Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are headed to the playoffs.
So says Madden NFL 17, the newest installment of EA Sports' freakishly realistic video game franchise.
Preseason results are just noise and aren't reliable predictors of regular-season success, so I turned to Madden for a look into the Bucs' future. On Tuesday, the day the game hit stores, I simulated the 2016 season 10 times. Despite an overall team rating of 79 — tied for ninth-lowest — the Bucs averaged 8.4 wins a season and reached the postseason four times. It's okay if you can't remember the last time they played in a real-life playoff game. It's been awhile — January 6, 2008, a 24-14 loss to the New York Giants, the eventual Super Bowl champion.
Four playoff appearances in 10 simulations might not sound like a strong success rate, but it's progress. When I did this exercise before the 2015 season, the Bucs didn't reach the playoffs a single time. In fact, they finished better than 6-10 only once — a 9-7 campaign that fell just short of a wild-card berth.
That's the good news. While Madden predicts an end to the playoff drought, the game does not forecast a victory. Each time the Bucs reached the postseason, they were bounced in the first round, twice by the Rams, once by Washington and once by the Vikings. Tampa Bay has not won a playoff game since it won the 2002 Super Bowl.
Here are the game-by-game averages of the 10 simulated seasons.
|Opponent||Bucs' record||Points for||Points against|
|Week 1 at Atlanta Falcons||4-6||25.2||29.6|
|Week 2 at Arizona Cardinals||7-3||26.4||20.9|
|Week 3 vs. Los Angeles Rams||2-8||15.4||26.3|
|Week 4 vs. Denver Broncos||5-4-1||22.6||24.6|
|Week 5 at Carolina Panthers||6-4||26.8||22.4|
|Week 7 at San Francisco 49ers||9-1||27.0||13.2|
|Week 8 vs. Oakland Raiders||5-5||25.8||21.6|
|Week 9 vs. Atlanta Falcons||3-7||22.0||23.2|
|Week 10 vs. Chicago Bears||8-2||22.5||20.3|
|Week 11 at Kansas City Chiefs||3-7||22.9||25.9|
|Week 12 vs. Seattle Seahawks||9-1||28.5||23.4|
|Week 13 at San Diego Chargers||6-4||27.2||26.7|
|Week 14 vs. New Orleans Saints||5-5||20.0||25.3|
|Week 15 at Dallas Cowboys||3-7||26.0||31.9|
|Week 16 at New Orleans Saints||2-8||21.8||28.9|
|Week 17 vs. Carolina Panthers||7-3||22.9||21.8|
The playoffs and Super Bowl 51
In my simulations, the fallout from Deflategate didn't slow Tom Brady and the Patriots one bit. New England was the only team to reach the playoffs in all 10 seasons, and it won the Super Bowl four times, also more than any other team. Imagine the exchanges between Brady and Roger Goodell during the Lombardi Trophy presentations — awkwaaaaaaard.
Twelve different teams reached the Super Bowl, including the Rams, who somehow did so twice. The Steelers, Chargers and Cowboys also appeared in multiple Super Bowls, with only the Steelers winning more than once.
Seven teams failed to make at least one trip to the playoffs. Five of them won't surprise you: the Dolphins, Browns, Colts, Bears and 49ers. Two went deep into the playoffs last season: the Broncos and Cardinals.
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Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.