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Breaking Madden: The quest for a 4-12 playoff team

The NFC South is horrible. It could be worse, and it will be worse. Let's blow it to Hell.

This season, there's a very good chance that we'll see a team wander into the playoffs with a losing record. It's only happened once before over the course of a full 16-game season, in part because the NFL's scheduling tendencies present a sort of safeguard against it. Each team plays six games against its division rivals, which automatically inflates the division's cumulative winning percentage by 12 wins.

To produce a division champ with a losing record, all four teams in the division must work very hard to be very bad against the rest of the league. This is what the NFC South has done in 2014.


Combined, these teams have a .229 winning percentage against the rest of the NFL. For comparison's sake, Washington's winning percentage as of this writing is almost exactly that (.231).

Consider how difficult it must be to assemble such a Bad Football Megazord. These are four different football solutions, sitting in four different test tubes hundreds of miles apart, with different players, coaches, game plans, philosophies and cultures, and -- presumably -- sitting at different places on the rebuilding/contending spectrum. Maybe they downshift a little to be only as good as they have to be, or maybe all the badness aligned at the right moment.

Let's help them out. The mission of this week's episode of Breaking Madden is to engineer the worst playoff team in the history of American football:

Music: "Free Bird," Lynyrd Skynyrd


We'll start the season over with versions of the Falcons, Buccaneers, Panthers and Saints that are even worse than their real-life counterparts. This will be a four-step operation.

1. We scuttle the offenses by creating eight of the most terrible quarterbacks the sport has ever seen: short, slow, weak-armed, oblivious, and brittle. That's one starting quarterback for each team, plus the requisite backup.

2. We lay waste to the kicking game by giving each team a horrible placekicker. They are just as bad as the quarterbacks, and their legs are barely strong enough to kick an extra point.

3. We edit all the real-life quarterbacks and kickers to make them running backs instead. The likes of Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Mike Glennon will be our stud backs. (I feared that Cam Newton would actually be a good running back, so I made him a center instead.) Aside from their positions, I changed absolutely nothing about them.

4. Now that we have all the running backs we need, we release all real-life running backs into free agency. The NFC South isn't really known for its elite running backs, but still, we don't need them clogging up the depth chart.

As for those miserable quarterbacks and kickers, I recruited them, as usual, via Twitter.

These are the 12 brave suckers we have ended up with.


Tell y'all what, they had some amazing stories. One person told me about their dad, who got crap-hammered and did donuts on a four-wheeler until he broke his leg. Another broke a church pew while moshing at a Christian rap show. One man witnessed a couple at a NASCAR block party leave their child in the custody of a random drunk man wearing a cape and no shirt. If stories such as these interest you, by all means:


All right. Let's crack open this shitty little division we've made. Sorry about the "we." I've just decided that you're complicit in this, is all.


What we have here is a five-foot-tall Panthers quarterback running a play action with Derek Anderson, our new 6'6, 31-year-old running back. Or maybe it's an actual handoff that failed? Hell, I don't know.


His running back is well past the line of scrimmage, and he's still trying to sell the handoff. Literally. He is trying to sell the ball, for sale, because his center bequeathed it to him and he has no idea of what to do with it. Can you buy the football in the middle of a play? I'm sure they would have written a rule against it if you weren't supposed to.

There's plenty more in the way of horrid quarterbacking to show you, and we'll get to that. First, though, I want to talk about Madden's artificial intelligence, and what it's making of all this nonsense. I want to make clear that in this episode, I never controlled any of the players, and I didn't really call any plays during the season, either. I just signed off on whichever play the game recommended.

So it was Madden's idea, and not mine, to punt inside the red zone.


This is a game that knows what shit smells like. It knew its field goal kicker was so untenably bad that it wouldn't trust him to kick a 35-yarder. And rightly so, because there was no way in Hell that was happening. Here, let me show you. To the practice field!


The Buccaneers' kicker, Danny Roes, is just like every other kicker of the NFC South, in that his field goals would be more accurate if he strapped a stick of dynamite to the ball, lit the fuse and ran away. This is actually a pretty impressive distance for these little guys. It stayed in the air for like 20 yards! In the wrong direction.

But back to that red zone punt. Is there really a line of code in this game that says, "punt at the opponent's 15 if X is true"? I doubt it. I think this is a case of Madden thinking independently, which it really shouldn't do, because this is dumb. It only presents any benefit at all if the punter can manage a coffin-corner, which he almost certainly can't and which I never saw a punter do, because punters have no practice coffin-cornering from 15 yards away, because NO ONE EVER DOES THIS. Instead, the dude just booted it out of the back of the end zone for a touchback, which just spotted the other team an extra five yards.

It's okay, Madden. You are full of awful ideas, but I can see the effort, and I appreciate it, and I want you to know that.

In order to end up with the worst division winner possible, it was important to ensure that these teams lost every game to teams outside the NFC South, but it was also crucial to the mission for these teams to be more or less equally bad. I didn't need one team running the table and picking up six gimme wins from its division rivals. I simulated about 10 seasons, pausing between each one to try to balance the scales. I'd do so by releasing Jimmy Graham, Julio Jones, and other star players, slowly but surely, until each team achieved a resting point of "horrible as Hell."

After enough tweaking, we hit the jackpot.


Ideally, of course, we'd have all four teams finish with an 0-10-6 record. To play through all those interdivisional games would probably make for a weeks-long project, and besides, a 4-12 division champion is plenty bad, even for my tastes. (We even had a tie! I did not watch that Saints-Panthers game, and I am glad I didn't.)

We did succeed in losing every game to every other team in the NFL. None of them were one-score losses, and only one of them was a two-score loss.


They just got clobbered, y'all. As you can see, the vast majority of their games were lost by four-score margins. About half of them were 40-point losses. That is what you ought to expect from teams that are quarterbacked by these poor people:


(A brief aside: The first names of my created players are usually "YOUR." The default name is always "YOUR NAME;" I only edit the last name because that's the one that shows up on the jersey. It's a rare time-saver within the Breaking Madden production process, and also it reads like the players are being introduced to me by a Vaudeville man.)

I really hope you're enjoying those stats. The game made them just for you. Please note in particular the statistics of one Justin McElroy, starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons: one touchdown, 29 interceptions. His team won the division.

Seven of these quarterbacks saw significant action. These are the footprints of a desperate, panicked artificial intelligence, I'll tell y'all what. Sure, switch to the other guy. He's the same guy. Oh, you're switching back to the first guy? Sure, do that. You are out of moves. Video game, play thyself.

The rushing numbers are even funnier.


HOW THE HELL DID THE FALCONS WIN THIS DIVISION? Their quarterback was impossibly bad, and they rushed for negative-three yards over the course of the entire season. Noted running back Matt Ryan rushed for 43 yards on 90 attempts, good for about 0.5 yards per carry.

But hey, let's see how the rest of the quarterbacks did! Drew Brees had 42 yards on 29 carries ... oh, hey, Luke McCown had 355 yards on 1.6 per carry! Not too bad! I mean, it is too bad, but he's who passes for good around here. Oh, you know who probably did pretty well? Mike Glennon. At 6'7, he's one big ol' drink o' water. Bet he could move those chains. Let's take a look at hisOH MY GOD


Mike Glennon, how the shit did you do that? How did you take the ball 100 times for five yards? Come with me, Mike. We're not doing anything else until we take you to the practice field.


All right.


Okay, okay, yeah. I get it. We're good, Mike.


Our Atlanta Falcons are going to the playoffs with a 4-12 record. A more reasonable system of governance would leverage executive authority to take the NFC South's playoff berth away from them and relegate them to college football, but this is the NFL, and this is Madden.

Late in the season, starting quarterback Justin McElroy was lost for the year to injury, leaving the equally brittle Dan Morris to lead the team into their wild card matchup with the 12-4 Dallas Cowboys.

Well, we made this big ol' pot of stew, and now the time has come to dump it on the floor. Godspeed you, NFC South. Set sail to a foreign realm, one that will love you. We all hate you here.

Music: "Saturday=Celebration" by Big K.R.I.T. feat. Jamie N Commons

Click here for many more episodes of Breaking Madden.