'Madden NFL 21' predicts the 2020 season — with a stunning Super Bowl champion and league MVP

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Anthony Sulla-Heffinger
·7 min read
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In what has become a yearly tradition, Yahoo Sports ran a full simulated NFL season in the “Madden” video game franchise.

With no preseason games to satisfy our hunger for football this summer, “Madden NFL 21” will serve to hold us over until the season officially kicks off on Sept. 10.

Looking back at last year’s simulation, it turns out that “Madden NFL 20” was actually pretty darn accurate, correctly predicting that the Chiefs would win the Super Bowl, Tom Brady would not fall off a cliff in his age-42 season, the Saints would be an offensive juggernaut, and Eli Manning would retire at year’s end.

That said, 2019 is history and here are 20 takeaways from our new simulated season.

1. More of the same in Tompa Bay. In his first season with the Bucs, Tom Brady continued to defy logic, throwing 4,183 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while completing 68 percent of his passes. Tom Brady was born 11 years before the John Madden Football video game franchise ever existed. The fact that he’s still even an active player in the 2020 edition is mind-blowing

Tom Brady had a great statistical season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in our "Madden 21" simulation. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tom Brady had a great statistical season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in our "Madden 21" simulation. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

2. That being said … The Bucs failed to make the playoffs, finishing 8-8 in the NFC South and wasting Brady’s lone year away from New England. (As ‘Madden’ usually simulates, Brady retired following the season).

3. Meanwhile, in New England ... It was business as usual, albeit not as easy as it has been for the past two decades. Even without a six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, Bill Belichick proved once again why he is the greatest NFL coach of all time, finishing 9-7 and winning the AFC East once again.

4. Not quite Superman, but close. Brady’s replacement in New England, former NFL MVP Cam Newton, had a huge bounceback year, finishing with 4,613 yards and 35 touchdowns and completing 61 percent of his passes. Opposing defenses did frequently manage to find Newton’s Kryptonite, however, as he threw a league-high 24 interceptions.

5. Ohio is for playoff teams. Sticking in the AFC, the North was the league’s best division, topped by the 11-5 Browns (who were predicted to win the division in last year’s simulation). While Cleveland led the way, Baltimore (10-6) and Cincinnati (9-7) managed to make the playoffs in the first year of the expanded format.

6. Earning his stripes. In his rookie season, Joe Burrow led the Bengals to the playoffs, finished with 4,000 passing yards, 31 TDs and a 70 percent completion rate. As if being the savior of a franchise wasn’t enough, Burrow was also named Offensive Rookie of the Year. Not bad for the former Ohio State transfer.

7. Geaux Tigers. Standout LSU linebacker Patrick Queen joined his former college teammate Burrow in making a seamless transition to the NFL. Queen led the Ravens’ defense with 106 tackles and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year.

8. Steep learning curve. While Burrow looked every bit worthy of the first overall pick and Queen was an immediate star, fellow rookies Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa experienced some growing pains in their first NFL seasons, finishing 6-10 and 4-12 with the Chargers and Dolphins, respectively.

9. Quiet trade deadline. There was only one deal of note made prior to the deadline in the simulation: Baltimore sent LB Tyus Bowser to the Patriots for a 2021 fourth-round pick, 2022 fourth-round pick and 2022 seventh-round pick.

10. No curse for Lamar. While the “Madden Curse” appears to be a thing of the past, it is still worth noting that reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson had a stellar season, throwing for more than 4,500 yards and 38 TDs, finishing third in MVP voting in the simulated season. Due to whatever logic “Madden” seems to use, the Ravens didn’t run much at all with Jackson, who only had 209 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

Reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson appeared to avoid the "Madden curse" in our simulation. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson appeared to avoid the "Madden curse" in our simulation. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

11. Worth the $503 million? While it’s probably impossible for any NFL player to justify a half-billion-dollar contract, Patrick Mahomes proved worthy of big investment. The Super Bowl LIV MVP led the Chiefs to an 11-5 record, throwing for 4,416 yards, 39 TDs and a league-best 70 percent completion rate. Kansas City also advanced to its second straight Super Bowl (more on this later).

12. Denver’s breakout stars. Drew Lock and Courtland Sutton emerged as one of the best QB-WR tandems in the league in the “Madden” simulation. Lock finished second in the NFL with 4,627 yards, while Sutton led all receivers with 1,361 yards. The pair connected on 11 touchdown passes, which would be the most for a Broncos receiver since Julius Thomas and Peyton Manning linked up for 12 in 2014.

13. Dallas wins the NFC LEAST. The Cowboys finished with a 9-7 record, which was good enough to win the NFC East for the second time in three years. While Dallas managed to return to the playoffs, if the simulation is at all accurate, we’re going to still be having the Dak Prescott debate well into 2021. Prescott finished with a respectable 3,799 yards and 30 TDs, which would put him solidly in the very good (but not great) category.

14. Zeke’s still hungry. Ezekiel Elliott, on the other hand, had another stellar season for the Cowboys, winning his third NFL rushing title. Elliott finished with 1,457 yards, including a league-high 200 after contact.

15. Washington Football Team. Seems as if the name change alone won’t undo years of built-up bad NFL karma. Washington finished 4-12, tied with the Giants and Dolphins for the league’s worst record.

[Editor’s note: Here is where the simulation gets really weird]

16. Nick Foles (yes, Nick Foles) wins NFL MVP. If you’ve made it this far, congrats, because you’re about to enter the “Madden” Twilight Zone. Foles finished with a league-best 4,801 yards, 44 TDs, 5 interceptions and 70 percent completion rate. If this was “Madden 2014,” I might buy this since Foles was coming off his 27-touchdown breakout with the Eagles. In 2020, I’d be hard pressed to find something less likely to happen.

17. Oh wait, I spoke too soon! The Bears had the league’s best record, finishing 14-2 before eventually advancing to Super Bowl LV against Kansas City.

18. Which of course … They won. The Chicago Bears won Super Bowl LV 42-24, with Nick Foles throwing for six touchdown passes and tying Steve Young’s record from Super Bowl XXIX.

19. Coaching carousel. Pete Carroll and Andy Reid each retired at the end of the 2020 season, and Bill O’Brien was the only NFL coach to be fired. O’Brien’s unemployment would not last long, however, as the Seahawks hired him to fill their coaching vacancy.

20. Notable retirements. Aside from Tom Brady, several other high-profile names called it a career. Adrian Peterson, Ben Roethlisberger, Terrell Suggs, Adam Vinatieri, Julian Edelman, Jason McCourty and, in perhaps the most stunning result from this simulation, Frank Gore all walked away from the NFL.

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