It may only be February and Super Bowl XLVI is over, but it's never too early to start thinking about the next installment of the John Madden Football franchise.
Up next is Madden '13, and with the 2012 NFL Draft and free agency in full beast-mode right now, fans get to vote for another cover athlete. In other words, start narrowing down the list as each day passes.
According to Owen Good of Kotaku.com, for a second straight year the cover is going to be determined by the fans:
At Madden Bowl XVIII, EA Sports' Anthony Stevenson just announced that the cover athlete for Madden NFL will be voted on by fans for a second year. This year's field will be doubled to 64 candidates, and the first round of voting will be a "play-in" round pitting NFL teammates against each other to determine their franchise's representative in the second round through to the finals.
Good also provides a prediction list of his 64 candidates that may be the pool of players to choose from:
A team's best, highest or most decorated player—Eli Manning or Tom Brady, for example—may not be on this list. That's not its purpose. We're trying to guess who EA Sports has nominated, considering that if that person wins out, the two sides must be able to agree to some kind of contract terms.
Some notable players that Good mentions are Darrelle Revis, Arian Foster, Maurice Jones-Drew, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton.
Looking back on the 2011 NFL season, though, the Madden cover-athlete race can easily be dwindled down to two players: Cam Newton and Tim Tebow.
Newton threw for over 4,000 yards and scored 35 total touchdowns as a rookie and No. 1 overall pick. So the level of pressure he was under to perform is miraculous, especially after everything he went through during his final collegiate season.
Plus, the Panthers finished a strong 4-2, and thanks to Newton, veteran receiver Steve Smith's career has been revived.
As for Tebow, his late-game heroics on top of the Denver Broncos winning a playoff game is more than enough. Tebowmania engulfed not only the NFL but also the sports universe all over.
After starting out 1-4, Denver gave Tebow the green light and Denver finished 8-8, winning the AFC West. Then, a victory over the defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers (in overtime, no less) in the Wild Card Round exploded even more recognition.
If we're taking a snapshot of the most recent NFL season and the criteria consists primarily of who made the biggest impact on and off the field, it's Newton and Tebow.
From marketing purposes, search engine optimization, fantasy football, debating and shear amazement, it was remarkable at what these two young quarterbacks provided pro football. And having one or both on the cover of Madden '13 would only increase the legendary game's popularity.
John Rozum on Twitter.