Predicting football games can be a risky business. You have the sports-betting quacks who are intent on taking your money in exchange for lame "inside information" that rarely adds up to anything more than extended injury reports. You have the sports radio and television experts all making pronouncements on each team's "keys to the game," often contradicting each other in the process. And then you have us--the guys who watch fake football games played out by video game consoles and then report on them as if they were the real thing. The difference between us and those other guys is we're not here to rob you blind, because none of us has a clue as to what will happen in this weekend's AFC and NFC conference championship games.
Still, as this feature has progressed through the 2005 NFL playoffs, the simulation success rate in our games has been abnormally high. During the wild card weekend, for example, our round of simulated games (using Madden NFL 2005) went an astounding four for four, picking several upsets that actually came to fruition. Last weekend, we gave ESPN NFL 2K5 the chore of simulating the divisional round of the playoffs. The results: a two-for-four performance that saw the NFC predicted accurately, but missed the mark in both AFC games. Perhaps the developers in both games forgot to include the crucial Peyton Manning playoff-choking AI, which should surely be included in next year's EA NFL game.
Still, as we head into the AFC and NFC championship round, we're proud of our six-for-eight overall prediction performance. For this go-around, we've pitted Madden NFL 2005 and ESPN NFL 2K5 against each other, using both games to simulate the weekend's conference championship matchups. While both titles were in agreement about the outcome of one of Sunday's games, they were split right down the middle on the other. Read on for all the details!
ESPN NFL 2K5
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
After years of coming up short in the playoffs, Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles made it to Super Bowl XXXIX by beating the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game 30-20. Fans saw a game rife with mistakes on both sides of the ball, as the Eagles committed six turnovers, throwing three interceptions to Falcons safety Etric Pruitt alone. But Philly's running game, lead by a dominating 185-yard performance by running back Brian Westbrook, ultimately proved to be too much for Atlanta.
The first half belonged entirely to Philadelphia, as the Eagles took the lead early after linebacker Sheldon Brown intercepted a Michael Vick pass and ran it back for a touchdown. A subsequent touchdown pass to Philly receiver Todd Pinkston, on top of two David Akers field goals, put the Eagles up 20-0. The Falcons, looking for a spark before the half, found just that when cornerback Aaron Beasley scooped up a Donovan McNabb fumble and ran it into the end zone to put Atlanta on the board for the first time, 20-7.
The Falcons continued their surge in the second half, but not before Philly's Westbrook could break off an 85-yard touchdown run to once again put the Eagles up by 20. Atlanta answered back with a Peerless Price touchdown catch, the culmination of their first successful offensive series of the day. With two Jay Feely field goals, Atlanta brought the score to 27-20, closing within a touchdown of the Eagles, whose offense basically shut down after the half. The Eagles would hold on for the win after Akers nailed a field goal late in the fourth quarter to once again make it a two-score game. With no timeouts and a dwindling clock, the Falcons could do nothing but watch as time ran out on their playoff hopes.
Final Score: Eagles - 30, Falcons - 20
Player of the Game: Brian Westbrook - 29 rushes, 185 yards, 1 TD
New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
The New England Patriots dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers 41-17 to take yet another AFC championship trophy and move on to Super Bowl XXXIX. The Steelers, despite besting the Patriots in most statistical categories--including total yards, first downs, and time of possession--failed to convert several opportunities in the Patriots' red zone and committed a crippling four turnovers.
Both teams looked timid for most of the first quarter, managing only a touchdown apiece until, just before the end of the first quarter, New England struck with a touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady to Patriots all-purpose weapon Troy Brown, taking the lead 14-7. Brown would score again at the opening of the second half, miraculously grabbing a Brady bomb despite tight coverage by four Steeler defensive backs. The Pats then padded their lead with two successive Adam Vinatieri field goals, pushing the score to 24-7.
The Steelers proved they still had some fight left in them when, late in the third quarter, kicker Josh Reed nailed a 20-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh their first score of the second half. The Steelers' final points came from an unlikely source--receiver Lee Mays, who, up until his touchdown reception, had been silent for the entire game. Speaking of unlikely scoring sources, the Patriots answered right back on a 60-yard touchdown pass to fullback Patrick Pass to extend their lead to 34-17. Adding insult to the Steelers' injury on their way to the Super Bowl, the Patriots grabbed one more score when Asante Samuel (still nursing a rib injury sustained earlier in the game) intercepted a desperation pass from Ben Roethlisberger and ran it back for a game-ending touchdown.
Final Score: Patriots - 41, Steelers - 17
Player of the Game: Tom Brady - 20-36, 297 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT
Madden NFL 2005
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
What started out as a defensive struggle in the first half became a battle of kickers in the second, as the Philadelphia Eagles outlasted the Atlanta Falcons to take the NFC conference championship 32-23. Philly fans braving the cold weather at Lincoln Financial Field didn't find any warmth during the first quarter, which saw six consecutive punts and a missed field goal by the Eagles' David Akers. The fans' misery continued when the Falcons drew first blood early in the second quarter on a 45-yard Jay Feely field goal. Later in the second quarter, the Eagles answered back with three field goals of their own. NFC championship MVP Lito Sheppard also picked off Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and ran back the interception for a touchdown to put Philly up 16-3 just before halftime.
As the second half began, the Falcons stormed out of the gate with a host of offensive adjustments that left the Eagles defense out of sorts. Another field goal by Feely, plus a quick touchdown pass from Vick to star tight end Alge Crumpler, put Atlanta within a field goal of their opponent. Philly finally found their offensive stride in the second half and managed another Akers field goal to go up 16-13, but the lead would not be held for long. The Falcons took their second lead of the game on a huge touchdown reception by Peerless Price that saw him burn the Eagles secondary with his blistering straight-line speed.
In the fourth quarter, Atlanta padded their lead with another Feely field goal to go ahead 23-19. On the strength of a 35-carry, 91-yard performance on the ground by Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, Philly was able to successfully convert two field goals of its own, to regain the lead 25-23. While the final field goal gave the Eagles all the points they needed to win, a Todd Pinkston touchdown reception late in the game, followed by a fumble recovery runback for a touchdown by Nate Wayne, were exclamation points on the Eagles' successful bid for the Super Bowl.
Final Score: Eagles - 38, Falcons - 23
Player of the Game: Lito Sheppard - 6 tackles, 2 INT, 1 TD
New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
What many fans thought would be a defensive struggle ended up being a shootout, as the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the New England Patriots to claim the AFC conference championship trophy. The Steelers were led by the sturdy legs of AFC championship MVP Duce Staley, who would end the day with 173 total yards and three touchdowns.
The seesaw battle began early in the first quarter, when New England quarterback Tom Brady--looking to exploit a mismatch between the speedy Pats receivers and the Steelers secondary--found a wide-open David Givens for a touchdown pass to put the Patriots up 7-0. The Steelers quickly answered with a touchdown strike from rookie quarterback sensation Ben Roethlisberger to Antwaan Randle El, and then added a Jeff Reed field goal. Successive touchdowns by Patriots receivers Troy Brown and Givens, plus an Adam Vinatieri field goal, put the Patriots in a comfortable position heading into halftime, up 24-10.
When the third quarter began, the Steelers' Duce Staley hit the ground running. The halfback scored easily on first and goal to bring Pittsburgh within a touchdown. On the team's next possession, Roethlisberger found Plaxico Burress for a touchdown pass that saw Burress break two tackles on his way to the end zone. Two more touchdowns by Staley put the Steelers up by two scores, 38-24, and gave Staley three touchdowns for the day.
Despite being down late, the Pats refused to give up, and Brady found receiver Deion Branch in the end zone to pull back within a touchdown of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for Pats fans, there wasn't enough time for New England to mount a comeback. Taking a knee a few times to run out the clock, the Steelers closed out the game and moved on to the Super Bowl.
Final Score: Steelers - 38, Patriots - 31
Player of the Game: Duce Staley - 30 carries, 158 yards, 1 reception, 15 yards, 3 TD
|Third Down Conversions||12-23||8-17|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0-2||0-0|
So there you have it. Both ESPN NFL 2K5 and Madden NFL 2005 like the Philadelphia Eagles' chances against the Atlanta Falcons. In the AFC championship game, Madden predicted a victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game defined by offense, while NFL 2K5 saw the New England Patriots win big at Heinz Field to once again advance to the Super Bowl.