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.

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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1986 NFL SIMULATION: ENCORE PERFORMANCE

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The 1985 Chicago Bears remain amongst the greatest single-season teams in NFL history. The rap about the team is that although they remained contenders, they did not follow up with multiple championships or even multiple Super Bowl appearances like Washington, the 49ers, Cowboys or even Broncos.

Like Nena and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Super Bowl Shuffle became a one-hit wonder. Or maybe more like Corey Hart, ‘Sunglasses at Night’ and ‘Never Surrender’ if you really remember. Mike Ditka’s team did not go mega-platinum like David Bowie or Prince.

Much of the blame goes to the lack of longevity of quarterback Jim McMahon, who at his brief peak still outclasses any Bears quarterback since 1950.

McMahon always played with a bullseye on his back. McMahon must go down to the Soldier Field turf and go down hard, even if it happens three seconds after he throws the ball which is exactly what Green Bay’s Charles Martin did.

The 1986 NFL simulations serves as a referendum of the Bears staying power if No. 9 had stayed in one piece.

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  • Nothing much separates the Giants, Bears, Niners or even Vikings (actual record 9-7 and out of playoffs). The real-life point differentials were Bears +165, Giants +135, Niners +127 and Vikings +125, all better than any AFC team.
  • The Saints easily earned the second NFC Wild Card slot with a 12-4 campaign, easily surpassing their actual 7-9 record (point differential) -1
  • There would be no Broncos/Browns AFC Championship game. Cleveland missed the playoffs at 9-7 while Denver finished 7-9. Meanwhile the Bills somehow earned the AFC’s top seed despite a 4-12 real life record.
  • Other teams that bombed in the sim included Washington (actual record 12-4) and Patriots (11-5)
  • The wooden spoon went to the Lions (actual record 5-11) who became the sim’s sixth team to go winless at 0-16. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers two wins came at the expense of Detroit while Green Bay’s 7-9 record was buoyed by four wins over the Bucs and Lions.

As a number five seed the Vikings won playoff games in New Orleans and San Francisco, replicating an actual playoff upset that occurred after the 1987 season. The Bears would be awarded home field advantage and defeated the Giants and Vikings to book a Super Bowl return trip.

Buffalo lost at home in the divisional round while Seattle defeated the Bengals and then the Raiders 38-27 behind four touchdown passes by Milton College graduate David Krieg. It would be Seattle’s second AFC Championship in three years

Seattle and Chicago met in Pasadena for Super Bowl XXI, the Bears led 24-0 after three quarters and held off a furious Seattle rally to prevail 24-19. Mike Tice scored the initial Seahawks touchdown followed by two Curt Warner runs.

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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