The world might be conspiring to give Peyton Manning his second Super Bowl ring, but — according to one increasingly trustworthy source — Cam Newton will steal the show at Super Bowl 50.
So says Madden NFL 16, at least. For the thirteenth straight year, EA Sports has simulated the Big Game using the latest version of its football video game franchise, and the results are in: Despite a spirited performance by old man Manning, the Panthers will beat the Broncos 24-20 to cap off their impressive season and bring the Vince Lombardi trophy to Charlotte for the first time.
EA’s simulation, this year run on an Xbox One, pits the computer against itself on the All-Madden difficulty setting using freshly updated rosters and stats. Madden NFL 16 produced a dramatic game punctuated by each team scoring in bunches and stepping up big defensively. Roll the highlights:
The Panthers went ahead early. Dangerous kick returner Ted Ginn Jr. did his thing with a huge run back, setting up a Cam Newton to Greg Olsen touchdown pass. Shutting down Denver’s offense, Carolina added a field goal, then poured it on when running back Jonathan Stewart rumbled into the end zone for another touchdown to end the half.
Down 17-0, Manning started puling the Broncos together for what was shaping up to be an all-time comeback. A TD toss to Emanuel Sanders, two field goals, and Denver’s stout defense turned the shutout into a 17-13 contest to end the third. Manning started the final quarter with another touchdown pass, this time to Demaryius Thomas, to make it 20 unanswered points.
Trailing 20-17, the Panthers would look to their own Pro Bowl QB for some last-minute heroics. Late in the fourth, Newton led the Panthers downfield and called his own number for a goal line TD rush. Manning’s last-ditch effort to steal victory from the jaws of defeat ended unceremoniously, and perhaps, symbolically: the clock simply ran out on the future Hall of Famer.
Newton’s performance — 19 of 26 for 216 yards with one TD and one interception — was good enough to earn him the Super Bowl MVP. Running back Jonathan Stewart scurried for 47 yards and a TD, while wideout Greg Olsen caught Newton’s only TD pass and tallied 79 total receiving yards. Cornerback Josh Norman came up huge defensively with six tackles and a big interception.
Manning had a pretty good game too, racking up 241 yards, two TDs and one interception on 21 of 37 passes. Six of those went to Thomas, who turned them into 98 yards and one TD. Manning’s other TD was one of five caught by Sanders for 65 yards. Denver cornerback Aqib Talib nearly matched Josh Norman with five tackles and a pick.
If rattling off these stats seems absurd, you didn’t pay attention to last year’s eerily accurate Madden prediction. Not only did Madden NFL 15 correctly pick the winner (Patriots) and final score (28-24), it nailed Tom Brady’s touchdown tosses (4), was just 27 yards off his passing yards (355 to 328) and was an astonishing three yards and one catch away from perfectly calling wide receiver Julian Edelman’s entire game. That’s bananas.
And that wasn’t a total anomaly. In 2009, Madden was just one point off the final score of Super Bowl XLIII and predicted the exact yardage of Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes. When Madden hits, it hits like a bus.
But it misses, too, and occasionally, it’s worse than your average bar drunk. In 2014, for instance, Madden lost its mind and picked the Broncos over the Seahawks by three. The final score? Seahawks, 43, Broncos, 8. The company made up for it by sticking Richard Sherman on the cover of the following year’s game, at least.
By and large, though, Madden’s got a track record any bookie would be proud of. Here’s a look back at the game’s Super Bowl prediction performance:
Madden: Patriots, 24, Seahawks, 21
Actual: Patriots, 24, Seahawks, 21
Madden: Broncos, 31, Seahawks, 28
Actual: Seahawks 43, Broncos, 8
Madden: Ravens, 27, 49ers, 24
Actual: Ravens, 34, 49ers, 31
Madden: Giants, 27, Patriots, 24
Actual: Giants, 21, Patriots, 17
Madden: Steelers, 24, Packers, 20
Actual: Packers, 31, Steelers, 25
Madden: Saints 35, Colts 31
Actual: Saints 31, Colts 17
Madden: Steelers 28, Cardinals 24
Actual: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23
Madden: Patriots 38, Giants 30
Actual: Giants 17, Patriots 14
Madden: Colts 38, Bears 27
Actual: Colts 29, Bears 17
Madden: Steelers 24, Seahawks 19
Actual: Steelers 21, Seahawks 10
Madden: Patriots 47, Eagles 31
Actual: Patriots 24, Eagles 21
Madden: Patriots 23, Panthers 20
Actual: Patriots 32, Panthers 29
Not too shabby! We’ll find out if Madden can drive its record to an impressive 10-3 this weekend.