Welcome to what has become an unofficial Yahoo Sports tradition — the annual Madden simulation. This is our sixth year in a row allowing the popular video game, whose latest edition was released on Friday, to spit out predictions for how the 2023 NFL season will play out.
In previous years, we’ve simulated just one season, but this time around Yahoo Sports NFL expert Charles McDonald is joining our resident simulation specialist Anthony Sulla-Heffinger to double the sample size. McDonald and Sulla-Heffinger both simulated a full season, dissected the Madden findings and determined which outcome seems more likely.
Without further ado, here are some of the extremely accurate predictions Madden NFL 24 offered up.
Madden says Patrick Mahomes will be MVP, but will Chiefs miss playoffs?
Sulla-Heffinger: Patrick Mahomes winning a second MVP in a row is easily the most realistic thing I could see happening this season. In my simulation, Mahomes led the NFL with 4,541 passing yards and 41 touchdowns and was tied with Madden NFL 24 cover star Josh Allen with just three interceptions. Despite Mahomes’ monster season, the Chiefs missed out on the playoffs by finishing 9-8, behind both the 14-3 Broncos (more on them later) and 12-5 Chargers.
McDonald: Patrick Mahomes also won the MVP on my sim as well, but he led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl berth against the 9-8 Minnesota Vikings (?????). This version of Mahomes finished the season with 4,830 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and the Chiefs finished the season with a 13-4 record.
More likely to happen: Patrick Mahomes winning MVP — and Chiefs back in Super Bowl
Cowboys go 16-1 in one Madden simulation
McDonald: The Bills finished this sim with a 14-3 record, best in the NFL. That wouldn't be that surprising, given the Bills' success over the past few years, but what was surprising was the Commanders finishing the season with a 13-4 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. What's interesting is the Commanders didn't have any statistical outlier performances, including a modest season from Jacoby Brissett, but they did win a lot of close games and promptly lost early in the playoffs.
Sulla-Heffinger: Last year, Madden predicted the Colts would go 16-1 and well, that definitely didn’t happen. For the second consecutive year, the game believes we’ll have a near-perfect record in the regular season. Behind a league-best offense (473 points) and a top-five defensive unit, the Dallas Cowboys went 16-1. Dallas’ lone loss came on the road in Week 9, a 27-17 defeat against NFC East rival Philadelphia.
More likely to happen: Bills going 14-3. Let's be real
Will Bears or Rams have NFL's worst record?
Sulla-Heffinger: Two years removed from winning the Super Bowl, Madden predicts the Rams will be the league’s bottom feeders in 2023. This outcome doesn’t seem too far-fetched considering the salary cap hell Los Angeles finds itself in and the questions surrounding Matthew Stafford’s health/age at this point in his career. The Rams finished a dismal 2-15 in the simulation and had, by far, the league’s worst defense (482 points allowed, 30 more than the next worst team).
McDonald: The Bears finished with the worst season in the league on my save. Their 2-15 record was comfortably the worst in the league as a handful of teams were able to finish with 4-13 records. No 3-14ers in this world. This sim predicted the Bears will have the worst offense in the league, averaging an abysmal 14.3 points per game. Justin Fields finished the season with 11 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
More likely to happen: Rams having NFL's worst record
Commanders win HOW many games?
McDonald: The Commanders have to be the biggest overachievers on my sim. A 13-4 record for a team already experiencing coach drama before the season has even started? Let's get serious now.
Sulla-Heffinger: I mentioned we weren’t done with the Broncos, and that’s because they’re my biggest overachiever (despite Dallas going 16-1, we want to give more info to you, not less). Yes, Sean Payton is coming in and his track record speaks for itself, but there are still very real questions about Russell Wilson after last year’s debacle. Denver could certainly be much improved this season, but 14-3, including a perfect 9-0 record at home, seems far-fetched, even in the unpredictable NFL. By the way, we’re still not done with Denver.
More likely to happen: Broncos going 14-3 under Sean Payton, we guess?
Jets, Eagles battle for biggest Madden underachiever
Sulla-Heffinger: Talk about Hard Knocks! Awful puns aside, the Jets were the runaway pick for the biggest underachiever in my simulation. In reality and on paper, you could probably start early planning for a parade down Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes, but in the virtual world of Madden, the Jets went 5-12 and had a dismal 2-7 record at MetLife Stadium. Aaron Rodgers had a fine season for New York, throwing for 3,771 yards, 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, so the offense wasn’t the issue. Instead, the Jets’ defense was abysmal, particularly against the pass, allowing a league-worst 4,145 yards through the air.
(Note: Madden does not yet have Dalvin Cook on the Jets)
McDonald: Thankfully, this is just a video game or else Philadelphia might burn to the ground. The Eagles finished 6-11 and averaged just 22.5 points per game in a major step back for a team that almost won the Super Bowl. Jalen Hurts still had a quality season, throwing for 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but the Eagles as a whole had a disaster season with a bottom-10 defense. Remember Philly, it's just a game. Not real!
More likely to happen: Jets, because who doesn't love a little chaos
Brock Purdy takes biggest leap forward along with ... K.J. Osborn?
McDonald: Brock Purdy led the NFL in passing touchdowns with 39, in what would be fairly surprising in real life. Purdy is a solid player, but I don't think anyone has him pegged for a 39-touchdown, five-interception season in 2023. If that does happen, the 49ers would finally have the franchise quarterback that has eluded Kyle Shanahan and the crew.
Sulla-Heffinger: K.J. Osborn has 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 43 career NFL games. Madden predicts Osborn will eclipse both of those numbers in 2023 alone, leading the league in receiving yards (1,375) and touchdowns (13). Vikings teammate Justin Jefferson paced all pass-catchers with 113 receptions and had a respectable 1,131 yards, but it was Osborn that was Kirk Cousins’ biggest offensive weapon. I think Charles is going to win here by default.
More likely to happen: Brock Purdy hype train going off the rails
Justin Fields is most disappointing player in both sims
Sulla-Heffinger: Chicago fans — along with plenty of pundits and fantasy players — have high hopes for Justin Fields. I have some bad news for them. Madden predicts that Fields will throw for only 2,344 yards, 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for the 5-12 Bears this season. Fields does add 804 yards and four scores on the ground in the simulation, but if anything similar to this plays out in real life — especially with the addition of D.J. Moore to the passing attack — Fields will likely find himself on the hottest of seats next offseason.
McDonald: Justin Fields wins it for this franchise sim as well. Fields only threw for 11 touchdowns and a whopping 22 interceptions, which would certainly get him replaced by Drake Maye or Caleb Williams considering the Bears finished with the first pick in the draft.
More likely to happen: Say it won't be so, Justin Fields
Madden optimistic about Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson
McDonald: If Madden 24 is any indication, fans of the Panthers, Texans and Colts should have irrational confidence in their rookie quarterbacks moving forward. Bryce Young had the best season of the trio, throwing for 3,500 yards, 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. C.J. Stroud wasn't too far behind him with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Anthony Richardson had 22 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, but buoyed his production with 500 yards on the ground and an additional seven touchdowns.
Sulla-Heffinger: Of the five rookie QBs, three of them played all 17 games (Stroud, Young, Richardson), Hendon Hooker took over for Jared Goff midseason and Will Levis didn’t play any meaningful football at all (three attempts all year). Statistically, Stroud and Young were neck and neck, both throwing for 24 touchdowns and more than 3,600 yards. Richardson had a respectable 3,299 yards, but struggled with turnovers (19 interceptions). Young (10-7 record) and Richardson (8-9 record) both led their teams to the postseason, with the No. 1 overall pick winning his first playoff game (an upset over the NFC South champion Falcons). Stroud just missed winning a weak AFC South with a 7-10 record for the improved Texans.
More likely to happen: We'll lean former, but this rookie QB class is exciting either way
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Sulla-Heffinger: Despite a strong statistical season and leading the Panthers to the playoffs, Bryce Young was not the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Instead, Falcons rookie running back Bijan Robinson took home the honor in my version of the simulation. Robinson was a true bell cow back, finishing with an impressive — but probably unlikely — 343 carries for the NFC South champions. Robinson finished fifth in the league with 1,468 yards and had 12 rushing touchdowns. He was largely an afterthought in the passing game, but his ground prowess was more than enough to secure him the award.
McDonald: Jordan Addison won Offensive Rookie of the Year on this side, totaling 74 catches for 837 yards and nine touchdowns. He was the third leading receiver on the Vikings, but Justin Jefferson finished in second (111 catches, 1,184 yards, five touchdowns). K.J. Osborn actually led the Vikings in yards (1,223) and touchdowns (10).
More likely to happen: Bijan, but Madden sure seems to like the Vikings' wide receivers room
Lions linebacker is Defensive Rookie of the Year
McDonald: Jack Campbell won Defensive Rookie of the Year with a monster season, totaling 109 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions in his inaugural campaign. I'm still not scared of giving the Lions an F on draft day, I promise.
Sulla-Heffinger: Jack Campbell, the Lions’ rookie linebacker out of Iowa, was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Campbell led Detroit with 92 tackles, adding a pair of sacks and interceptions. Maybe the Madden gods are dishing out a bit of karma to Charles here.
More likely to happen: Jack Campbell, apparently
NFC East will produce Coach of the Year
Sulla-Heffinger: No real surprise here, but it was Mike McCarthy for leading the Cowboys to the best record in franchise history. McCarthy would become the fourth Dallas coach to win the award, joining Jason Garrett (2016), Jimmy Johnson (1990) and Tom Landry (1966). Should this Madden prediction come true, it would be a slice of vindication for McCarthy, who is taking the offensive reins after Kellen Moore’s departure.
McDonald: Ron Rivera won coach of the year after leading the Commanders to an unlikely 13-4 record. That would track in real life if the Commanders were capable of winning 13 games this year.
More likely to happen: McCarthy closer than you'd think
Cowboys, Vikings predicted to win Super Bowl LVIII
McDonald: The Vikings beat the Chiefs in a 28-21 thrilling Super Bowl victory, featuring a walk-off touchdown on the first drive of overtime. Byron Murphy Jr. won Super Bowl MVP with two interceptions against Patrick Mahomes, including a pick-six to help push the game into overtime. An unlikely run from wild card to Super Bowl champions would be a phenomenal season for the Vikings, all things considered.
Sulla-Heffinger: If they gave out a trophy for burying the lede, I think we’d get it here. After 18 weeks of regular season and a month of playoff action, Super Bowl LVIII came down to the No. 1 seeds in both conferences — the Denver Broncos versus the Dallas Cowboys. In one of the most thrilling (virtual) contests ever, Dallas and Denver went to overtime tied 17-17. In overtime, both teams scored on their first possession (thanks to the new rules) before Dak Prescott led a game-winning touchdown drive to secure a 30-24 win and the Cowboys’ first Super Bowl since 1995. Prescott finished with 358 passing yards and three touchdowns, winning Super Bowl MVP.
More likely to happen: America's team is finally America's champion again after 28 years