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Madden 19 predictions: The Bucs are bad, the Browns are good and the world might be ending

How will Tampa Bay perform with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center? Will this be the season Jameis Winston breaks out? For answers, we turned to the latest edition of the best-selling video game franchise.
In 10 Madden simulations of the 2018 NFL season, the revamped Bucs defense held opponents to 23.3 points per game. It allowed 23.9 points per game last season. [EA Sports]
In 10 Madden simulations of the 2018 NFL season, the revamped Bucs defense held opponents to 23.3 points per game. It allowed 23.9 points per game last season. [EA Sports]
Published Aug. 13, 2018|Updated Aug. 27, 2018

You thought the Buccaneers’ playoff drought was going to end last season. Instead, they lost six of their first eight games and limped to a 5-11 finish.

If only someone or something had warned you.

Actually, something did.

A video game.

While everyone else was jumping aboard the hype train last August, Madden NFL 18 was pumping the brakes. Before anyone had taken a meaningful snap, I powered up my PlayStation 4, downloaded Madden and simulated the regular season 10 times. The Bucs won an average of six games and didn’t make the playoffs once.

That forecast was no fluke. In 2016, the game predicted eight wins. The Bucs went 9-7. In 2015, it predicted five wins. The Bucs went 6-10.

Because of Jameis Winston’s three-game suspension, this season is especially difficult to forecast. How will the Bucs fare with Harvard graduate and Rubik’s Cube enthusiast Ryan Fitzpatrick under center? Will they start 2-1? 1-2? 0-3?

Thanks to Madden NFL 19, which hit stores this weekend, we don’t have to wait until September to find out.

Just as I had in the past, I simulated the season 10 times. This time, though, I reordered the Bucs’ depth chart so that Fitzpatrick started the first three games — against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers — and Winston started the final 13.

The verdict, according to Madden: There will be no Fitzmagic this season. Out of 10 simulations, the Bucs started 0-3 six times and 1-2 three times. They opened the season 2-1 once.

Fitzpatrick’s performance was Trevor Siemian-esque — he often threw as many touchdowns as interceptions, posted a low completion percentage and gained few yards per pass. In one simulation, though, he threw four touchdown passes in a 42-14 rout of the Saints.

Comp % Passing yards Yards/game Yards/att TD INT Rating Games played
Average 53.6% 648.1 216.0 6.4 3.9 2.2 76.9 3
Best season 59.5% 743 247.7 6.7 10 2 102.0 3
Worst season 38.7% 495 165.0 4.7 2 2 52.2 3

The Bucs did not fare much better once Winston returned. Their best finish was 8-7-1, their worst was 1-14-1 and their most common was 5-11. On average, they won 5.4 games. If Madden is right, the playoff drought will continue.

Here are the game-by-game averages of the 10 simulated seasons:

Week Opponent Bucs' record Points for Points against
1 at Saints 2-8 21.5 25.6
2 Eagles 1-9 13.0 31.3
3 Steelers 2-8 13.6 25.8
4 Bears 7-3 22.9 16.9
5 Bye
6 at Falcons 2-8 13.7 28.3
7 Browns 3-7 16.1 21.2
8 at Bengals 3-6-1 17.8 17.6
9 at Panthers 4-5-1 17.4 21.9
10 Washington 4-6 15.6 24.7
11 at Giants 3-6-1 21.1 27.0
12 49ers 6-4 16.3 15.5
13 Panthers 2-7-1 13.1 19.0
14 Saints 4-6 21.1 24.4
15 at Ravens 4-5-1 21.2 24.4
16 at Cowboys 3-7 15.4 23.3
17 Falcons 1-8-1 16.6 26.4
Averages 5.4-10.6* 17.3 23.3
*To calculate an average W-L record, I counted ties as half a win and half a loss.

As for Winston’s performance, it was more of the same. He was up and down from one simulation to the next. In one season, he threw 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and earned a 68.6 rating. The next, he threw 21 touchdowns and five interceptions and earned an 85.5 rating. A breakout season is possible but not likely.

Comp % Passing yards Yards/game Yards/att TD INT Rating Games played
Average 55.0% 2,868 220.6 6.6 19 8.8 81.8 13
Best season 58.9% 2,780 213.8 7.1 18 4 92.0 13
Worst season 50.8% 2,613 201.0 6.0 14 12 68.6 13

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Playoff and Super Bowl LIII forecast

The Eagles won their first Super Bowl last season, and Madden likes their chances of becoming the first NFC team to win back-to-back championships since the 1992 and 1993 Cowboys. The Eagles, led by a healthy Carson Wentz, were the only team to make the playoffs in every season I simulated. They reached the Super Bowl five times and won it four times.

If you were expecting the Jaguars to go back to being the Jaguars, think again. They also made five Super Bowl appearances, winning it twice.

And if you were expecting the Browns to continue being the Browns, think again again. They made the playoffs four times and even reached the Super Bowl once, losing to the Lions 30-24 in overtime.

The Lions and the Browns in the Super Bowl? I couldn’t believe it, either. I ran outside to make sure the stars hadn’t disappeared and the moon hadn’t turned blood red.

Dismiss it as video game randomness … if you dare. When I did this exercise last year, I scoffed when the Bills made the playoffs.

In a way, a Lions-Browns Super Bowl, even if it’s in Madden, feels like an indictment of the Bucs. They can’t crack the playoffs in that alternate reality, either.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at Follow @tometrics.


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