Way back in early September, before the kickoff of any 2019 NFL games, I made ten predictions for the upcoming season based on a Madden 20 franchise simulation. Sure, it might have seemed like a silly and unscientific way to project how the season would play out, but it wasn’t really all that different from everyone else out there throwing out ideas about how they expected teams and players to fare. And unlike most prognosticators, I thought it might be interesting to look back on how accurate Madden was in anticipating the way things played out.
With the Super Bowl right around the corner, let’s have a look at these predictions and classify them according to ones that were right, ones that weren’t too far off and those that couldn’t have ended up being more wrong.
Prediction: The Cardinals Will Win The NFC West
With rookie quarterback and top overall draft pick Kyler Murray taking the reins, the Cardinals were supposed to be better than they were in 2018. However, hardly anyone besides my Madden simulation expected them to contend for the division title. It may have been even more difficult to foresee just how competitive the NFC West ended up being this past year. The Cardinals did improve in 2019, finishing 5-10-1, but it wasn’t nearly enough to make the playoffs, let alone win the division.
Madden has to be considered pretty far off on this bold forecast.
Prediction: The Bucs will Make The Playoffs
There were plenty of reasons for Madden to be optimistic about the Bucs’ chances in 2019. With new coach Bruce Arians expected to be able to curb some of quarterback Jameis Winston’s bad decision-making and lower his interception total, the sky was the limit for a team with the receiving tandem of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. We all know how that turned out. Winston earned the ignominious honor of being the only QB to ever throw 30 TDs and 30 INTs in a season, and this roller coaster of peaks and valleys left the Bucs with a middling 7-9 record that placed them well short of postseason contention.
To tell you just how wrong Madden was about this prediction, the simulation had Winston throwing 28 TDs (fairly accurate) but only 5 INTs (only 25 off, not bad!)
Prediction: Jacoby Brissett Will Lead The NFL In Touchdown Passes
With no Andrew Luck behind center for the Colts after his unexpected retirement, it was surprising to find that Madden was so bullish about the prospects of his replacement, Jacoby Brissett. In fact, the simulation was convinced that he would even lead the league with 38 TDs over the course of 2019. Instead, 25 passers had more TDs than Brissett’s 18, including both Daniel Jones and Ryan Tannehill, who only started 12 and 10 games respectively. It’s pretty telling that the only QB who had fewer TDs than Brissett while starting as many games as him (15) was Mitch Trubisky.
Not Quite Right
Prediction: The Patriots And Jets Will Play Against Each Other In A Wild Card Game
Considering how routine it had become for the Patriots to run away with the AFC East and earn themselves a bye week in the first round of the playoffs, I’m going to consider it at least a partial success that Madden was even able to predict that the Patriots would need to play on Wild Card Weekend. Of course, they wound up facing the Titans and not the Jets, who would miss the playoffs again after finishing at 7-9. Still, the simulation was perhaps able to see the tides starting to turn in a division (and let’s face it, conference) that has been dominated by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for so long now.
Prediction: The Browns Will Go 8-8
With the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. and plenty of optimism surrounding Baker Mayfield heading into his sophomore season, many believed the Browns had the kind of talent on their roster that could have them contending for the Super Bowl in early 2020. Instead, we were all forced to watch as the Browns disappointed yet again, continuing a stretch of mediocrity that is nearly unrivaled across the NFL. While Madden’s prediction of 8-8 might have initially seemed to sell Cleveland’s potential short, it actually turned out to be rather generous considering the team instead floundered their way to a 6-10 record.
So while this prediction may not have been entirely correct, at least Madden saw the writing on the wall in how over-hyped the team was heading into the season. Or, maybe Madden is just hard coded to make sure Cleveland fans never find happiness on the football field.
Prediction: The Rams And Packers Will Miss The Playoffs
It was a gutsy call to suggest that these two contenders weren’t going to make it to the postseason, so it’s hardly a surprise that it didn’t exactly come to pass. The Packers, in their first year under new head coach Matt LaFleur, won their division at 13-3 (Madden had them finishing a dismal 6-9-1) and were able to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs. Things didn’t go quite as well in 2019 for the Rams. With the NFC West suddenly turning into the best division in football, Sean McVay’s squad played their way to an underwhelming 9-7 (Madden record: 8-8) record that left them on the outside looking in just as the great soothsayer Madden foretold.
Prediction: The Saints And Ravens Will Win Their Conferences At 12-4
This one is about as close to a correct prediction without being quite right as you can get. On the AFC side of the equation, the Ravens did indeed finish the season with the best record in the conference, but that record was 13-3 rather than 12-4. On the NFC side, it’s a little more complicated. Even though the Saints finished with a 13-3 record, they ended up as the odd man out in a 3-way tie atop the conference and were forced to play a Wild Card game that they would of course then lose to the Vikings. But technically speaking, both the Saints and the Ravens did have the best records in their conferences this past season, so I have to say this prediction was pretty darn close to being a winner.
If i were a generous man, I would even say this was 100 percent correct. But Madden’s predictions will not receive any generosity from me.
Prediction: Two Teams Will Make The Playoffs From The AFC South And Neither Will Be The Colts
On the surface, this prediction looks to be an absolute home run, until you delve into it and realize that the two teams the Madden simulation saw coming out of the AFC South were the Titans (yes!) and the Jaguars (no!). I have to give it some praise for being able to tell that the AFC South would be a formidable division this year, but can’t give full marks because Madden obviously didn’t give the Texans enough credit. The simulation also believed that Nick Foles would have a great season in leading the Jags to the playoffs.
How could Madden completely whiff on the emergence of Minshew Mania?
Prediction: The Tennessee Titans Will Win The Super Bowl
When you think about the fact that few people saw the Titans making the kind of run that would have them getting just one game from the Super Bowl, Madden’s suggestion that they would win it all actually looks pretty impressive. Granted, the simulation thought their success would be spear-headed by the play of Marcus Mariota under center rather than Ryan Tannehill, but that’s a development that would have been hard for even Nostradamus to see coming. Let’s instead focus on the fact that Madden’s vision even included a playoff win over the Ravens (albeit in the conference final rather than divisional round), and entirely ignore the way it believed the Titans’ Super Bowl win would come over the NFC champion Panthers.
Right On The Money
Prediction: The Bengals Will Get The First Pick In The 2020 NFL Draft
Here we go. The one prediction Madden got absolutely correct. If you wanted to split hairs, you could argue that it wasn’t 100 percent accurate since Madden had the Bengals getting one more win than their actual 2-14 record, but this is about as good as this is going to get. There were some pretty good contenders for the league’s ultimate cellar dweller in 2019, as it seemed at times like the Dolphins were doing everything in their power (like trading Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers) to end up atop the draft in 2020, so this wasn’t exactly an easy call either. The one thing Madden had no way of predicting is the emergence of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow as the top target for the Bengals in next year’s draft.
In my own analysis of this prediction, I suggested that Cincinnati would likely use the opportunity to move on from Andy Dalton and draft someone like Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa, but you can’t exactly blame Madden for my own short-sighted inability to read the tea leaves on which QB would be at the top of the pack come April 23 of this year.
Congratulations, Madden. You got something right.