The best part of sports video games is having unimpeded control over your situation. A vast majority of people who start up their Xbox Ones and PS4s on a daily basis aren't ever going to play professional sports or run an organization. We play video games, just like we play fantasy sports, to enter a fictionalized reality in which said things are possible.
Nowhere is that more the case than with the Madden NFL franchise, which will be released later this month on next-gen and current-gen consoles. Last year's iteration, Madden 25, gave fans more access than ever with the debut of Connected Franchise mode. Melding the classic Franchise mode along with the reintroduction of owner mode, Connected Franchise gave a first-person feeling to nearly every task.
It also gave game owners a chance to choose what type of player they were going to be. If winning the Super Bowl right away is your top priority, the Seattle Seahawks are right there. So are the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots.
Those also happen to be the least challenging and thus least fun teams to choose. The point of modes like Connected Franchise is building a winner over the long haul and sustaining interest; winning a Super Bowl in year one fast-forwards the process. Unless you grew up a fan of one of those elite franchises or are a 12-year-old—shout-outs to all the adolescent community—picking an elite franchise should come with public ridicule from all your friends.
Grown folks who play video games should be in it for the long haul. How else are we supposed to blow off steam from a job we hate or significant other who will not, for the life of me, stop yelling about the dishes?
With that in mind, let's take a look at some fun rebuilding projects for Connected Career mode.
How does a team with a near-perfect video game quarterback, an elite running back and one of the NFL's best deep threats sound? Pretty good, right?
Well, that's exactly what you get in Washington. Robert Griffin III will be among the quickest (if not the quickest) quarterbacks when the full ratings are released. The third-year signal-caller will probably wind up with low awareness, a high injury frequency and middling accuracy numbers, but the former two are often mitigated in user-controlled action.
Alfred Morris has rushed for 2,888 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first two seasons. Morris is one of just eight players in NFL history to rush for at least 2,800 yards over those two years. His most recent comp? Chris Johnson. The one before that? Adrian Peterson.
Not bad company.
Washington, though cash-strapped, also added DeSean Jackson in the offseason. After two years of Pierre Garcon being his only above-average receiver, Griffin now has three offensive weapons who are Pro Bowl caliber. The defense was below average last season and lost its best player in London Fletcher, but, again, we're talking about a video game.
Given Griffin's ability to avoid the rush, Morris' ability to hit holes and Garcon and Jackson making plays down the field, Washington has a fun little bunch. At the very least, you're one or two offseasons away from serious Super Bowl contention.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are a quarterback away from being very, very good. Though he was sensational in a limited sample last season, Josh McCown has more than a decade's worth of mediocrity on his NFL resume. Odds are, he'll be as shaky in the video game as he will in real life. Mike Glennon had a quietly decent rookie season, the keyword being "decent."
When the final ratings come out, McCown and Glennon will likely fall below the league median at quarterback. And that's unfortunate because the Bucs are pretty great everywhere else.
Doug Martin should be fully healed and back in the lineup following his lost second season. The Bucs also have two huge, elite deep threats in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. With an offensive line that should rate better than average, well, you're one strong draft class or free-agent quarterback acquisition away from building a top-five offense.
Lovie Smith's arrival in Tampa should also put the defense in the league's upper crust. Gerald McCoy is one of the best defensive tackles in football, Lavonte David is an excellent fit in the 4-3 and vastly underrated and Alterraun Verner is a 25-year-old elite cornerback on a cheap contract. Should 2013 second-round pick Johnthan Banks develop as expected, Smith will have a young and talented defense he can build around long term.
Quarterback is the most important position on the field. But Tampa might have the best all-around stable for a long-term franchise.
JFF. JFF. JFF.
Have you ever wanted to have all that encompasses Johnny Manziel without a single off-the-field distraction? Well, video games are your bag. There are no inflatable swans, Las Vegas bathrooms or bar tours with Drake in the Madden world. There is only Jonathan Paul Manziel, ridiculously talented football player who took the world by storm at Texas A&M.
Which, from a video game standpoint, is going to be pretty awesome.
Despite his diminutive size and quote-unquote character concerns, there are few inside the NFL who deny Manziel's talent. His improvisational skill are a video game's greatest friend, and his ability to make accurate throws from outside the pocket will help when plays break down.
In the Madden world, Josh Gordon also has no off-the-field issues to speak of. Regardless of whether the Pro Bowl receiver wins his appeal of the yearlong suspension handed down by the NFL, Gordon will be available to catch deep bombs virtually. (Note: It is possible that Gordon is removed from the game via a roster update at a later date if his suspension is upheld. For now, he's there for use.)
The Browns also have a considerable amount of talent on the defensive side. Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert have the potential to be the league's best one-two punch at cornerback if the 2014 first-round pick develops. Karlos Dansby also gives Cleveland a reliable tackler at the middle linebacker spot and Paul Kruger a solid outside pass-rusher.
But let's be real here. This is about JFF and wrecking the league together.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.