For the fifth year in a row, Yahoo Sports is simulating an entire NFL season in "Madden." While there have been some dubious results in the past — Nick Foles leading the Bears to the Super Bowl and Urban Meyer winning coach of the year — this practice has produced an accurate champion way back in 2019.
This time around, things only slightly go astray, so let’s jump right in.
Division winners: Jets, Browns*, Colts, Chiefs, Cowboys, Packers, Bucs, Cardinals
Apparently Zach Wilson does have that dog in him, as the New York Jets somehow managed to finish 11-6 and win the AFC East for the first time since 2002, when Wilson was 3 years old. The second-year pro, whose current status for Week 1 is in question due to injury, had arguably the worst year of all the other 2021 first-round QBs (more on this later), but racked up 3,183 yards and 28 touchdowns while limiting his interceptions to just four on the season.
Outside of that, the rest of the division winners seem entirely in the realm of possibility. The Indianapolis Colts were by far the league’s most dominant team, going 16-1, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs (13-4) and Dallas Cowboys (12-5).
Note: Due to constraints, we were unable to simulate the 11-game suspension for Deshaun Watson.
Wild-card teams: Titans, Ravens, Bills, Saints, Panthers, Eagles
Nothing too surprising to report with the simulation’s wild-card teams, all of whom finished either 11-6 or 10-7. The most notable takeaway is the NFC South being the most competitive division in the league, landing three playoff teams and the Atlanta Falcons, who just missed out, finishing at 8-9.
Super Bowl hangover
While nobody would be stunned to see the Bengals regress a little bit (they finished 8-9 in the sim and missed the postseason), “Madden” flat out doesn’t like the Los Angeles Rams. Last year’s prediction had the Rams finishing 4-13 and Matthew Stafford having the worst year of his career. This year, things were a little bit better, but Los Angeles still missed the playoffs going 9-8.
Another huge surprise in Los Angeles
The Rams shouldn’t feel too slighted though, since “Madden” sims might just have a bias against the City of Angels. The Chargers, a team many have pegged as a dark horse Super Bowl contender, finished 4-13, tied for the franchise’s fewest wins since 2015.
Award winners, including Dak Prescott earning MVP
Prescott had arguably the greatest regular season of any quarterback in NFL history in the sim, finishing with 5,649 yards, 57 touchdowns and completing 72% of his passes. Despite Prescott setting single-season records for both yards and touchdowns, Dallas would still fall short in January, losing in the NFC championship game to the New Orleans Saints.
While the Falcons missed the playoffs, if things play out like “Madden” predicts, Atlanta hit two home runs early in the 2022 NFL draft. Drake London, a wide receiver out of USC, finished the season with 1,305 yards and 11 touchdowns, earning him the top offensive rookie award over Steelers wideout George Pickens. Arnold Ebiketie, meanwhile, the 38th overall pick out of Penn State, edged out Sauce Gardner to win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, collecting 8.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Capping it all off, while he did not win any hardware, Falcons third-round QB Desmond Ridder threw for 5,024 yards and 36 touchdowns with a 67% completion rate.
As far as the rest of the awards go, Rams receiver Cooper Kupp won Offensive Player of the Year after setting the single-season record for receiving yards with 2,114 (600 yards more than the simulation’s second-highest receiver, Robert Woods); Raiders pass rusher Maxx Crosby broke Michael Strahan and T.J. Watt’s sack record with 24.5 to win Defensive Player of the Year; and Frank Reich’s Colts led the league in wins, earning him the Coach of the Year.
While Wilson was the only second-year QB to lead his team to the playoffs, the other four passers taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft managed to have solid campaigns. Here’s what their stat lines looked like:
Trevor Lawrence — 4,612 yards, 43 TDs, 66% completion percentage
Trey Lance — 3,778 yards, 28 TDs, 60% completion percentage
Justin Fields — 4,108 yards, 30 TDs, 63% completion percentage
Mac Jones — 4,820 yards, 29 TDs, 70% completion percentage
Of the four, Fields was the only one who led his team to a winning record, as the Bears finished 9-8 in the NFC North. New England finished 8-9, Jacksonville 7-10 and San Francisco 5-12.
Odd end to Panthers QB battle
Now that he's officially been named the starter in Carolina, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Baker Mayfield to have a strong season and lead the Panthers to the playoffs. In the simulation, Mayfield finished with 3,955 yards and 31 touchdowns, which would both be career highs for the former No. 1 overall pick. The bizarre thing that happened was that the Steelers traded for Sam Darnold, despite drafting Kenny Pickett in the first round of the 2022 draft. Darnold finished with 4,410 yards, 27 touchdowns and 21 interceptions for Pittsburgh, which did not make the postseason.
Tough Tua decision
In what appears to be a make-or-break year for the Dolphins and Tagovailoa, the "Madden" simulation appears to leave things as murky after the season as they currently are. Miami finished last in the AFC East at 6-11, and Tagovailoa threw for 3,944 yards, 21 touchdowns and completed 61% of his passes. While the yardage and touchdown totals would be the highest of his career, the offense appears mired in mediocrity with him under center. If the actual season plays out like this, get ready for Miami to have to make a difficult call next spring.
Old faces, new places
Davante Adams, Matt Ryan and Carson Wentz were three of the bigger name players to change teams this offseason. Ryan had by far the most success of the three, both individually and from a team perspective. The former NFL MVP threw for 4,492 yards and 41 touchdowns with a 69% completion rate, leading the Colts to the league’s best record. Ryan would not get a chance to erase the 28-3 cloud that hangs over his head however, as Indianapolis lost to Kansas City in the AFC championship game.
Here’s how Wentz and Adams finished their seasons:
Wentz — 4,324 yards, 31 touchdowns 63% completion percentage
Adams — 105 receptions, 1,513 yards, 9 touchdowns
So, who won the Super Bowl?
While the Colts and Cowboys finished with the best records in the AFC and NFC, respectively, it was New Orleans and Kansas City that played in Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona. When all was said and done, the Saints defeated the Chiefs, 34-14 to win the franchise’s second Super Bowl title. In a moment that brings everything perfectly full circle, Tyrann Mathieu was named Super Bowl MVP against his former team, in the stadium where the team that drafted him, the Cardinals, plays.
This was the fourth year in a row “Madden” placed the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
Notable retirements, including Tom Brady
Here's the list, in alphabetical order: Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, A.J. Green, DeSean Jackson, Julio Jones, Jason Kelce, Devin McCourty, Matt Ryan, Emmanuel Sanders, Harrison Smith, Ndamukong Suh and Trent Williams.
It seems surprising that weeks after being eliminated in the AFC championship game and coming off a 16-1 season that Matt Ryan would retire, but “Madden” seems to think that he and the other half of one of the most prolific QB-WR pairings in NFL history in Julio Jones will call it quits.
Few other names jumped out from the overall retirement list. As far as Brady goes, we’ll all believe it when it actually happens for more than a few weeks.