Every young Millennial football fan with a video game console owned one game as a kid -- Madden NFL.
Each year, EA Sports comes out with a new version with different features, updated rosters, and altered gameplay. On a whim, indulging my inner 12-year-old, I recently decided to purchase Madden NFL 16.
As I learned the new aspects of the game, an idea dawned on me: Why not use Madden to predict the Browns' season?
I'm far from the first to think of this idea. My colleague at SB Nation, Jon Bois, experiments with the game weekly in his series "Breaking Madden." Other sites also do this to some extent, so I figured, 'Why not?'
To ensure a relatively realistic simulation, I edited the roster and depth chart to reflect all changes made up until Wednesday, including number changes. I used Franchise mode, now officially known as "Coach Mode."
As for the settings, I left all but a few alone. I set the difficulty on All-Pro and made sure to turn "Coach Firing" to "Off" just in case the video game version of owner Jimmy Haslam were to feel a sudden change of heart midseason and ruin the simulation.
For the first five simulations, I forced the AI to start Josh McCown, at least at the beginning. Unfortunately, one flaw in the simulation is that you cannot force the AI to start a player for an entire season. So as soon as McCown began to perform poorly, the AI had the ability to sub in Manziel.
For the next five simulations, I allowed the AI to pick its starter. Since Coach Mode ranked Johnny Manziel as a "70" and Josh McCown as a "66," the system started Manziel in most instances.
Here are the results of the first five simulations with McCown at the helm to begin the season:
|Results||Sim 1||Sim 2||Sim 3||Sim 4||Sim 5|
The first sim actually went well. The Browns finished with a .500 record and saw Dwayne Bowe and Isaiah Crowell enjoy solid seasons. The AI used a platoon system at quarterback, using both McCown and Manziel. One limitation of the game is that the stats do not show the number of games a player started, only the number of games in which the player participated. So we are left without an accurate number of starts for McCown or Manziel. Either way, the Browns did not find a franchise quarterback in Sim 1.
Sim 2 elicited a similar result -- another middling season for the Browns. This time, the AI quickly tired of McCown, only allowing him to play six games. McCown actually played fairly well, throwing six touchdowns against just one interception. Manziel also turned in a decent year, tossing 12 touchdowns and eight picks. Bowe and Andrew Hawkins both helped this happen, as the two had identically impressive season. Bowe finished with 924 yards and four touchdowns, barely finishing behind Hawkins' 928 yards and four scores. Overall, not a bad year, but disappointing considering the team started 6-2 before losing four straight, including three to AFC North foes.
A nightmare scenario played out in Sim 3. All three quarterbacks played, and poorly. McCown threw 10 interceptions, Manziel tossed nine, and Austin Davis recorded eight (and just seven touchdowns). If this happens in real-life, the Browns are in trouble. One of the lone bright spots in this ugly 4-12 season was a crazy 14-10 win over the Broncos. McCown and Davis combined for 115 passing yards and two touchdowns, while the Browns defense held Peyton Manning to 160 yards and two interceptions. Following the win, everything went downhill, as the Browns lost seven of eight to end the season.
Sim 4 saw a more consistent situation at quarterback, but similar results. McCown received the majority of snaps, but performed poorly, throwing nine touchdowns against an awful 17 interceptions. Manziel held his own in limited playing time, only accruing three interceptions. Amidst the passing woes, Crowell enjoyed his best season yet. Despite Crowell's efforts, the Browns started 1-5 and finished 1-5 in another dismal season. The club did capture a 34-13 road win over the Steelers, though.
The AI completely disobeyed my orders in Sim 5. Manziel played nearly every snap, as McCown only threw for 417 yards and one touchdown. Manziel made the coaches look great, racking up 25 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. Bowe nearly hit 1,000 receiving yards, while Crowell eclipsed this mark on the ground. The only offensive player who significantly underperformed was Joe Thomas, who allowed a staggering 11 sacks. The defense also faltered, allowing 30 or more points in seven games, six of those losses.
Disappointingly, the Browns did not make the playoffs in any of the first five sims.
Here's where the fun begins. These are the results of the Manziel years:
|Results||Sim 6||Sim 7||Sim 8||Sim 9||Sim 10|
To be honest, Sim 6 surprised me. I expected the first simulation here to be a 4-12 season with Tyler Thigpen as the quarterback by week 17. The opposite was true. The Browns finished second in the AFC North with a 9-6-1 record. Manziel showed promise. The tandem of Crowell and Johnson thrived. A playoff berth eluded Manziel's Browns, but he and the team would have granted Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine increased job security.
Alas, the success did not continue in Sim 7. Manziel threw 18 interceptions against only eight touchdowns, and the team's backs generated just six touchdowns. The club lost five of its last six, including a 37-34 loss to the Steelers in the last game of the year. Now that's the Browns I know.
Finally, a playoff appearance! Following mixed results in the first two seasons under Manziel, Sim 8 proved to be highly successful, even though Davis finished the season as the starting signalcaller. The Browns reached the playoffs, beating the Chiefs in the Wild Card before losing to the Dolphins in the AFC Conference Championship. In typical Cleveland fashion, the Browns took a 16-7 lead into the third quarter before surrendering 19 points in the fourth.
In Sim 9, the Browns somehow managed to sneak into the playoffs again. Following a 6-2 record, the Browns lost five of six and nearly squandered a chance at the playoffs. But behind Manziel and Crowell, the Browns secured two straight victories to earn a Wild Card berth. The Bengals quickly buried the Browns, 45-0. Manziel finished 10-of-26 for 75 yards and two interceptions.
Manziel's luck didn't improve in Sim 10, as he only played nine games. On the bright side, Dansby enjoyed a career year with 120 tackles. That's about the only good part about the final simulation. The ending to this journey seems fitting.
Is Johnny the answer to the Browns quarterback quandary? According to Madden NFL 16, probably not. But at least he directed the team to a pair of playoff berths, unlike McCown.
Following some quick number-crunching, I calculated an average win total of 6.8 games for the Browns. The ties prevent a nice, neat average record, but this average win total seems about right for the Browns this season.
Considering this experiment as a whole, I'm pleased with how it turned out. Due to lengthy simulation times, this project took a few days to complete. Even so, I enjoyed doing this, and believe the results are at least somewhat realistic, though not flawless.
What do you think: Did you enjoy this article and agree with the results? Should be do this again or can the idea? Let us know in the comments section below.