There are two types of football video games. Some, like EA Sports’ Madden series, go to far lengths to painstakingly recreate every aspect of the game, dealing in the mundane to offer an authentic experience.
Others, like the legendary NFL Blitz ’99, run purely on button-mashing excitement.
Blitz was Midway’s ode to the best parts of football. The game distilled the NFL to its basest points, eschewing the run game, turning off penalties, and trimming rosters to eight players — only five of whom actually counted for anything. The loosely based simulation took franchises and boiled them down to five players: a quarterback, a running back, two wide receivers, and a tight end. While each team had a defense built to reflect its real-life model, each squad played roughly the same when it came to stopping 45-yard Ryan Leaf bullet passes downfield.
With a nearby retro arcade doing God’s work and putting Blitz back into the lives of Wisconsinites, one question became clear: Which NFL team would create the best, sort-of-football roster? Whose five-man offenses would reign supreme in a game boiled down to speed and deep balls? Which franchise offers the most exciting product?
With the NCAA men’s basketball tournament rounding into shape, a bracket seemed the perfect way to crown a winner.
Like NFL Blitz, winning will rely solely on who can pull off the most ridiculous plays. Defense doesn’t matter, just the star ratings of each team’s five most important skill players. Victors typically come down to who can run “Da Bomb” to perfection. Athleticism, speed, and passing are key. Blocking, run games, and injury concerns are not.
The NFL’s 32 teams allow for a tidy bracket, and this year’s draft order provides a handy seeding chart. Each team was considered as it currently stands — which means the Patriots get the luxury of Brandin Cooks as a wideout while the Jets have to roll with Bryce Petty at quarterback. The first round of the tournament sports a few blowouts at the top of the bracket — but things get pretty interesting once you speed past the first six seeds.
Matchup 1: No. 1 New England Patriots vs. No. 32 Cleveland Browns
|QB||Tom Brady||QB||Cody Kessler|
|RB||James White||RB||Isaiah Crowell|
|WR||Julian Edelman||WR||Corey Coleman|
|WR||Brandin Cooks||WR||Kenny Britt|
|TE||Rob Gronkowski||TE||Gary Barnidge|
Even without a No. 1 tailback locked in, the Patriots have the advantage at every position; adding Cooks was the icing on the cake. Tom Brady and four pass-catching athletes who can roast defenders make New England well deserving of its No. 1 seed.
Winner: Patriots. Not even Blitz ’99’s patented “no blowouts” algorithm could keep this game close.
Matchup 2: No. 2 Atlanta Falcons vs. No. 31 San Francisco 49ers
|QB||Matt Ryan||QB||Brian Hoyer|
|RB||Devonta Freeman||RB||Carlos Hyde|
|WR||Julio Jones||WR||Pierre Garcon|
|WR||Mohamed Sanu||WR||Jeremy Kerley|
|TE||Austin Hooper||TE||Vance McDonald|
This game would be as ugly as the first 2.5 quarters of Super Bowl 51. The 49ers did work to add some talent this offseason, but still get smoked by one of the NFL’s scariest offenses.
Matchup 3: No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. No. 29 Chicago Bears
|QB||Ben Roethlisberger||QB||Mike Glennon|
|RB||Le'Veon Bell||RB||Jordan Howard|
|WR||Antonio Brown||WR||Cameron Meredith|
|WR||Eli Rogers||WR||Kevin White|
|TE||Jesse James||TE||Zach Miller|
With Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers may just be the most Blitz-friendly team in the NFL. Bell immediately benefits from the lack of league suspensions in a video game, while Brown plays like someone is holding down his turbo button non-stop in the first place. Though the roster drops off behind them, it’s enough to hold off the talent-starved Bears.
Matchup 4: No. 4 Green Bay Packers vs. No. 29 Jacksonville Jaguars
|QB||Aaron Rodgers||QB||Blake Bortles|
|RB||Ty Montgomery||RB||T.J. Yeldon|
|WR||Jordy Nelson||WR||Allen Robinson|
|WR||Randall Cobb||WR||Marqise Lee|
|TE||Martellus Bennett||TE||Marcedes Lewis|
The NFL’s strongest arm vs. a man gunning for Matt Schaub’s crown as the league’s pick-six king. NFL Blitz allowed you to run 50 yards backward to your own end zone in order to uncork a 110-yard bomb downfield. With Rodgers, that’s not an egregious exaggeration.
Matchup 5: No. 5 Dallas Cowboys vs. No. 28 Los Angeles Rams
|QB||Dak Prescott||QB||Jared Goff|
|RB||Ezekiel Elliott||RB||Todd Gurley|
|WR||Dez Bryant||WR||Tavon Austin|
|WR||Cole Beasley||WR||Robert Woods|
|TE||Jason Witten||TE||Tyler Higbee|
Behold! The most lopsided matchup in the Blitz Bracket!
Winner: Cowboys, in a game so unfair the arcade cabinet crumples in upon itself once these two teams are chosen.
Matchup 6: No. 6 Kansas City Chiefs vs. No. 27 New York Jets
|QB||Alex Smith||QB||Bryce Petty|
|RB||Spencer Ware||RB||Matt Forte|
|WR||Tyreek Hill||WR||Eric Decker|
|WR||Chris Conley||WR||Quincy Enunwa|
|TE||Travis Kelce||TE||Austin Seferian-Jenkins|
The Chiefs are primed for an upset, but the talent-starved Jets aren’t the team to give it to them. New York’s skill positions should be declared a Superfund site. Kansas City may not be long for a tournament that hinges on excitement with Alex Smith at quarterback, but he’s still light years better than Bryce Petty.
Matchup 7: No. 7 Seattle Seahawks vs. No. 26 San Diego Chargers
|QB||Russell Wilson||QB||Philip Rivers|
|RB||Eddie Lacy||RB||Melvin Gordon|
|WR||Doug Baldwin||WR||Tyrell Williams|
|WR||Tyler Lockett||WR||Keenan Allen|
|TE||Jimmy Graham||TE||Antonio Gates|
Blitz’s lack of injuries really benefits the Chargers here, who get full-strength versions of Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon, and Antonio Gates. While the Seahawks have a solid team, this looks like our first upset of the bracket.
Winner: Chargers, thanks to a ballsy, nigh-unstoppable two-point conversion as time runs out.
Matchup 8: No. 8 Houston Texans vs. No. 25 Carolina Panthers
|QB||Tom Savage||QB||Cam Newton|
|RB||Lamar Miller||RB||Jonathan Stewart|
|WR||DeAndre Hopkins||WR||Kelvin Benjamin|
|WR||Will Fuller IV||WR||Devin Funchess|
|TE||C.J. Fiedorowicz||TE||Greg Olsen|
The question here is whether DeAndre Hopkins has the attributes to pull his team to victory. Against a lesser opponent, sure — but a mobile quarterback like Newton is just too dangerous in a game like Blitz, and these Texans aren’t equipped for a shootout.
Matchup 9: No. 9 Oakland Raiders vs. No. 24 Cincinnati Bengals
|QB||Derek Carr||QB||Andy Dalton|
|RB||Jalen Richard||RB||Jeremy Hill|
|WR||Amari Cooper||WR||A.J. Green|
|WR||Michael Crabtree||WR||Brandon LaFell|
|TE||Clive Walford||TE||Tyler Eifert|
When reflecting on Cincinnati’s impressive streak of postseason disappointments, it’s easy to overlook just how boring its roster is. The Bengals have just one exciting playmaker on the roster (Green), which makes them Blitz anathema.
Matchup 10: No. 10 New York Giants vs. No. 23 Buffalo Bills
|QB||Eli Manning||QB||Tyrod Taylor|
|RB||Paul Perkins||RB||LeSean McCoy|
|WR||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||Sammy Watkins|
|WR||Brandon Marshall||WR||Philly Brown|
|TE||Will Tye||TE||Charles Clay|
Running backs weren’t vital in the Blitz universe, which bails out a New York offense that ranked 29th in rushing yards last season. The Bills have a lot of talent here, but ultimately the receiver duo of Beckham Jr. and Marshall is enough to help the Giants squeak by in an Empire State showdown.
Winner: Giants, but not by much.
Matchup 11: No. 11 Miami Dolphins vs. No. 22 New Orleans Saints
|QB||Ryan Tannehill||QB||Drew Brees|
|RB||Jay Ajayi||RB||Mark Ingram|
|WR||Jarvis Landry||WR||Michael Thomas|
|WR||DeVante Parker||WR||Willie Snead|
|TE||Julius Thomas||TE||Coby Fleener|
These two rosters are ready-made for the Blitz universe. Dynamic receivers and bruising tailbacks anchor two explosive offenses that can move the chains with big plays. However, in a game where the passing game is 90 percent of victory, it’s tough to deny Drew Brees, who is destined to throw for 7,000 yards in his age-53 season.
Winner: Saints. Sorry, Dolphins. You’re better than a first-round exit.
Matchup 12: No. 12 Detroit Lions vs. No. 21 Philadelphia Eagles
|QB||Matt Stafford||QB||Carson Wentz|
|RB||Ameer Abdullah||RB||Ryan Mathews|
|WR||Golden Tate||WR||Alshon Jeffery|
|WR||Marvin Jones||WR||Jordan Matthews|
|TE||Eric Ebron||TE||Zach Ertz|
Philadelphia’s work to bring in wide receivers this offseason did wonders for its five-man offensive profile. Alshon Jeffery will be available every game in this universe, which swings his signing from high-risk, high-reward venture into slam dunk territory. Matthew Stafford will make this a game, but ultimately the Eagles’ edge at wide receiver makes this a win for the birds.
Matchup 13: No. 13 Denver Broncos vs. No. 20 Arizona Cardinals
|QB||Trevor Siemian||QB||Carson Palmer|
|RB||Devontae Booker||RB||David Johnson|
|WR||Demaryius Thomas||WR||Larry Fitzgerald|
|WR||Emmanuel Sanders||WR||JJ Nelson|
|TE||Virgil Green||TE||Jermaine Gresham|
The Broncos have two awesome receivers and little else. The Cardinals have David Johnson, who would be a borderline superhero in the Blitz universe. Defense wins championships, but not so much in a video game where your most effective strategy is just to call a field goal block every play.
Matchup 14: No. 14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. No. 19 Minnesota Vikings
|QB||Jameis Winston||QB||Sam Bradford|
|RB||Jacquizz Rodgers||RB||Latavius Murray|
|WR||Mike Evans||WR||Stefon Diggs|
|WR||DeSean Jackson||WR||Adam Thielen|
|TE||Cameron Brate||TE||Kyle Rudolph|
Two fun teams here with talented receiving corps, but the Vikings can’t match the athleticism and excitement Tampa Bay brings to the table. Minnesota has some playmakers, but the Jackson-Evans combination is a match made in arcade heaven.
Matchup 15: No. 15 Tennessee Titans vs. No. 18 Indianapolis Colts
|QB||Marcus Mariota||QB||Andrew Luck|
|RB||DeMarco Murray||RB||Frank Gore|
|WR||Rishard Matthews||WR||T.Y. Hilton|
|WR||Tajae Sharpe||WR||Phillip Dorsett|
|TE||Delanie Walker||TE||Jack Doyle|
A game where defense doesn’t matter and blocking is superfluous is what the Colts have been preparing for the past three seasons. Tennessee, your receiving corps; woof.
Matchup 16: No. 16 Washington vs. No. 17 Baltimore Ravens
|QB||Kirk Cousins||QB||Joe Flacco|
|RB||Rob Kelley||RB||Terrance West|
|WR||Jamison Crowder||WR||Mike Wallace|
|WR||Terrelle Pryor||WR||Breshad Perriman|
|TE||Jordan Reed||TE||Dennis Pitta|
Two staid quarterbacks surrounded by a lot of what-ifs. What if Terrelle Pryor really is a No. 1 receiver who just needed someone other than the Browns’ cast of Scooby-Doo monsters throwing him the ball? What if Breshad Perriman could live up to his status as a 2015 first-round pick? And, most importantly, would we care about Rob Kelley as much if his nickname weren’t “Fat Rob?”
Ultimately, Washington’s slightly better receiving corps carries it to a close win.
There’s round one of the Blitz bracket, which featured a handful of surprises but no major upsets among the top six seeds. Playoff teams like the Texans and Seahawks are going home early, and upgraded franchises like the Eagles and Buccaneers suddenly look stronger. Here’s how the tournament looks through its opening series.
That leaves some interesting matchups like a showdown between Drew Brees and — sigh — Alex Smith, a chance to stack the Eagles’ new acquisitions against their powerful NFC East rivals, and a game between two quarterbacks forever intertwined — Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. But which team will prove to be the NFL’s most exciting and take down the Blitz Bracket crown? We’ll learn more in the second round.