EA Sports and the Madden franchise are no different than the rest of us, using the boring legal speak and lockout garbage flooding the news waves to promote a "Madden Bracket," which pits the "chosen one" from each of the 32 NFL teams against each other. One final winner will grace the game's new cover, to be issued this coming August.
Madden's "Unlucky Final Four," as I like to call it, consists of Super Bowl MVP and winner Aaron Rodgers, Comeback Player of the Year Michael Vick, the league's best running back Adrian Peterson and Cleveland's own Peyton Hillis, who is also known as "The Great White Rhino."
Even a quick glance at past cover players suggest that a "curse" associated with the Madden cover may in fact exist.
Every player that has been on a Madden cover in the past 10 years has dealt with some type of injury or plight, or has played poorly within 1-2 years of being named the cover player for their respective season.
So, here's the quick analysis before we get into what's immediately at hand:
2011 Cover - Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
No, he didn't go down with an injury, and yes, he still posted solid stats. However, there's no denying the fact that the normally cool and accurate Brees tossed a career-high 22 interceptions while his reigning-champion Saints fell to the supposedly lowly Seattle Seahawks in the opening round of this past year's NFL Playoffs.
Add the fact that Brees reportedly went through much of the season on one good knee, and it's safe to say he wasn't exactly "himself" in 2010.
This was the cover with a major star from each of the previous season's Super Bowl teams, marking the first time the gaming franchise placed two NFL stars on their game cover.
EA has never put too much stock in the "myth of the curse", but perhaps this was their way of trying to calm the storm by putting up two guys, lessening the chances of having an injured or poorly performing cover boy.
Well, that only about half-worked. Troy Polamalu endured a season ravaged by injury, as he only made five starts, and his Steelers went 9-7 and missed the playoffs the year after winning it all. Easily said, 2009 was not a year to remember for this particular Madden-donning star.
Larry Fitzgerald faired much better, but his numbers were arguably down still, averaging a career-low 11.3 yards per catch and totalling just 1,092 yards despite bringing in 99 passes.
I may be reaching a bit, though. Fitzgerald stayed healthy and still had a productive season. However, one could argue that the curse lingered until last season, when he scored a career-tying low six touchdowns with a slew of scrub quarterbacks.
2009 Cover - Brett Favre (Green Bay Packers/New York Jets)
This was the first stint with Favre retiring. It didn't last, and Favre was traded to the New York Jets, where he actually played exceptionally well through the first 11 games until he tore his biceps and threw just two touchdowns to nine picks down the stretch. The Jets went 1-4 over the final five games and ended up missing the playoffs, capping yet another awful season by a Madden cover player.
2008 Cover - Vince Young (Tennessee Titans)
Young didn't sustain a horrible injury and he wasn't lacking production in terms of winning football games. However, as an individual, his performance was all over the place in his sophomore season. He threw just nine touchdowns to 17 interceptions, while also losing three of nine fumbles on the season. Some who attest to the so-called curse dragging on would not have been shocked to see Young spiral out of control in his third season, when he was injured early in the year and eventually replaced by veteran Kerry Collins.
These are all different situations, players, and circumstances. And, like I've mentioned, Larry Fitzgerald did seem to escape his cover-donning unscathed. However, the others weren't so lucky.
The one major thing they had in common was appearing on this cover.
So, whether you want to admit there's something to it or not, you at least have to agree that this coincidence is quite odd.
With all that noted, let's take a quick look at the final four contestants for this year's cover and what life could be like for fantasy football owners everywhere in 2011 if any one of these guys dons the classic game cover.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers replaced the NFL's iron man, Brett Favre, yet had never missed a start until late in the 2010 season. While some may not want to admit it, Rodgers missing that game and ending his own start streak could potentially open the door to more injuries and more missed games. That alone isn't very logical, but the minute concussions come into play (an injury of which he sustained two of in 2010), then the NFL has to take extra measures to ensure player safety. This is probably even more true when you're talking about the quarterback position.
Rodgers is a statistical phenom, a Super Bowl MVP, and truly the new-age quarterback who can run enough to get the job done. He can kill you from anywhere else on the field with his cannon arm. He has a slew of weapons, an awesome system, and what looks to be a pretty solid offensive line.
However, the Packers have some age on that line, and should be facing a tougher schedule in 2011.
Rodgers could literally be one bad hit or concussion away from seeing a bright 2011 go up in flames. Of course, this could be said about any quarterback. So, with all things considered, if Rodgers is the eventual winner of the cover, we at NFL Soup declare him as the least likely to be swallowed up by the curse.
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Michael Vick is a highlight reel waiting to happen, but his playing style makes him a major injury risk. Vick can run all over defenses, but it's been well documented that he's not the greatest at taking hits, and he doesn't really protect himself from them very well, either. And we're just talking about him roaming in an open field. With the Eagles so-so offensive line protecting him, he still has the potential to get battered around simply by being a pocket passer.
Vick has been on this cover before, too. We didn't use Vick in our Madden cover curse breakdown, but we should point out that he played just five games during his Madden Cover 2004 year after breaking his leg during preseason action.
Vick is easily the player we're dubbing as the most likely to go down. Sadly, he'd probably be up for that label even if he doesn't win the cover.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Peterson is a beast. He is such an athletic freak that he can run through you, or he can burst right past you. However, even the freakish athletes are human. We all got a glimpse of the human Peterson last season, as he broke down a bit during the stretch run and even missed some game action.
2011 could be the perfect opportunity, unfortunately, for one of the league's most exciting stars to go down for an extended period of time. With a sketchy offensive line, suspect quarterback play, and a potentially grueling workload, Peterson's chances of getting hurt have to be on the rise.
Sure, his role for 2011 has to have fantasy owners everywhere salivating, but all that extra attention from defenses and work on those legs could also add up to a horrific scene.
As stated, Peterson is a beast. However, we say he is the second-most likely to go down behind Vick if he gets the cover.
Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland Browns
For a guy nobody really saw coming, Hillis had a huge season in 2010. Even after they saw him coming, they still couldn't quite believe it. Heck, the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens didn't see it coming or believe it, as Hillis ran over both teams, piling up 300+ total yards in two contests during the middle of the season.
While Hillis clearly broke down a bit near the end of the season, we're opting to give him a bit of a mulligan because he got through the first stretch of the season in fairly dominant fashion while playing with a rookie quarterback, a predictable offensive scheme and only a few playmakers around him. Every defense he faced knew he was getting the ball, yet he ended the season with 1,100+ rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on over four yards per carry.
After the initial stretch, Hillis was bogged down in the second half of the year. Rightfully so, because he had to face the likes of the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time while hampered with injuries.
So, why would anyone think he could do it all again in 2011?
Second-year running back Montario Hardesty will help lessen the load for Hillis a bit, while the draft and free agency could add some playmakers—something the Browns are clearly lacking. On top of that, Hillis could also benefit from an improved offensive scheme and a less predictable attack.
Overall, Hillis has to be a mild injury risk. At the same time, we've seen him gut it out through some injuries that many running backs just wouldn't dare attempt. He's as tough as they come, and with a little help and some change in his team's scheme, he should be able to stay healthy and remain productive. Hillis falls in line as the third most likely to go down if he lands on the Madden cover.
Ultimately, someone is going to get this thing, and all four players have their pros and cons that could lead to an argument based off of the logic that there "might be" a curse. The fact is, it's not really a curse if it just keeps happening.
It's not politically correct to talk about curses, but we're just trying to keep it real. If a guy who already has had issues with injuries appears on the cover (say, Michael Vick), it probably wouldn't be that illogical for you to avoid him when you're drafting your fantasy football team come this summer.
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