RERUNS: Resimulating NFL History, Episode 5: The 2015-16 NFL Season

I love living in the past and I love drowning in hypotheticals. My favorite thing to explore is the butterfly effect of every individual moment and explore what could happen if certain events never transpired. As such, I thought it would be a fun exercise to run the NFL back to a point in time before everything we know and love about the league today had a chance to come to fruition. But in order to do that, I had to use the ultimate prognosticator in the business: old-ass versions of Madden.

That’s right, we are rerunning the NFL of the last decade. No Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes, no Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan and most importantly, no Bill O’Brien running the Texans.

I placed the NFL timeline back to the 2011-12 season for a couple reasons. For one, it resets virtually every one of the league’s top quarterbacks, creating a massive amount of variance, but Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are both already Super Bowl champions in this timeline and trending towards Hall of Fame resumes. But the more significant reason is that Madden 12 is the earliest version of the game I owned. So yes, we are rolling back to XBOX 360 for these simulations. Going back far but not too far to a reasonably advanced system offers a lot of potential futures, but also some logic with regards to player progression and roster moves. I am not sure how far down the road I will be simming, but plan on it at least bringing us to present day.

Up next, the 2015-16 season.

Past Results

2011-12 Super Bowl Champs: Chargers

2012-13 Super Bowl Champs: Steelers

2013-14 Super Bowl Champs: Falcons

2014-15 Super Bowl Champs: Raiders

2015-16 Results

Sim Result Real Life Result
NFL MVP Tom Brady Cam Newton
OPOY Matt Schaub Cam Newton
DPOY David Hawthorne J.J. Watt
OROY Connor Casteel Todd Gurley
DROY A.C. Watson Marcus Peters
Coach of Year Mike Tomlin (Panthers) Ron Rivera
Best Record Packers, Texans (12-4) Panthers (15-1)
AFC Champ Chiefs Broncos
NFC Champ Rams Panthers
SB Champ Chiefs Broncos
Top Passer Peyton Manning (4,527) Drew Brees (4,870)
Top Rusher LaCraig Calloway (1,905) Adrian Peterson (1,485)
Top Receiver Cobie Timmons (1,821) Julio Jones (1,871)
Sack Leader David Hawthorne (20.5) J.J. Watt (17.5)
Int. Leader 3-Way Tie (7) 2-Way Tie (8)

The Sim Season

Coaching Changes

I finally found where the game lists who each team’s coach is, so I can actually track coaching changes. I cannot comment on which of these coaching changes happened this year, but here are the teams with different coaches than they had when sims started:

ARI: Jeff Milson (Fictional)

ATL: Beau Vasquez (Fictional)

BAL: Allen Santino (Fictional)

BUF: Sean Payton

CAR: Mike Tomlin

CHI: John Fox (was coach of the Broncos when sims started, ending up with Bears was complete coincidence)

CIN: Tom Hale (Fictional)

CLE: Tony Sparano

DAL: Mike Munchak

DEN: Ron Rivera

GB: Dom Capers

HOU: Steve Spagnuolo

JAX: Regan Danahy (Fictional)

KC: Bruce Arians

MIA: David Baker (Fictional)

MIN: Jerry Ellis (Fictional)

NE: Josh Moore (Fake Bill Belichick)

NO: Tom Hansen (Fictional)

OAK: Mike Smith

PIT: Ron Edwards (Fictional)

SD: Frank Peney (Fictional)

STL: Douglas Franklin (Fictional)

TEN: Andy Barber (Fictional)

This is the only time presumably this section will be a wall of text, as the only coaches still in their 2011 jobs are Jim Schwartz (DET), Jim Caldwell (IND), Tom Coughlin (NYG), Rex Ryan (NYJ), Andy Reid (PHI), Pete Carroll (SEA), Jim Harbaugh (SF), Raheem Morris (TB) and Mike Shanahan (WAS).

Roster Moves

  • Bengals sign Frank Gore
  • Cardinals sign Shaun O’Hara
  • Cardinals sign Michael Vick (TimTebow back to backup?), Jamen Yates (fourth-year DT, 79 overall)
  • Colts sign Santonio Holmes, Ryan Kalil, Braylon Edwards
  • Cowboys sign Jared Allen, Danneil Joseph (third-year DE, 78 overall)
  • Dolphins sign Kyle Wilson
  • Eagles sign Tony Romo
  • Falcons sign Adrian Wilson, Owen Daniels, Kareem Jackson
  • 49ers sign Brandon Graham
  • Giants sign Jahvid Best, Marques Colston, Jordan Gross
  • Jaguars sign Antoine Cason, Vincent Jackson
  • Jets sign Shaun Rogers
  • Panthers sign Kirifi Finley (second-year OT, 81 overall)
  • Seahawks sign Jason Pierre-Paul
  • Steelers sign Justin Babineaux
  • Texans sign Max Unger
  • Titans sign Devin Hester
  • Vikings sign Damon Benjamin (third-year OT, 78 overall)


  • Damien Woody
  • Jeff Saturday
  • Reggie Wayne
  • John Abraham
  • Steve Smith
  • Ed Reed
  • Casey Hampton


The Broncos traded out of No. 4 back to 10, picking up a third-rounder in the process. The Dolphins moved into No. 4. Similarly, the Ravens moved up from nine to five, giving the Chargers a fifth to do so. The Browns at No. 1, feeling good about their 21-interception former No. 3 pick at quarterback, decide to go with a military academy defensive tackle to kick start their miserable defense.

Top-Five Picks

  • Browns select DT Damien Tucker, Air Force
  • Seahawks select QB Connor Casteel, LSU
  • Bills select CB A.C. Watson, Florida State
  • Dolphins select QB Benton Gordon, Alabama
  • Ravens select DT Dametric McRoy, Texas

Two quarterbacks in the top five is a first in these sim drafts. Connor Casteel looks like a slightly shorter Bo Callahan, and the Seahawks appropriately drafted him after the Browns passed him up for a risky defensive player. The Dolphins also picked a big gunslinger, 6-foot-6 Benton Gordon, after trading up six spots. Those were the only two quarterbacks to go in the first. This year’s first round was largely dominated by linemen on both sides of the ball, and for once, running backs were a rarity. Only two went in round one, and neither went in the top half.

Casteel is the only rookie starting quarterback in the NFL this season, as he is finally ending the tumultuous Fitzmagic era in Seattle. In other major quarterback news, 2014 first-round QB Trevor Clark has unseated 2012 first-round QB Tommy Papagianopoulos as the starter in Tennessee. As for No. 4 pick Benton Gordon, he lost the quarterback battle with 2013 No. 9 pick Chandler Waslelewsci. A lot of incompetent QB drafts happening in these sims.

The highest-rated rookies entering the 2015 season: Texans fourth-round SS Churphy Bledsoe (86), Seahawks No. 2 pick Connor Casteel (85) and Titans second-round WR Martaze Keys (85). No. 1 pick Damien Tucker is an 84, No. 3 pick A.C. Watson an 80, No. 4 pick Benton Gordon and No. 5 pick Dametric McRoy 76 and 78, respectively.

High-Profile Free Agents Entering Season

We have another new segment! These sims are getting to a point where aging vets pining for a final contract will be rejected by NFL teams and spend the early part of the season as free agents, so I will log these high-profile free agents here. In a past season, Alex Smith was signed late by Washington and almost revitalized their season, so things can certainly happen with these guys. Though, there may be a snag in that regard given I have turned off sim injuries.

2011 second-round tackle Marcus Gilbert is a free agent. The Steelers were unimpressed with his progress and they just signed Ben Roethlisberger to a hefty three-year deal, so the NFL seems pretty much out on the former Florida standout. Christian Ponder and Jake Locker, usurped by fictional quarterbacks, are also on the market, as is Andy Dalton, who was released last year and his replacement became NFL MVP.

99 Overalls

A much shorter list this year.

  • Tyre Myrick (Falcons fourth-year DT, first fictional player to hit 99 overall)
    • Has made Pro Bowls in each of the last two seasons
  • Haloti Ngata
  • Clay Matthews

Top Teams

I have never seen this much parity before in an NFL season. The two best teams — Houston and Green Bay — were only 12-4, only one team had fewer than five wins and FIVE playoff teams had single-digit wins. Half the league — – 16 teams exactly — finished between 7-9 and 9-7.

Defense drove the best teams in 2015. The Packers, Texans, Panthers and Colts had the four best records and finished with the four fewest points allowed. Three of those teams had respectable offenses — Houston ranked third in points scored, the Panthers fifth, Packers 13th — but 11-5 Indianapolis ranked 22nd in that category and fourth in defense.

Once again, the award for best offensive team went to the Matt Cassel-led Kansas City Chiefs, who went 10-6 and won their division over defending-champion Oakland. The Bears and Texans ranked not far behind offensively. And though defense was the catalyst for the best teams int he league, each of the seven-best offenses also were playoff teams, and No. 8 was the 8-8 Bengals quarterbacked by 2014 MVP Zack Bruening.

Worst Teams

Only one team stood out as catastrophically bad: the 2-14 Jaguars. Jacksonville is still quarterbacked by Blaine Gabbert and it is, to be blunt, not going well. They were one of only two teams to scored fewer than 300 points this year (the Browns, led by young, pick-heavy passer Tim Alston) and they also ranked seventh-worst defensively. Dallas and San Francisco were 5-11 and had terrible defenses, and the Browns’ struggling offense produced a 6-10 record, but none could not touch the miserable Jags.

Top Players

They just won’t die. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady finished Nos. 1 and 3 in passing yards this year, split by Washington’s Carter Murphy. Brady is 38 and Manning 39, yet they continue to rank among the best of the best. I was hoping these sims would end the Brady era earlier than real life did, but alas, that has not been the case. At least Manning only threw 28 touchdowns this year. Brady, on the other hand, beat out Aaron Rodgers — who led in passer rating and only threw seven interceptions — for NFL MVP. On the surface, this seems a bit of a make-up award for passing up Brady for Bruening last season.

Somehow, Matt Schaub beat out Brady and Rodgers for Offensive Player of the Year despite throwing for fewer yards than Brady and being less efficient than Rodgers. He led in touchdowns, but also threw 12 picks. Even Jay Cutler — who also outpassed Schaub while throwing only one fewer touchdown and three fewer picks — would have been a better choice. And if the voters loved the Texans offense, the Bears scored more points a game than Houston. This decision was baffling.

Truth be told, Offensive Player of the Year should have gone to a running back. 2013 No. 1 overall pick LaCraig Calloway finished just shy of 2,000 yards rushing, and added another 257 receiving with 19 total touchdowns. Credit to Calloway for a great season, but to justify being the top pick as a running back, he will probably have to run for 2,000 yards multiple times, and the Chargers missed the playoffs at 9-7 this year. But hey, the stats are starting to follow the draft position. Ray Rice, Donel Haynes, KeShawn Lattimore and Rashard Mendenhall rounded out the top-five rushers. For the first time in these sims, we went down in the number of 1,000-yard rushers with only 24 as opposed to 25 last season.

2013 second-round pick Cobie Timmons broke out last year for the Vikings with 1,400 yards, but this year, he emerged as the game’s best. He led with 1,821 yards, just 27 yards behind Jerry Rice’s all-time record, and added 12 touchdowns. Washington’s Leonard Hankerson continued his ascent as well, leading in catches with 118 for 1,569 yards. Houston’s Dea’Jon Harper, the No. 6 pick in 2012, led with 16 touchdowns.

The Chargers’ David Hawthorne took home the sack title with 20 1/2. And no, that is not a Madden-created character; Hawthorne is real and was undrafted in 2008. The Chargers acquired him this year after seven solid seasons with the Seahawks, converted him to a pass rush outside linebacker and watched him take off. With his 20 1/2 sacks and 167 tackles, Hawthorne was named Defensive Player of the Year. The leaders in interceptions were a trio of elite corners: Darrelle Revis, Joe Haden and Asante Samuel, eight picks apiece.

Rookie Report

It was a fairly strong year for the top-three picks. Rookie stud quarterback Connor Casteel put in probably the greatest rookie season ever, throwing for over 4,000 yards with 29 touchdowns and only 11 picks. And while Seattle went 6-10, they are clearly on the right trajectory with their passing game. No. 3 pick A.C. Watson was named Defensive Rookie of the Year as he picked off five passes in year one. Four of the five players in the top five for DPOY voting were first-round picks, whereas Casteel was the only first-round finalist for OPOY.

The big blemish on the top of the draft was No. 1 pick Damien Tucker. It was a reach to take a defensive tackle from Air Force No. 1 at the time, and one year in, he is trending to mega-bust territory. He played just 151 downs on a bad Cleveland defense. Though to be fair, the No. 5 pick, Dametric McRoy, only played 98 downs and No. 4 pick Benton Gordon did not play a single snap.

The Playoffs

1 Texans (12-4) Packers (12-4)
2 Chiefs (10-6) Panthers (11-5)
3 Patriots (10-6) Rams (10-6)
4 Ravens (9-7) Giants (8-8)
5 Colts (11-5) Vikings (9-7)
6 Raiders (9-7) Bears (9-7)

Wild Card Round

Vikings defeat Giants 23-15

Rams defeat Bears 28-10

Ravens defeat Colts 24-16

Patriots defeat Raiders 36-22

Once again, we will not have a repeat champion, as the undead Patriots stomped the Raiders with over 500 total yards. Brady only threw 22 times but still had 269 yards and three touchdowns, almost posting a perfect rating in the process.

On the other side of productivity, the Bears with star quarterback Jay Cutler managed only 179 total yards despite winning the turnover battle. The Colts did not fare much better with 187 yards, again winning the turnover battle in a loss. The Vikings and Giants both were at least adequate offensively, but the Giants failed to score a touchdown, settling for five field goals. The Vikings, led by the dynamic trio of Corey Williams, Adrian Peterson and Cobie Timmons, found the end zone twice to squeak out a win.

Divisional Round

Ravens defeat Texans 27-21

Packers defeat Vikings 28-11

Chiefs defeat Patriots 34-13

Rams defeat Panthers 24-21

With Carolina going down, we are guaranteed a fresh Super Bowl matchup. At the moment, the Chiefs look unbeatable as they destroyed the Patriots who previously had the most impressive win of round 1. Matt Cassel four touchdowns, 300 yards in a playoff game is not a timeline I’m totally sure I want to exist within.

Cassel, however, did not have the best quarterback performance of the week. That went to Aaron Rodgers who also had four touchdowns but threw for 330 yards on 37 attempts. Minnesota was only 5-for-17 on third down and Williams was well under 50 percent passing, so the Vikings had little chance despite 158 receiving yards and a touchdown from Timmons.

There were also two games dripping with drama, especially the Baltimore-Houston game. The Texans sent the game to overtime with an 18-yard touchdown from Schaub to Andre Johnson, but in the extra frame, Joe Flacco hit Jacob Tamme in the end zone from 26 yards out for the sudden-death win. St. Louis knocked off Carolina with a five-yard touchdown pass in the final minutes, coming from behind after trailing 21-10 in the third quarter.

Conference Championships

Chiefs defeat Ravens 31-17

Rams defeat Packers 31-24

WTF, Matt Cassel is going to the Super Bowl? Yes, the Chiefs have a lot of offensive talent — Jamaal Charles ran for 90 yards and a score, Dwayne Bowe 13 catches, 174 yards and a touchdown. But at the core of this, Matt Cassel, coached by Bruce Arians, will play for a Super Bowl championship in 2015-16. This game was never even all that close; Kansas City led by 31-10 in the third. The Chiefs offense is legitimately great somehow and they will enter the Super Bowl as favorites.

The NFC game was much more of a shootout. Rodgers severely outplayed Sam Bradford, throwing for 317 and three scores compared to Bradford’s 156 and two. But the Rams went with the old school “get off the bus running” strategy, and it worked. Steven Jackson ran for 204 yards and two touchdowns, both of which were over 75 yards. It took him only 19 carries to hit the 200-yard mark. So while Green Bay played well, and was largely the better team, the big runs killed them.

The Super Bowl will be a matchup of overall offensive punch vs. the run-heaviest team in the league. Oh, and it’s also the Battle for Missouri.

Super Bowl

Bruce Arians is by default a coordinator in this game, so he does not have a character model. And Rams coach Douglas Franklin is a Create-A-Coach. Turns out that these two are identical twins — heavyset men with thinning hair and pencil mustaches. Not a Kangol hat to be seen from Mr. Arians.

The Rams decided to roll with the throwback blues for this game, as they should because they are the best uniforms ever. The Chiefs, on the other hand, decided to roll out with a super impressive first drive. Cassel completed his first four passes for 56 yards, three of them to Jonathan Baldwin, and marched the Chiefs down to the 2. But then real-life Matt Cassel showed up and he forced a pass that was nearly picked and Kansas City settled for a field goal to open up scoring.

After forcing the Rams to punt on the ensuing drive, the rolling Chiefs seemed destined to bury the game early, as most sim Super Bowls have gone. Instead, the first play of the drive, Robert Quinn sacked Cassel and forced a fumble, which cornerback Pappas Watkins recovered and returned 13 yards for the game’s first touchdown.

But the Chiefs came back with another long drive, featuring a 48-yard completion to Dwayne Bowe. Again, they got deep into enemy territory before having to settle for a field goal, this time due to some ill-advised run calls in obvious passing situations. Despite two long scoring drives, the Chiefs trailed 7-6.

True to form, the Rams stuck with the Jackson strategy, handing off to him three times on the next drive for over 50 yards, capped off by a 36-yard touchdown run. That closed a high-scoring first quarter with St. Louis up 14-6.

Yet another promising Chiefs drive stalled, this time when Cassel missed a blitz coming on his front side, resulting in an 8-yard sack. Another field goal, and even though Cassel had played a nearly flawless game to that point, Kansas City only had 9 points. And two drives later (following a Rams punt), Cassel had his second turnover of the game when he forced a deep ball to Tony Moeaki on third-and-long, resulting in a pick for safety Poppy Holloway. But the Chiefs defense held firm after that turnover as well, forcing yet another Rams punt.

And then KC broke through. A long drive (again) hit pay dirt when rookie spell back Jonathan Barrentine ran 38 yards for a touchdown. A drive later, the Chiefs began what would ultimately be the first insertion of the dagger in the Rams’ heart. Cassel hit Bashaud Jordan for a 27-yard touchdown, then on the ensuing kickoff, Danny Amendola fumbled and Matt Looman recovered it and rumbled 16 yards for the score. The Chiefs, up just 16-14 10 seconds earlier, now led 30-14. That score held into halftime.

Jamaal Charles opened the second half with touchdown runs of 77 and 14 yards, so if the Rams had hopes of coming back, they were dashed pretty much immediately with KC up 44-14. St. Louis came up with a highlight late in the fourth when Bradford lobbed a deep hospital throw to the corner of the end zone, where it was knocked down by Eric Berry. But for some reason, Berry knocked it down towards the field of play and Lance Kendricks caught it and dragged the toes for a 30-yard touchdown. The score was 47-21 after that, but at least the Rams came away with a noteworthy play. Still, that would effectively be the last notable moment, and the Chiefs won big 50-24.

The MVP was a close call. On the one hand, Cassel’s passing was almost perfect end to end and helped the Chiefs get up on the Rams in the first place. But Charles put the game away, and his rushing numbers ended up being historic (266 yards, two touchdowns) even if about 150 of his yards were in garbage time. As such, for the second year in a row, a running back took home Super Bowl MVP.

Chiefs defeat Rams 50-24

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