Madden NFL 16 predicts Bucs' season, favors Mariota over Winston

[Photo illustration by Cameron Cottrill/Madden NFL 16 image courtesy of EA Sports]
[Photo illustration by Cameron Cottrill/Madden NFL 16 image courtesy of EA Sports]
Published Aug. 26, 2015

Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shined in Monday night's 25-11 preseason win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but how much of that success will carry over into the regular season?

Because preseason games are generally considered to be an unreliable predictor of future success, I peered into the crystal ball that is Madden NFL 16, which was released Tuesday after months of development in Orlando by EA Tiburon. For EA, the game is a cash cow — it's as much of a lock to sell one million copies this week as Donald Trump is to say something that stirs people up.

In addition to generating $4 billion in revenue since the first copy dropped in 1988, the franchise has impressed with its realism and prognostication. In simulations of the past 12 Super Bowls, Madden has correctly predicted the winner nine times, and even nailed the final score of last season's game.

So what does Madden say is in store for Winston and the Bucs? With Josh McCown banished to Cleveland, the wasteland of NFL quarterbacks, and the shiny, new Winston in his place, there's reason for optimism, right? Will he validate the Bucs' decision to select him first overall instead of Marcus Mariota?

I simulated the 2015 season 10 times, averaged the results and — well, let's just say that you could listen to a Radiohead album and feel less depressed. Based on their point differential last season and their Pythagorean expectation, one could argue the Bucs were a 4.5-win team. Madden predicts they'll improve on that mark in 2015 by ... drumroll ... a half-win to finish 5-11.

There wasn't a significant amount of variance in the simulations, either. Most seasons, the Bucs finished between 4-12 and 6-10. They finished better than 6-10 just once, going 9-7 but missing the playoffs. The Bucs, Raiders, Bears and 49ers were the only teams to not reach the playoffs a single time in 10 season simulations.

Here are the game-by-game averages. The Bucs haven't beaten the Saints since 2011, and according to Madden, New Orleans is likely to build on that streak, as it went 19-1 against Tampa Bay in the simulations. Ouch.

Bucs record Points For Points Against
Week 1 vs. Tennessee Titans3-7 22.1 26.6
Week 2 at New Orleans Saints1-9 17.4 30.8
Week 3 at Houston Texans2-8 20.8 25.7
Week 4 vs. Carolina Panthers1-9 13.8 25.7
Week 5 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars4-6 24.8 24.0
Week 7 at Washington Redskins 5-5 19.8 23.1
Week 8 at Atlanta Falcons3-7 21.1 26.8
Week 9 vs. New York Giants3-7 24.9 30.6
Week 10 vs. Dallas Cowboys2-8 20.0 29.6
Week 11 at Philadelphia Eagles3-7 15.8 25.1
Week 12 at Indianapolis Colts3-7 21.4 25.8
Week 13 vs. Atlanta Falcons3-7 25.4 29.3
Week 14 vs. New Orleans Saints0-10 15.1 29.3
Week 15 at St. Louis Rams5-5 18.1 19.1
Week 16 vs. Chicago Bears6-4 20.1 17.9
Week 17 at Carolina Panthers2-8 13.6 25.5

Winston vs. Mariota: Madden decides

Though Winston is rated higher (81 overall) than Mariota (78 overall), Mariota turned in the better performance during his video game rookie season. He bested Winston in average quarterback rating, touchdown-to-interception ratio and completion percentage.

The Titans quarterback's low-key personality didn't appear to be an impediment, either, as he led Tennessee to three playoff appearances over the 10 simulations. In one season, Mariota posted the best-ever touchdown-to-interception ratio (15.5) and a rating (117.2) that would be good enough to be tied with Tom Brady for fourth all-time.

Here's how the two former Heisman trophy winners measured up:

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RatingPassing yardsTDINTComp. %GP
Average season79.73,149.419.813.656.314.9
Best season85.93,68426145916
Worst season65.53,18517215216

RatingPassing yardsTDINTComp. %GP
Average season92.62,769.019.09.862.114.0
Best season117.23,1403126616
Worst season74.22,49013175913

And the winner of Super Bowl 50 is ...

Madden likes Seattle. A lot. The Seahawks were the only team to reach the playoffs all 10 seasons. With nine trips to the postseason, the Packers reached the second-most often. The Saints were third with eight berths.

Ten different teams reached the Super Bowl, and six hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. Video game Tom Brady, free of concern over deflated footballs, Roger Goodell and destroyed cell phones, guided the Patriots to three Super Bowl victories in four appearances. The Seahawks and Chargers each won twice.

Though Madden doesn't forecast a return to playoff glory for the Bucs, it did for another moribund franchise: the Buffalo Bills, who last played in the postseason in 1999. The Bills reached four times — and even won a Super Bowl.

Yes. The Bills. A Super Bowl. Hey, if the Bills and the three-headed quarterback monster of Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor can do it, maybe there is hope for the Bucs after all ...

Contact Thomas Bassinger at Follow @tometrics.