

NFC Championship v. Green Bay – Joe Buck finally got his first look at the Falcons, as he was on his World Series assignment during the previous Packers/Falcons meeting.

Talk about a lack of respect. But with a new stadium on the horizon coupled with this year’s success, the Falcons can look forward to infinitely more television exposure in 2017.

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.

2009 NFL SIMULATION – TYRANNOSAURUS REX

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To imagine a place where in just one year Rex Ryan can trump Bill Belichick..

The 2009 NFL simulation completes a decade where neither the New England Patriots or the Indianapolis Colts did as much as even win a conference championship. Prior to the ’09 sim – the AFC crowns were won by the Ravens, Steelers (twice), Dolphins, Broncos (twice), Bills, Jaguars and Titans.

Well at least Pittsburgh and Denver made some sense along with the 2000 Ravens, the rest of the results prove much more goes into the making of a championship team than data fed into software programs.

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There would be no Vikings v. Saints reprise, as both teams missed the NFC playoffs. The Patriots also missed the postseason with a 9-7 record while the Colts had one of their best simulation campaigns, easily winning the AFC South at 12-4.

The Favre/Brad Childress marriage began well enough with a 42-0 win in Cleveland and a 5-0 start, before losses in eight of the final 11 games.

The Detroit Lions picked up where they left off in 2008 with losses in their first 13 games before defeating the eventual NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals 44-28. All told, the Lions lost 30 straight in simulation – besting a 29-game losing streak the Cardinals franchise was involved in during World War II (merged with the Steelers for one year).

Then there was Chris Johnson, who rushed for 293 yards in an early season game v. the New York Jets and closed the season with a 307 yard rushing performance in Seattle. Johnson finished the year with a ridiculous 2,568 yards on the ground.

The Jets shored their run defense soon enough.

The postseason began with a Marvin Lewis playoff victory, as the Bengals beat the 8-8 Denver Broncos, who won the AFC West because the San Diego Chargers went 7-9 in sim opposed to their actual 13-3 record.

The Steelers and Ravens also met in the Wild Card round, as Pittsburgh secured a 23-0 shutout. As in real life, the Colts faced the Jets for the AFC Championship, but in New York as the Jets won 41-13 for the franchises fourth Super Bowl appearance.

The Giants got the NFC’s top seed, marking the second time in sim in which both New York teams were top seeds. The Packers received the NFC’s other first round bye, but suffered the latest in a string of home playoff string defeats as Aaron Rodgers threw a fatal pick-six in a 32-22 loss to Philadelphia in the divisional round. The sixth-seeded Cowboys would then defeat the fifth-seeded Eagles in the NFC Championship to give Dallas just their third Super Bowl appearance.

The Jets and Cowboys represent just the second sim Super Bowl where two teams played each other twice, the Cowboys won a faux Super Bowl III while Super Bowls VII and XIV featured the Steelers and Rams.

It appeared Dallas would win that first championship in 41 years with a 10-3 lead going into the fourth quarter, but Tony Romo threw an interception returned 74 yards for a score by Eric Smith and the Jets rode the momentum to a 20-10 win, making Mark Sanchez the parallel universe’s version of Joe Willie Namath.

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.

 

2005 NFL SIMULATION: ALOHA MEANS GOODBYE

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In the actual 2005 season, retiring Jerome Bettis and the Pittsburgh Steelers steamrolled through the AFC field from the number six seed en route to the Super Bowl XL championship.

The simulation Broncos likewise cruised to the number one playoff seed and was able to take advantage of home field and punch their ticket to Ford Field in Detroit. As in real life the Seattle Seahawks earned the NFC’s top seed, but were not as fortunate in postseason.

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The surprises started on opening weekend as the Houston Texans won their season opener for the first time in franchise history, defeating the faux Super Bowl XXXIX Champion Buffalo Bills.

Kansas City’s Larry Johnson began the season on a historic rampage, he rushed for 196 yards and two scores in the season opener and then accounted for a single-game league record of 377 yards from scrimmage and four scores in a Monday Night rout of the Raiders.

The Indianapolis Colts remain a perennial disappointment in sim play, finishing a distant second in the AFC South with a 7-9 record.

Despite being forced to play their entire schedule away from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Saints remained in the mix of the competitive NFC South all season long. The Saints were given a neutral field for simulation ‘home games’ and finished 8-8 compared to their actual 3-13 record.

In a heavyweight AFC Wild Card matchup, the New England Patriots held Fast Willie Parker in check en route to a 25-10 win over Pittsburgh. The Patriots would next visit Denver in the Divisional round as they did in real life and appeared headed to a Conference Championship berth until Denver’s Jake Plummer found Ashley Lelie for a 68-yard touchdown with 1:29 remaining to give Denver a dramatic 20-16 win.

In the NFC, the Seahawks hosted Carolina in the Divisional Round instead of the NFC Championship with a different result. Steve Smith caught six passes for 117 yards in a 14-6 Panthers win. In the other division playoff Washington defeated Chicago by the unique score of 11-3.

Championship Sunday presented intriguing scenarios with both 1995 expansion cousins Jacksonville and Carolina in play, along with the Broncos and Washington. The Broncos held serve with a 16-9 win over the Jaguars behind Mike Anderson’s 136 yards rushing. The win secured Denver’s fifth Super Bowl appearance in 10 years.

The Broncos result meant that if Washington were to beat Carolina, then Clinton Portis and Champ Bailey would face each other two years after the two were traded in a rare player-for-player swap of iconic players in their prime.

Portis did his part with a 79-yard touchdown reception, but Carolina won 19-13, which resulted in the Panthers and Broncos facing off 10 years prior to their actual Super Bowl 50 matchup.

Led by a 55-yard Tatum Bell run, the Broncos won their third championship with a 14-9 triumph. The win marked the AFC’s sixth straight championship, but still trail 24-16 in the series. Carolina’s Super Bowl appearance leaves the Titans, Jaguars, Texans and Buccaneers as the lone teams not to reach football’s grand stage.

And Jake Plummer becomes a two-time Super Bowl champion. Who would have thunk?

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2001 NFL SIMULATION: BATTLEGROUND STATE

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I return with my 36th simulation from the Super Bowl era, with WhatIfSports data to replay the schedule for each season once, and only once. Included will be a recap from the bottom so you can wonder how the hell the Minnesota Vikings won five Super Bowls and how the Detroit Lions won one.

The 2001 season marked the third and final campaign with 31 teams in the league, necessitating at least one team per week to take a bye. The events of September 11 pushed the league schedule back a week and resulted in playoff games deep into the month of January.

The league scheduled the Raiders and Patriots on a snowy Saturday night in Foxboro. Charles Woodson forced a late fumble but the ref enforced the Tuck Rule. Adam Vinatieri somehow made a long field goal without help from the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, the Patriots won – and the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick dynasty launched.

In the sim however, the Pats reign of destruction will have to wait, both New England and Oakland finished 9-7. The Pats squeaked into the postseason while Jon Gruden got his termination letter from Al Davis.

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  • As in the actual season, the Steelers and Rams finished as the number one seeds in their respective conferences. The Rams appeared unstoppable and headed for their second Super Bowl in three seasons.
  • Also, as in the real season, the Indianapolis Colts imploded down the stretch with only one win in their final eight games. Playoffs!?!
  • The NFL  East proved hyper-competitive in simulation with he Dallas Cowboys in the mix and the Arizona Cardinals earning a rare playoff berth.
  • In the third season of its carnation, the Cleveland Browns went 7-9, but only one three games here, giving fans additional beer bottle throwing practice.

The Patriots won in Baltimore in the wild card round but then traveled to balmy Miami the following week, where they lost 36-26. Both the Packers and Rams fell in the divisional round, falling to the Eagles and Bucs respectively.

The Steelers hosted the Dolphins for the AFC Championship, and Kordell Stewart silenced his many critics as he led Pittsburgh to a 43-10 rout and its first Super Bowl appearance in 22 years. Meanwhile the Eagles defeated the Buccaneers for the second straight year to claim the NFC crown.

The Eagles and Steelers traveled to New Orleans for the all Keystone State Super Bowl. Kordell Stewart makes his Crescent City homecoming a memorable one as the Steelers win their fourth World Championship in as many attempts with a 24-6 victory. Super Bowl losers have now averaged 5.7 points in the past six games of the series. It also marked the first consecutive AFC victories since Super Bowl’s IX and X.

Now a brief recap of alternative universe NFL history.

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1984 NFL SIMULATION: NFC DOMINATION BUILDS

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In the actual NFL, the NFC began a 13-game Super Bowl winning streak that began with the San Francisco 49ers dominating victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.

The years that followed saw the NFC develop some of the most legendary teams in pro football history, with many Super Bowls decided in blowout fashion.

In real life, at least the Raiders recorded victories in Super Bowls XV and XVIII, but in this alternative universe the NFC has already gotten a jump-start with championships in the previous four seasons to take a commanding 12-6 lead in the series.

Is the NFC possibly on its way to a 17-game winning streak? Well, in 1984 Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers makes an overdue arrival.

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  • Dan Marino had a record-setting year en route to the leading Miami to the AFC Championship. The Dolphins do not fare nearly as well in the alternative universe, missing the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
  • The Cleveland Browns appeared out of playoff contention with a 5-7 record going into their final four games. Cleveland would run the table and overtake the Bengals and Steelers for the AFC Central title. The Browns also won the Central in real life with an 8-8 record and gave the Dolphins a scare in the divisional round.
  • At the peak of his eight year career, Neil Lomax was a poor-man’s Marino in the NFC. The Cardinals hold off Washington in the sim to win the AFC East.
  • A year after an 0-16 campaign, the Philadelphia Eagles rebounded with a 10-6 season and narrowly missed the playoffs.
  • The Vikings suffered their worst season ever at 1-15, google Les Steckel to find out why.
  • We see the first true glimpse of the Mike Ditka era, in real life the Bears won in Washington to advance to the NFC Championship. Here they win the division with a 13-3 record.
  • Green Bay somehow finishes 12-4 and then staged a dramatic comeback to eliminate Washington in the Wild Card Game. For a second straight year, the Packers season ends in San Francisco in the divisional round.
  • How dominant were the 49ers in the NFC West? They clinched the division title after Week 11.

The story in the AFC became a team familiar to the current NFC. Following up on an AFC Championship Game appearance the previous season, the Seattle Seahawks returned to the playoffs where they clashed with future  real-life rival. Seattle defeated their Super Bowl XLVIII opponent Denver Broncos 15-3 in the wild card round and then knocked off Super Bowl XLIX foe New England 17-7 on the heels of a pick six. The Seahawks completed their road show with a 33-20 win at Kansas City to become the second five seed to advance to the Super Bowl.

In the NFC, the Cardinals upset the Bears at Soldier Field to earn a trip to Candlestick Park for the conference title. St. Louis held a late lead until Joe Montana threw a touchdown pass with :16 remaining to win an instant classic.

So the Seahawks and Niners made the short trip to Palo Alto for both franchises first Super Bowl appearance. It marked coach Chuck Knox’s fifth trip to the big game with his third different team (an indictment on his real-life playoff failures?). A forgotten star for Seattle was safety Kenny Easley, who rivaled Ronnie Lott going back to their days at UCLA and USC. Easley was drafted fourth overall in 1981, four picks before Lott.

Long before the berths of Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman, Seattle gave their future NFC West rivals their best shot, but fared no better than the Miami Dolphins in real life, as the 49ers emerged victorious 37-22 to become the fifth team to replicate their actual championship in simulation.

At this point 21 of the 28 existing teams have played in the Super Bowl. The exceptions at this point include the Oilers, Broncos, Giants, Bears, Buccaneers, Falcons and Saints.

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1976 NFL SIM: CHUCKY MEETS CHUCKY

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In 1976 all the pieces seem to have suddenly fallen into place for the New England Patriots. They earned the AFC Wild Card and traveled to Oakland for a divisional playoff against a team they beat 48-17 in the regular season. The Patriots lost largely due to a roughing the passer call in the final minutes.

25 years later the Patriots evened history with their own controversial playoff win over the Raiders in Foxboro. Officiating psy ops become magnified in the playoffs, would home field advantage have changed anything in 1976?

Here is the sim, with one glaring exception it played similar to the actual season.

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  • The Patriots also finished 11-3 in real life and were the AFC Wild Card
  • The Colts are 10-4 and the Wild Card opposed to 11-3 and AFC East champions.
  • The Steelers go 13-1 in the sim v. 10-4 and also division champs in real life.
  • The Raiders win the AFC West at 10-4 v. their actual 13-1 record.
  • Dallas finishes 13-1 in the sim v. the real-life 11-3 division championship.
  • Washington finishes 11-3, in real life the team also earned the NFC Wild Card at 10-4.
  • Minnesota misses the playoffs at 9-5 in the sim, opposed to actual 11-2-1 record.
  • The Rams went through the sim at 12-2 opposed to their actual 10-3-1 finish.

The anomaly involves the Detroit Lions, who went 13-1 in the simulation. In real life the team represented classic Lions mediocrity, finishing 6-8 after they fired the coach after four games.

A trip to Wikipedia explains the metric that turns the Lions into world-beaters. Quarterback Greg Landry enjoyed a career season and the team ranked 12th of all teams from 1960-2009 in an advanced stat called Passer Rating Differential. Of the 11 teams ranked ahead of the 1976 Lions, seven either reached either the Super Bowl or a pre-Super Bowl league championship game. One member of the 1976 Lions staff included Bill Belichick.

And they let Tommy Hudspeth call the shots?

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers debuted as historically bad as they did in real life with an 0-14 record. Their closest game was a seven-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks. In the 13 games against other AFC teams the Bucs lost all of their games by at least 13 points. And now that current Commissioner Roger Goodell has scheduled a regular season in Beijing, Bucs coach John McKay can no longer claim a billion Chinese do not care.

The Seahawks faired somewhat better in year one – along with the Bucs, Seattle defeated the Atlanta Falcons (who they also beat in real life) and the Green Bay Packers.

Tampa nearly had company at 0-14 – The New York Giants started 0-11 before they recorded two late-season wins while the Packers averted an 0-14 season with a Week 14 win in Atlanta.

Now on the downside of his career, O.J. Simpson still exploded for a 265-yard rushing day against the Kansas City Chiefs.

In the Divisional playoffs, Baltimore lost at Pittsburgh 13-6 while the Patriots got a controversial call in their favor in a 26-21 win over the Raiders in Foxboro. In the NFC, Washington lost at Detroit 17-14 while the Cowboys lost at home to the Rams for the third time in five years, this time by a 10-9 score. Over the past five years Dallas has a 71-13 regular season record.

The Patriots post-season route continued to replicate their real postseason route of 25 years later. Behind Sam Cunningham’s 199 yards and two touchdowns, New England won at Pittsburgh 24-10 while the Rams recorded a 30-0 shutout at Detroit. The Rams win marked their fourth conference championship and third Super Bowl appearance in as many games played in the Los Angeles area.

In Super Bowl XI at Pasadena, Chuck Knox’s Rams would then defeat Chuck Fairbanks Patriots, 27-20 in the most competitive Super Bowl played to date.

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Steve Spurrier fared better as a future college coach than as the Buccaneers first quarterback.