(Note from Sean: Bumped to the front page from the FanPosts section. Outstanding work.)
Predicting the NFL is harder than brain surgery. Every year there are teams that surprise, teams that disappoint, and teams that meet low expectations exactly (the Browns). How are we mere mortals to cope? Simple -- by overemphasizing coincidences and abusing statistics. Whether you're trying to guess the division winners or picking a team to bet your life savings on, keep reading to find out what history has to say about what will unfold during the 2013 NFL season.
The Madden Curse
Obviously, the Madden Curse didn't affect Megatron's season all that much last year. Yes, he got a concussion, had his fingers broken, and was tackled at the one-yard line six times, which certainly dropped his touchdown numbers, but he still broke Jerry Rice's record. Only a foolish fool would say that Calvin Johnson succumbed to the Curse.
But did he destroy it? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Though Megatron is a force of nature and already one of the greatest wide receivers of all time, the Madden Curse is programmed into the basic fabric of the universe. The Large Hadron Collider was wrong. The Higgs Boson isn't the last fundamental particle out there. The Curse lives on.
Take a look at the cover of Madden NFL 13.
There is Calvin in all his glory. But what's lurking in the background? On the left, the Renaissance Center. And on the right, Ford Field. We all know the agony of the last season. And during the offseason our beloved city declared bankruptcy, a mockery of everything the Renaissance Center is supposed to stand for. Calvin is strong. But he was only strong enough to divert the Curse, not defeat it. It is still out there, lurking, waiting, ready to pounce on and devour another football season. It will never be sated.
Having said that, what does this year's Madden cover bode for us?
There's Barry Sanders, doing what he did best, certainly better than Emmitt Smith ever did. But Barry is retired! And, more importantly, he has already been affected by the Curse. On the cover of Madden NFL 2000, Barry appears in the background. Right after the game came out, he called it quits.
This brings up an interesting question: What happens if you are cursed twice? Do you become double-cursed? Or is it like a switch, thereby actually removing the curse? It's difficult to say. According to Pokemon, as long as the original curse is still in effect, further cursing does nothing. So let's roll with that. By that reasoning, then, Barry will be fine. Once you've had chickenpox, you won't get it again.
What's behind Barry Sanders on the cover? The designers mercifully did not put Ford Field on it, so the Lions are safe. On the right side, some Detroit buildings. On the left side, the fist of Joe Louis. If the Curse is deflected from Barry, could this spell trouble for the Red Wings? Or whatever buildings those are? But Joe Louis Arena is already being replaced, and Detroit's already bankrupt. It seems that the Curse will have few victims to work its mischief on this year.
Of course, some scholars have controversially argued that Barry Sanders was never actually affected by the Madden Curse. Their reasoning is as follows: Barry was a smart man. You don't become the greatest running back of all time by being an idiot. A smart man knows how to act in his best interests. When Barry made the cover of Madden NFL 2000, he sensed the presence of the Curse. He knew that the Curse was too powerful. So he made the strategic decision to retire. Like Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines, he chose to live to fight another day.
If Barry Sanders is appearing on the Madden cover again, then he must have figured out a way to beat the Curse. Could this be the year that the Madden Curse is finally defeated? It will be difficult, but if anyone can do it, it would be the greatest running back of all time.
Either way, the Madden Curse should not affect the Detroit Lions this season.
The Other Madden Curse
Starting in 2012, the Madden cover was voted on by fans. Peyton Hillis defeated Michael Vick to win the first year, and last year Calvin beat Cam Newton. How did the runner-ups do? Well, the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles finished a disappointing 8-8 after "winning" the offseason in dramatic fashion. And last year, the Carolina Panthers finished 7-9 after digging themselves a 1-6 hole to start the season. In geometry, two points determine a line, so that's good enough to make a trend. 8-8 --> 7-9 --> 6-10. Which team will finish 6-10 this year? Why, none other than our division rival, the Minnesota Vikings, whose Adrian Peterson finished second to Barry Sanders is this year's voting. Sorry, Vikings fans, but math has proven that you won't be seeing the playoffs this year.
Everyone's expecting the Packers to be good again this year. But will they be? Although the NFL is chaotic, there is in fact a method to predicting how the Packers will do each season. Take a look at how their recent campaigns have gone:
2010 - Won the Super Bowl
2011 - Embarrassed in their first playoff game by a mediocre team that only clinched its division in the regular season finale and was considered to be grossly inferior
2012 - Defeated the NFC North wildcard team before being beaten by the 49ers at Candlestick Park in the divisional round. The offense played well but the defense failed pathetically, giving up a long quarterback run for a touchdown for the highlight play of the game.
Amazingly, there is another team that has followed the same pattern. That team is the New Orleans Saints. They won their Super Bowl the year before Green Bay did. The next year they lost to the 7-9 Seahawks, and the following year they beat the Lions in the wildcard round before losing to the 49ers, in a game where Alex Smith ran 28 yards for a score.
Somehow the Saints and Packers have become ethereally linked. Each year the Packers imitate what the Saints did the season before. So, how did the Saints do last year?
Oh, right. Though no one in Green Bay has been suspended for bounty hunting yet, all the pieces are in place for the Packers to have a good, but out-of-sync offense and a terrible defense. Dom Capers spent the entire offseason learning how to defend the read-option, even though the Packers only face two opponents who run it (the 49ers and Redskins in weeks one and two). The Green Bay Packers will finish 7-9, 3rd in the NFC North, and miss the playoffs, surprising almost everyone.
Some of you may wonder: How did New Orleans and Green Bay become spiritually bonded? Perhaps the Bounty the Saints placed on Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game awoke ancient forces that forged a demonic contract between the Saints, who defeated Favre, and the Packers, whom Favre scorned. If so, this is a terrible pact, held together by torn ACLs and ruptured Achilles tendons. It won't be going away any time soon.
The Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions
Sadly, the Goddess of Fate did not reveal to me what lies in store for these two teams. The good news for us is that if the Packers finish 3rd at 7-9, the worst our record could be is 7-9 as well. The Lions have a good shot at reaching the playoffs this year, as do the Bears. But what happens if we do reach the playoffs? Do we have a shot at making the Super Bowl? Read on...
The NFC South
Take a look at the NFC Super Bowl representatives since Super Bowl XL:
XLI - Bears
XLII - Giants
XLIII - Cardinals
XLIV - Saints
XLV - Packers
XLVI - Giants
XLVII - 49ers
Notice anything interesting? Recall what divisions each team comes from. North, East, West, South, North, East, and West. There is a pattern here! The NFC representative in the Super Bowl is always from the division that played the AFC East that year. More specifically, the team must have beaten the Buffalo Bills during the regular season. So we must conclude that the NFC South will be sending a team to Super Bowl XLVIII. For now, it's probably the Falcons. But the regular season will bring the truth to light. Unfortunately, since Buffalo is now in the running for Jadeveon Clowney, it wouldn't be surprising if every NFC South team beats the Bills this year. Nevertheless, keep your eyes peeled.
Could this unholy pattern be broken? The pattern started the year after Super Bowl XL, when the Seattle Seahawks were perhaps unfairly robbed of a Lombardi trophy under the dome of Ford Field. So if any team could break the cycle, it would be the Seahawks... or the Detroit Lions. However, assuming that the pattern holds true, the Lions should probably look to 2014 as the moment when the stars will align for a Super Bowl run.
Notice that there is no pattern as to whether or not the NFC representative wins in the Super Bowl. For that, we need to turn to another team...
The Philadelphia Eagles
Don't worry, they're not winning the Super Bowl this year. But if you examine their schedules over the past four years, a thread emerges. These are the opponents the Eagles faced in their recent home openers:
2009 - New Orleans Saints
2010 - Green Bay Packers
2011 - New York Giants
2012 - Baltimore Ravens
Recognize these teams? They just happen to be the last four Super Bowl champions. What could have caused this? 2009 was the year that the Eagles signed Michael Vick, fresh out of Leavenworth. Fidus, the Dog God, is a vengeful being, and perhaps he decided to punish the Eagles for this flagrant transgression. Since Michael Vick is still on the team, this curse is probably still in effect.
So who do the Eagles face in their home opener this year? None other than the San Diego Chargers. The team is widely considered to be rebuilding. But they still have their franchise quarterback in Philip Rivers, and they have escaped the grim shadow of Head Coach Norv Turner. Look to the Chargers to be much better than expected, good enough to win their first Super Bowl.
Incidentally, the Lions do play the Eagles in Philadelphia this year. But we are not in the NFC South. In fact, none of the NFC South teams play the Eagles in Philadelphia, so the next Super Bowl must be won by the AFC team.
What Does This Mean for Us?
Looking to the future, though, what should the Lions do to ensure a Super Bowl run? Remember, the NFC division rotation means that next year is the year that an NFC North team makes the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the NFC North doesn't play the NFC East in 2014. Therefore, the Lions must finish in the same position within their division as the Philadelphia Eagles this year. We know that the Packers will be 3rd and the Vikings will be 4th. We can only hope, then, that Chip Kelly is good enough to get the Eagles to 1st or 2nd in the NFC East. But actually, he'll probably win the division this year.
For the last two seasons, the Dallas Cowboys have gone into the last game of the season with the division title and a playoff berth on the line before losing, first to the Giants, then to the Redskins. How poetic would it be if it happened again? The Eagles haven't had a chance to eliminate Tony Romo and Jason Garrett yet. I'm sure they're looking forward to it, though. This means that the Eagles WILL win the NFC East this year, so therefore, the Lions MUST win the NFC North as well. If this happens, then perhaps the NFL schedulers will put us in Philadelphia's home opener in 2014. If that happens, then Detroit's long nightmare will be over, at last.
And so it will come to pass, that the San Diego Chargers will defeat a team from the NFC South to win Super Bowl XLVIII. The Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers will both miss the playoffs, while the Madden Curse will potentially be defeated and banished from this existence. It is an exciting time to be a football fan.