Last week, NFL Network’s Cynthia Frelund generated some buzz when she compared Matthew Stafford, a guy who hasn’t won a Super Bowl, to Ben Roethlisberger, a guy who has very much won a Super Bowl—two of them, in fact. It was a comparison her co-worker, Dave Dameshek, just couldn’t seem to get behind. He really struggled to come to terms with football being a team sport.
You can check out the video happenings of that discussion here.
For those scoring at home, Roethlisberger, according to Football Outsider’s team defense DVOA statistic, had the league’s third best defense in 2005 when the Steelers claimed Super Bowl XL. When Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh won Super Bowl XLIII, they had the best defense in the entire NFL. The Steelers narrowly lost to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV, but that season was another example of the luxury Big Ben has been afforded in the Steel City: Pittsburgh’s defense was, once again, the best in the league in team defense DVOA.
The question then becomes, if it wasn’t for the Lions historically-awful defense in 2016, could Stafford have finally gotten over that proverbial hump to join the “Quarterbacks who’ve won a playoff game” club?
Let’s find out.
With the help of Madden NFL 17, I replaced each team’s starting quarterback with Matthew Stafford and simulated the 2016 NFL season 31 times to see how many teams would find playoff success with Stafford at the helm.
And yes, that means Dan Orlovsky became the Lions starting quarterback in each of these scenarios.
The few things I decided to track in each season were Stafford-centric, or things he had a direct impact on like the team’s success on offense and his own personal statistics. In addition to those numbers, I also kept track of the team’s win-loss total, and a plus/minus based on their actual record in 2016.
As far as special settings within Madden, nothing too crazy. I turned off injuries in an effort to avoid whacky stuff from happening.
Without further ado...
Record: 2-14—worst record in the NFL.
Stafford’s stats: 266 of 456, 3,153 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 91.7 passer rating.
What happened: This wasn’t the kind of start I was expecting, but committing such heresy as swapping Jay Cutler for Stafford must be punished. After upgrading at the quarterback position, the Bears were somehow still atrocious on offense. They finished last in the NFL in total yards on offense (4,467), points per game (16.9) and first downs (191). To provide some context, the Browns were 31st in the league and finished with 5,055 offensive yards, 17.8 points per game and 234 first downs.
Maybe the Bears were this bad on offense because they surrendered 51 sacks and only scored 3 rushing touchdowns. Three. Tres. No other team scored less than 13 on the ground.
Record: 10-6—AFC North Champions
Stafford’s stats: 329 of 528, 4,001 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 97.8 passer rating.
What happened: Stafford’s first foray into the AFC went pretty well, leading the Bengals to an AFC North crown. Cincinnati finished in the top half of the league in all of the major offensive categories: 6,160 total offensive yards (10th), 28.5 points per game (4th), 32 passing touchdowns (t-5th), 27 rushing touchdowns (4th) and 278 first downs (15th).
With his first chance to claim a playoff victory, the Stafford-led Bengals lost to the Jets in the Wild Card Round, 41-35. His 310 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns and zero turnovers weren’t enough as he was outdueled by... Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Though, for Marvin Lewis, there’s always next year.
Stafford’s stats: 296 of 455, 3,610 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 91.7 passer rating.
What happened: The Bills fell just short of the playoffs, missing out on the postseason dance because they failed to beat the Dolphins in either of their two regular season meetings.
Stafford didn’t fare so well with the Bills, finishing 26th in passing yards, 23rd in passing touchdowns and 12th in interceptions. Conversely, he had the best rushing attack in the league led by rushing champion LeSean McCoy—1,632 rushing yards, 4.8 yards per carry and 13 rushing touchdowns.
So much for the “imagine if Stafford had a running game!” theory.
Record: 6-9-1—last in the AFC West
Stafford’s stats: 315 of 496, 3,778 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 88.9 passer rating.
What happened: Finally, Stafford finds his way onto a team with an uber-talented defensive unit. The last time that happened, the Lions were an erroneously picked up flag away from winning their first playoff game in 23 seasons, but that’s neither here nor there.
For these simulations where there were some actual expectations, Stafford had what was probably his worst individual season when he suited up for the Broncos. He finished in the bottom fourth of all quarterbacks in passing yards, touchdowns, interceptions and passer rating. Denver’s offense finished 28th in points scored, but their defense wasn’t much better, allowing the eighth-most points in the NFL.
Digging a little deeper, Stafford’s struggles weren’t all that surprising: the Broncos offensive line in Madden is awful—not a single one of their starters is rated above a 76 overall. I thought the 51 sacks Stafford swallowed with the Bears were a lot, but behind Denver’s shoddy o-line, the high mark was set: 83 sacks.
Record: 1-15—worst record in the NFL.
Stafford’s stats: 290 of 482, 3,315 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 83.1 passer rating.
What happened: If you know me, the AFC team I root for is the Browns because I really love to loathe in self-pity, so this was one of the simulations I was looking forward to the most—even if I knew it had a high probability of having a no-good, terrible ending. This is an accurate explanation of how every NFL starts for me.
Stafford and the Browns were still putrid and my life remains forever enveloped in misery and disappointment.
Stafford’s stats: 314 of 526, 3,905 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 90.3 passer rating.
What happened: The Buccaneers missed the playoffs after dropping their final two games in a row to finish second to the eventual NFC South Champions: the New Orleans Saints.
Looking at both the individual numbers and team statistics, how Tampa Bay managed to miss the playoffs is a bit of a head-scratcher. Stafford put up some pretty pedestrian numbers, but his backfield combined for over 2,000 rushing yards—Doug Martin finished fifth among running backs in rushing (1,484 yards) on just 307 carries. Tampa Bay’s defense was rather stout as well, giving up the seventh-fewest points in the league (381) and forcing the fifth-most turnovers (31).
Stafford’s stats: 345 of 511, 4,113 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 100.8 passer rating.
What happened: No Carson Palmer? No problem. Among qualifying quarterbacks, Stafford finished in the top ten in a bunch of categories: completion percentage (4th), passing yards (10th), passing touchdowns (5th) and passer rating (8th). While he was a little turnover happy, the Cardinals still managed to lock up a Wild Card Round matchup with the Seahawks, the winners of the NFC West.
And they won! The Cardinals scored 15 points in the final quarter to come from behind and grab Stafford his first playoff win. Stafford had maybe his most boring performance—20 of 28 for 235 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions—and the hero of the game was... Andre Ellington? 16 carries for 51 yards and 4 touchdowns.
In the Divisional Round, the Cardinals met the Packers and league MVP Aaron Rodgers... and Stafford absolutely lit up the Green Bay secondary—29 of 40, 373 passing yards, 4 passing touchdowns and a couple of interceptions—en route to a 47-35 victory.
Still, we’re seven teams in and two playoff victories for Matthew Stafford. Not too bad considering we got the Bears out of the way.
San Diego Chargers
Stafford’s stats: 325 of 514, 3,764 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 94.2 passer rating.
What happened: If there’s a team in the NFL that wished they could turn off injuries, it’s the Chargers. In 2016, San Diego finished 31st in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost (AGL), a statistic that quantifies how much a team is affected by injuries.
With injuries toggled off for this exercise, the Chargers had the 2016 season they had hoped for, finishing second in the AFC West and earning a playoff berth as a wild card. The Chargers were paced by their dominant defense, which finished near the top of the league in yards allowed (5th) and 32 takeaways (4th).
With that in mind, Stafford played a pretty safe brand of football in southern California, limiting his turnovers—San Diego finished 4th in takeaway differential with a +17—and leaning on his running game for support—San Diego’s 2,069 total rushing yards ranked 7th in the NFL.
In their first round matchup, the Chargers defense and Stafford made short work of the Bengals, beating them 24-14.
Awaiting them in the Divisional Round were the New England Patriots and here’s an actual quote from virtual Mike McCoy on how this game went:
We stunk. We stunk and they whooped us. I... what else is there? That’s why we lost.
Virtual McCoy isn’t much of a wordsmith, but he wasn’t lying: the Patriots won 42-30. Despite Tom Brady playing like a normal, regular ol’ human being—27 of 42 for 286 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception—Stafford was sacked 7 times in the game. Virtual Stafford can’t wait to get to Dallas.
Stafford’s stats: 310 of 498, 3,887 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 93.6 passer rating.
What happened: The Chiefs got worse when they lost Alex Smith, that’s what happened. I swear, the first thing I’m going to do when I load up Madden 18 is cut Smith and play 16 games as Patrick Mahomes. No one will stop me from throwing for 6,000 yards and 60 scores.
Stafford led an average offense (15th in offensive yards) while the Chiefs defense finished atop the league. Kansas City gave up the fewest rushing yards per game (98.1) and the fourth-fewest amount of points.
The Chiefs snatched a spot in the playoffs, barely squeaking in by winning five of their last six games. Once in the playoffs, they demolished the Bengals 41-17, who seem to get obliterated in the first round in every simulation.
“EA Sports: If it’s in the game, it’s in the game.”
A date with the Bills awaited the Chiefs in the Divisional Round, but Kansas City wouldn’t get that “Can’t wait to see you again!” text from the playoffs—losing 35-24 after giving up 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Stafford’s stats: 327 of 542, 3,978 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 88.4 passer rating.
What happened: I’ll tell you what happened: Virtual Stafford had more #QBWINZ than the real Andrew Luck.
Overall, though, still no playoffs for the Colts—as if that was ever in question.
Stafford’s stats: 431 of 649, 5,076 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, 19 interceptions, 95.7 passer rating.
What happened: First things first, it was an accomplishment in and of itself that Stafford earned the starting job in Dallas. After an intense camp battle with former Lions great and the pride of all those potato farmers, Kellen Moore, Stafford emerged from the wreckage as the starter.
And finally, someone took the figure out the packaging! When you’re advertised as having “rocket arm action,” it’s nice when someone decides to use it. Yeah, the Cowboys won fewer games, so what? The Stafford-led ‘Boys still had the No. 1 offense in the league.
Oh, he also went into Lambeau, sonned Aaron Rodgers and won 31-28 to advance to the Divisional Round. I’m just saying, I didn’t see Dak Prescott beat the Packers in the playoffs last season... Talk your shit, Virtual Matthew:
The following week, the Giants pinned 52 on the Cowboys and bounced them from the playoffs because why not?
Stafford’s stats: 321 of 465, 3,694 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 104.3 passer rating.
What happened: When I was trying to get Matthew Stafford onto Miami’s roster, it was a five-minute ordeal, and that’s opposed to nearly every other team where it was as simple as flipping a light switch. Their team is a disaster when it comes to the salary cap. Signing Suh didn’t screw the Miami Dolphins; the Dolphins screwed the Dolphins, and I have no sympathy whatsoever for the Dolphins.
Stafford’s stats: 308 of 502, 3,871 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 90.8 passer rating.
What happened: Turning off the injuries may have been a deathblow to the Eagles running game because that means they got 16 games out of Ryan Mathews.
In showbiz, that’s a little thing called self-deprecating humor.
Stafford’s stats: 301 of 464, 3,693 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 94.1 passer rating.
What happened: A pretty consistent theme emerging from these simulations so far is how Stafford-led teams are either slightly below or above .500; outside from the disaster that was the Browns run through, everything has been right around average.
Anyway, Stafford was once again tasked with going into Green Bay to take on Rodgers, and, once again, he slayed the beast. We’re talking 25 of 31, 261 passing yards and 3 touchdowns in Lambeau. If nothing is accomplished out of this research, we’ve at least created enough juju for this to scenario to bear itself out in real life.
It’s one and done in the playoffs for No. 9 after yet another simulation. I’m starting to get antsy to see if we’re going to reach a Super Bowl...
Stafford’s stats: 232 of 424, 2,411 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 59.5 passer rating.
What happened: Chip Kelly deserved to be fired and I hope he burns in virtual hell for what he did to Matthew Stafford.
Seriously, this team lost in Week 14 to the New York Jets, 31-0. Zero points scored. None. Not even a goddamn cheap field goal once the second and third-string defenders entered to play that bend, but don’t break defense.
As an offense, this team averaged 10.4 points per game. Cleveland, the team that scored the second-fewest points per game, averaged a whole eight more points per game. Look me in my face and tell me Kaepernick doesn’t belong on an NFL roster.
New York Giants
Stafford’s stats: 356 of 537, 4,441 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 99.0 passer rating.
What happened: This Giants team was eighth in the league in yards on offense, but their defense, curiously enough, was ranked in the bottom half in both yards and points allowed. When I checked to see the ratings of some of their defensive players, it made sense. This roster build wasn’t particularly kind to Landon Collins (77 overall), Damon Harrison (81 overall) or Janoris Jenkins (85 overall).
Also, Ben McAdoo is still the coach who looks most likely to swindle you out of your paycheck because your car suddenly needs a new tie rod and catalytic converter.
Record: 9-7—AFC South Champions.
Stafford’s stats: 326 of 511, 3,727 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 97.2 passer rating.
What happened: Before the start of this season, I had to make a special exception; I had to make a change to reinvigorate this franchise with new life:
Of course, when it came time to select a playbook, I had to go with one that was an air raid attack. Durst and Stafford ended up bonding over more than just their affinity for wearing ball caps backwards.
Somehow, someway, with the 25th ranked offense and 17th ranked defense, the Jaguars won the AFC South and hosted a home playoff game against the 10-6 Pittsburgh Steelers... which they won 51-45 in OT.
When asked to comment on the victory, coach Durst had two words for the media: “My way.”
The next task? Head into Foxborough and beat the 14-2 Patriots in the Divisional Round. I’ll save you all the trouble: The Durst-led Jaguars just couldn’t keep up. I’m going to see this franchise through once I’m done running Virtual Stafford through the ringer. There’s potential here.
New York Jets
Stafford’s stats: 336 of 540, 3,790 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 91.2 passer rating.
What happened: Madden overrates the Jets every single year and this is a great example of that. Their defense almost carried them to the playoffs and Matt Forte had 1,363 rushing yards, good for second in the NFL.
Green Bay Packers
Stafford’s stats: 398 of 607, 4,561 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 95.1 passer rating.
What happened: This is my hell.
For this simulation, I simply swapped Stafford and Rodgers because masochism is a real thing. The Lions, fueled by their league MVP quarterback, went on to win the NFC North and make it to the NFC Championship game where they were narrowly edged out by the Seahawks.
The Packers, on the other hand, finished third in the NFC North behind an incredible season from Stafford. Yet another example why this world is cruel, unfair and bogus in general.
Stafford’s stats: 310 of 480, 3,697 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 89.9 passer rating.
What happened: Something else I’ve noticed in these simulations is when I replace a QB rated 90 overall or above with Stafford, the team suffers greatly.
New England Patriots
Record: 13-3—AFC East champions.
Stafford’s stats: 387 of 578, 4,586 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 97.1 passer rating.
Stafford’s stats: 350 of 540, 4,146 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 90.2 passer rating.
What happened: No running back averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry, but in the meantime, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper both eclipsed 90 receptions and 1,000 yards.
So basically, this isn’t Stafford’s fault. And it’s not Khalil Mack’s fault either—he had 21.5 sacks.
Record: 10-6—third place in NFC West, missed playoffs.
Stafford’s stats: 289 of 486, 3,477 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 85.3 passer rating.
What happened: I had an 8-8 joke all lined up for Stafford’s time with Jeff Fisher, but what in the world happened here? Only Fisher could find a way to have his team go 10-6 and miss the playoffs hahahahaha.
Stafford’s ho-hum numbers were offset by Todd Gurley having a pretty impactful season—1,555 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns on 362 carries.
The true story here is the Rams defense was absolutely suffocating. They gave up the fourth-fewest total yards to opposing offenses, the second-fewest rushing yards and had the fourth-most sacks (53) in the NFL. When I went to check the individual defensive players to see how the sacks were distributed... HOLY, WHAT THE $*%@
Also, we’re definitely not going to underrate how Stafford managed to keep Jeff Fisher employed through the entire season, and it looked as if management was interested in bringing him back for 2017. That’s basically a quasi-Super Bowl if you’re keeping track at home.
Stafford’s stats: 323 of 502, 3,896 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 98.6 passer rating.
What happened: Let it be known: Matthew Stafford is not nearly as elite as Joe Flacco.
Stafford’s stats: 322 of 495, 4,040 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 94.3 passer rating.
What happened: Washington’s offense was right around the league average in terms of yards gained and points scored, but their defense was almost near the bottom in both of the aforementioned categories—31st in yards allowed and 29th in points scored.
New Orleans Saints
Stafford’s stats: 371 of 554, 4,299 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 98.9 passer rating.
What happened: Replacing Drew Brees with Stafford in the Saints offense seemed like it would bring on some pretty gaudy numbers, but these aren’t nearly as impressive as what I was anticipating.
The chance for Stafford and the Saints to make the playoffs were put to rest when the Falcons eked out an overtime victory in Week 17. The Saints weren’t up 28-3 at any point in the game though, so it wasn’t too crushing of a defeat.
Stafford’s stats: 334 of 500, 4,290 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 98.3 passer rating.
What happened: Seattle tied with the Los Angeles Rams at 10-6, but with the Seahawks holding the tiebreaker, it was the 12th Man that made an appearance in the postseason. That’s literally the second time in less than 30 simulations where Jeff Fisher went 10-6 and missed the playoffs. There’s gotta be a flowchart embedded in some part of the game’s coding that looks like this:
Per standing operating procedure, the Stafford-led Seahawks were able to travel into Green Bay and bounce the Packers in the first round, but would lose to Dallas 38-31 in the Divisional Round.
Stafford’s stats: 354 of 527, 4,396 passing yards, 39 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 105.6 passer rating.
What happened: Those numbers pop. Set them next to Le’Veon Bell’s stats and the Steelers had one helluva offense with Stafford behind center.
- Bell: 287 carries, 1,581 rushing yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 14 rushing touchdowns. 36 receptions, 608 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns.
As an offense, the Steelers averaged 33.6 points per game, but that was second in the league: the Patriots scored 37.9 points per game. They had 7,457 total yards on offense. Absurd.
After a drubbing of the Texans at NRG Stadium in the Wild Card Round, the Steelers had to go play the offensive juggernaut known as New England. Brady had 52 passing touchdowns and threw for 5,106 yards. THE MAN IS BASICALLY 40.
Whatever, Ben lost to the Patriots last season and so did Virtual Matthew. This wasn’t as revealing as I wanted it to be, but I will say, the thought of Stafford having weapons like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, especially in this Jim Bob Cooter offense... yeesh.
Record: 10-6—AFC South champions.
Stafford’s stats: 358 of 559, 3,947 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 93.8 passer rating.
What happened: Hey, the Texans are better with a competent quarterback!
Two playoff wins for Stafford and the Texans until they lost to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game. Considering Virtual Andy Reid is tethered down by codes and clocks and shit, I’m sure Cyber Andy is much better at time management. And I’m sure the Chiefs would have done wonderful had I ever planned on simulating the Super Bowl in this franchise, but they gave up those 17 unanswered points to the Buffalo freakin’ Bills when I made Stafford the starter.
Record: 8-8—AFC South champions.
Stafford’s stats: 326 of 494, 3,777 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 92.6 passer rating.
What happened: The Titans defense was the only reason they made the playoffs.
The Titans defense showed up in the Wild Card Round, holding the Ravens to just 10 points.
In the second round, the Titans defense, or lack thereof, was the reason Tennessee didn’t advance past the Bengals.
I hate the AFC South.
Stafford’s stats: 323 of 528, 3,699 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 87.6 passer rating.
What happened: Cyborg AD won the rushing title with 1,592 yards. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry.
What did Stafford accomplish?
Over the course of 31 simulations in Madden NFL 17, Stafford put together quite the resume. He won 248 games, averaging out to exactly 8 wins per season. He won a total of 14 playoff games with 10 different teams: Cardinals, Chargers, Chiefs, Cowboys Falcons, Jaguars, Patriots, Seahawks, Steelers and Texans.
He won one Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, which was also where he posted his best regular season record (13-3).
His seasons most short of victories were with the Bears—surprise, surprise—and the Browns, where he was able to snatch up only one victory in each respective campaign.
What did we accomplish?
To be truthful, not a ton. I simulated 31 seasons of Madden, which didn’t seem like it would be too time-consuming but ended up being super time-consuming. You wouldn’t think it would take a whole weekend, but it did.
What I was most interested with in this experiment was to see how well the teams with good defenses and poor quarterbacking would improve by adding Stafford to the mix.
Since the rosters I used were from the beginning of 2016, the top ten defenses in DVOA from 2015 were from 1st through 10th in the following order: Denver (6-9-1), Carolina (9-7), Arizona (9-7), Seattle (10-6), the Jets (9-7), Kansas City (10-6), St. Louis (10-6), Houston (10-6), Green Bay (7-9) and Cincinnati (10-6).
From that crop of teams, by adding Matthew Stafford, the group as a whole finished with 12 more wins than they did with the quarterback that started for them regularly in 2016. The only teams who saw a negative impact on their actual win totals in 2016 from adding Stafford were the Packers—of course—the Broncos—lol, okay—and the Chiefs—sure, fine, whatever.
If you want to know my silver lining from all of this, I got to listen to my Ultimate Madden playlist on Spotify approximately 36 times, so go grab that and enjoy it as much as I do.