With the 2019 NFL season right around the corner, anyone with even the smallest of platforms and audiences (yes, Twitter counts) has taken the opportunity to play Nostradamus by forecasting how things will shake out. But while all of these other people are busy making their predictions based on such unreliable factors as roster assessments and/or history, I thought a more valuable prognostication tool would be to use a simulation of the 2019 season in Madden 20 to determine what’s most likely to occur. So armed with Madden as a crystal ball of sorts, let’s peer into the future and see not only who will be left standing when Super Bowl LIV is played in February, but get some answers to several other burning questions on people’s minds with the season about to start.
The Patriots And Jets Will Play Against Each Other In An AFC Wild Card Game
Now that Tom Brady is 42 years young, it’s about time that the rest of the teams in the AFC East caught up to the Patriots, and this looks to be the year where that begins.
This is not to say that Brady should be expected to decline all that much this season as Madden sees him leading the league in passing yards, just one yard short of 5,000 (nearly 500 yards ahead of closest competitor Matt Ryan) to go with 32 TDs and only 8 INTs. Josh Gordon will be a valuable contributor following his latest reinstatement, with the receiver racking up 849 yards and 7 TDs. It’s all just enough for the Pats to continue their AFC East dominance by winning the division at 10-6.
But the Jets, and to the lesser extent the Bills, will be nipping at the heels of the perennial contenders for a change. That starts with the acquisition of well-rested running back LeVeon Bell, who delivers on the Jets’ investment in him to the tune of 1,454 rushing yards (second in the league to fellow New York back Saquon Barkley’s 1,489 yards). Second-year QB Sam Darnold is solid, if a little erratic at times (3,808 yards, with an impressive 35 TDs but also 15 INTs), and the 9-7 Jets will unexpectedly find themselves marching into Foxborough for a Wild Card game in January.
So who wins that battle? Surprisingly, the Jets 35-31.
The Browns Will Go 8-8
Though many have pegged the Browns as sleeper Super Bowl contenders thanks to an abundance of young talent and an exciting offseason that saw them acquire Odell Beckham Jr., my Madden simulation predicts that mediocrity will continue to reign instead in Cleveland.
It’s not that stars like QB Baker Mayfield (31 TDs, 106.3 QBR) and Beckham Jr. (1,264 yards, second in receiving yards behind Julio Jones) will fail to perform, or that the offense (fourth in yards in the NFL) and defense (seventh overall in yards against) will be particularly bad. In fact, Madden even predicts Myles Garrett will even lead the league in sacks with 19.5.
Instead, Madden believes the problem with the 2019 Browns will be simply failing to consistently live up to their potential. A nightmarish 0-3 start to the season gives way to exhilarating highs (a 21-14 win in Baltimore and a 31-0 blowout vs. the Bills in which Mayfield throws for 4 TDs) but also crushing lows (a 40-21 drubbing in New England and a 35-10 loss in Pittsburgh in which Mayfield throws no TDs and 2 INTs) as their quest for greatness lands them on the fast track to the middle of the pack.
The Rams And Packers Will Miss The Playoffs
With the Rams trying to avoid the dreaded Super Bowl hangover and the Packers trying to rebound with a new coach, Madden sees both teams stumbling and ultimately failing to make the postseason. The Rams at least come closer in their pursuit of a return trip to the Super Bowl, finishing a respectable but still disappointing 8-8, while the Packers limp to a final record of just 6-9-1 (a 21-21 tie coming in Week 3 against Denver).
With neither Jared Goff (64% completion percentage, 3,634 yards, 28 TDs, 14 INTs) or Aaron Rodgers (72%, 4,317 yards, 27 TDs, 12 INTs) projected to have particularly amazing seasons, the play of both quarterbacks is certainly a contributing factor in their failure to meet their championship goals. But losing skids also play a key part in their separate demises. The Rams start the season on a 5-1 tear before torpedoing those hopes with a five-game losing streak, while the Packers lose four of their last five games of the season to help hasten the onset of the offseason.
The Cardinals Will Win The NFC West
As the Kyler Murray era begins in Arizona with an exciting Air Raid offense instituted by new coach Kliff Kingsbury, expectations are that the team will at least show some improvement on their dismal 3-13 record last season. But Madden sees even bigger things in store for the Cardinals in 2019, including a surprising NFC West division title that has them outpacing formidable competition in the Seahawks and Rams.
Murray’s rookie campaign will be one where he excels immediately, amassing 3,528 yards while maintaining a 74% completion percentage and throwing 31 TDs to go with a paltry 6 INTs. With those kind of numbers through the air, it’s barely worth mentioning the rather pedestrian 323 yards rushing he adds to his offensive output. Did I mention that Murray will accomplish all this despite losing lead running back David Johnson (92 carries for 555 yards rushing) for about half the season and being forced to make things work with the lesser skills of backup Chase Edmonds (147 carries for just 475 yards)? At least Murray can count on longtime legend Larry Fitzgerald (71 catches for 924 yards) setting an example for an otherwise young receiving corps led by Christian Kirk (49 catches for 545 yards).
However, the team’s season isn’t always going to be pretty, with both their offense and defense performing below average in yards and yards allowed. In addition, they will head into the playoffs on a swoon that sees them losing four of their last five.
The Bucs Will Make The Playoffs
Sometimes hiring a new coach will ultimately amount to nothing more than a token gesture born of a losing culture and the pressing need for heads to roll, but other times it leads to a welcome change. In the case of Bruce Arians taking over in Tampa, Madden sees the latter happening and the Bucs earning themselves a spot in the playoffs as a result.
A big part of that will be Arians’ work with quarterback Jameis Winston. The change in leadership sees Winston improve statistically in nearly every major category (from 64% to 68% in completion percentage and from 19 TDs in 2018 to 28 in 2019). However, his most marked progress can be seen in the highly important area of ball control, cutting his interceptions down from 14 last year to just 5 in 2019.
He’ll get helped in his development from contributors all over the field, including running back Austin Ekeler (891 yards on the ground after being acquired from San Diego), and the scary receiving duo of Mike Evans (63 catches, 815 yards, 5 TDs) and Chris Godwin (77 catches, 780 yards, 5 TDs). Still, the biggest breakout performance will come from newly acquired wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who will find a way to put behind underwhelming seasons in Baltimore and Cleveland with a monster campaign in which he somehow turns just 51 catches into 895 yards and 9 TDs.
Jacoby Brissett Will Lead The League In Touchdowns
With Andrew Luck abruptly deciding to retire, the Colts’ projection as presumptive division winners may have been somewhat muddied, but Madden believes new starting QB Jacoby Brissett will barely miss a beat as Luck’s replacement.
Though Madden does have the Colts missing the playoffs with a disappointing 7-9 record, it won’t be because of Brissett’s inability to light up the scoreboard. In fact, his 38 TDs on the season will lead all NFL passers and probably convert a lot of doubters into believers.
Unfortunately, the outlook isn’t entirely rosy for Brissett in 2019 as his 18 INTs will also lead the league, and those mistakes will almost certainly cause them to lose some games they could have otherwise won.
The Saints And Ravens Will Win Their Respective Conferences At 12-4
These two teams finishing at the top of their respective conferences in 2019 might not be considered a huge surprise, but with the amount of good teams in the league, it’s still a major accomplishment for the Saints and the Ravens to rise up and be declared the the cream of the crop.
For the Saints, it’s hardly anything new, especially considering they were the top seed in the NFC last year and finished just one blown pass interference call away from the Super Bowl. It’s business as usual for veteran QB Drew Brees (71%, 3,851 yards, 37 TDs, 10 INTs), who can be counted on for another season that solidifies his first-ballot Hall of Fame case. With Alvin Kamara (1,230 yards, 12 TDs) no longer sharing the backfield as much, he’ll be able to take advantage of the spotlight, though his 351 receiving yards seem like a conservative estimate for his usage. Michael Thomas (90 catches for 1,119 yards) remains Brees’ favorite target in this precision offense. As a team, they’re able to ride the momentum of winning eight of their first nine games and then finish the season with three straight wins as well.
On the other hand, the Ravens are a young team just coming into their own and a dominant showing in 2019 may solidify their status as the team to beat in the AFC for years to come. Second-year QB Lamar Jackson (74%, 2,993 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs) may not have a huge season by traditional statistical metrics, but it would be surprising if he doesn’t accrue more than the 177 yards rushing Madden expects him to finish with in 2019. Mark Ingram (1,151 yards, 9 TDs), freed from having to share backfield duties with Kamara in New Orleans, will evidently handle the bulk of the ground game instead. And for those wondering who will catch passes from Jackson this season, look no further than Seth Roberts and his surprisingly efficient production (82 catches for 1,121 yards and 12 TDs) after his disappointing seasons in Oakland. The team will be remarkably consistent throughout the season, never losing two games in a row and finishing strong with five wins in their last six games.
Two Teams Will Emerge From The AFC South And Neither Will Be The Colts
Let’s face it: Andrew Luck’s retirement, while a huge bummer to all those who loved watching him play football, has opened the door for all of the other teams in the AFC South who would have otherwise been trying to knock off the reigning division champion Colts. Madden sees two other teams from the division managing to qualify for “the tournament,” as Bill Parcells was fond of calling the playoffs.
First off, the Titans will roll to the division title with an 11-5 record behind a stellar season from a healthy Marcus Mariota. The quarterback takes a giant leap forward from his previous injury-plagued seasons, putting up the kind of astounding numbers (72% completion percentage, 4,406 yards, 35 TDs, 12 INTs and 420 rushing yards) that show he had only barely scratched the surface of his potential in those prior injury-shortened seasons. With a team finishing near the bottom in defensive yards allowed, the highly valuable offense is further assisted by running back Dion Lewis (922 yards rushing) and the two-headed monster of Adam Humphries (88 catches, 1,167 yards and a league-leading 14 TDs) and Corey Davis (85 catches for 1,006 yards).
Meanwhile, don’t sleep on the Jaguars with Nick Foles now at helm. Madden believes they will claw their way to a Wild Card game in the AFC alongside the Jets at 9-7. With Foles performing capably under center (66% completion percentage, 3,802 yards, 30 TDs and 11 INTs), Leonard Fournette carrying the load like a workhorse back (1,069 yards rushing, 9 TDs), and wide receiver Dede Westbrook (77 catches for 1,075 yards) quickly becoming Foles’ go-to receiver, the formidable defense does the rest for the Jags in getting the team into the playoffs.
The Bengals Will Get The #1 Pick In The 2020 Draft
The battle for the bottom of the NFL standings can be just as intriguing as the one at the top, and with many high-level prospects expected to be available in the 2020 draft, this year will be no exception. Though some “experts” expect teams like the Dolphins and the newly Luck-less Colts to be in the running for the top pick in 2020, it will instead be the Bengals who end up with the dubious honor.
It’s not even that the Bengals will be all that terrible in 2019, at least not on the offensive side of the ball. The chemistry between Andy Dalton (67%, 3,594 yards, 24 TDs, 12 INTs) and top receiver A.J. Green (79 catches for 1,003 yards) will still be on display, and exciting young running back Joe Mixon (1,027 yards, 8 TDs) only makes their dynamic attack all the more dangerous. But it’s the defense that will be their real downfall in 2019, with the unit projected to finish near the bottom in both yards and points against, making the job of the offense increasingly difficult. Perhaps there’s some comfort to be taken from the fact that two of their three wins will come against last year’s Super Bowl teams.
Should the Bengals end up on the bottom of the standings and the top of the draft board, you have to wonder if they won’t consider it time to move on from Dalton despite his decent 2019 campaign, and select one of the top-rated quarterback prospects like Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert with the that coveted pick.
The Tennessee Titans Will Win The Super Bowl
Though the top seeds have fared pretty well in recent years, it looks like that trend will not continue into 2020. The Patriots falling to the Jets in Foxborough will only be the first shocker of the Wild Card Weekend, as the Jaguars will stun the Chiefs at Arrowhead followed by the Bucs knocking off the Eagles in Philadelphia.
The upsets will only continue into the divisional round, where the Panthers will end the Saints’ Super Bowl hopes once again in The Big Easy, and the red-hot Bucs will upend the Cardinals after the latter’s first-round bye. The storybook season for the Titans rolls on in the AFC Conference Championship with a blowout road victory against the juggernaut Ravens, while the Panthers and Cam Newton get a second shot at playing in a Super Bowl.
Alas, it will only end in heartbreak again for Cam and the group from Carolina in Super Bowl LIV. The Tennessee Titans prove themselves to be a team of destiny by beating the Panthers 31-21, and Marcus Mariota is named the Super Bowl MVP.
Here are all the predicted playoff matchups and scores:
Wild Card Weekend
- Jets 35 Patriots 31
- Panthers 28 Bears 18
- Jaguars 31 Chiefs 21
- Bucs 23 Eagles 13
- Ravens 31 Jets 21
- Panthers 35 Saints 25
- Titans 27 Jaguars 21
- Bucs 27 Cards 17
- Titans 42 Ravens 21
- Panthers 28 Bucs 21
Super Bowl LIV
- Titans 31 Panthers 21