*Man vs. Machine is a weekly installment during the NFL season that pits a flawed human brain against the coding and algorithms of Madden 18.
The NFL’s opening weekend is in the books. A few bizarre results and ghastly quarterback performances have several fan bases scrambling. It all started with the Chiefs (and gunslinger Alex Smith?) handing a shocking loss to the Patriots. The Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals made the Jaguars and Ravens, two teams with tumultuous preseasons, look far better than imaginable only a few weeks ago. While I’ve managed to keep my head above water, Madden has quickly fallen into a hole. Granted, it turns out the simulation wasn’t completely insane for going with Chicago. Atlanta was a Jordan Howard drop away from starting the season with a panic-inducing loss. Let’s see what similar surprises are in store for week two.
Kownack Record: 9-6
Madden Record: 6-9
Week 1 Picks
Big Game Spotlight
There are legitimately a ton of intriguing games on the docket this week. It’s baffling who figures it out first Thursday Night between Houston and Cincinatti. Andy Reid squares off against the Eagles while Sean McVay’s former team will pay him a visit in Los Angeles. Plus, the Dolphins-Chargers game provides us with our first look at the Stubhub Center, a.k.a. Derek Zoolander’s football center for ants. Despite these storylines, a handful of matchups still outweigh them.
- Kownack: Vikings 23, Steelers 24 / Madden: Vikings 24, Steelers 31
My Take – Minnesota played their way into the Big Game Spotlight thanks to the offensive clinic Sam Bradford put on against New Orleans. Outscoring the Steelers away from home is a far more difficult task than shredding the NFL’s worst defense over the last three years. Minnesota is likely much better than many expected and slightly worse than the Saints made them look. The true test of their revamped offensive line comes this week against Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh can expect Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant to shake off the rust despite a less than ideal matchup. They come away victorious in a close one.
Madden’s Take – Madden is agreement with Le’Veon Bell breaking out after a ho-hum start to the season. Bell torched the Vikings defense for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Minnesota held Big Ben under 200 yards passing. Their offense could not muster a comeback despite outscoring the Steelers 10-0 in the 4th quarter. Sam Bradford threw three touchdowns for the second week in a row, but he also took five sacks and threw two picks.
- Kownack: Patriots 45, Saints 44 / Madden: Patriots 28, Saints 14
My Take – New England has averaged an 8th ranked scoring defense since Tom Brady became a starter. The team currently sits 29th in points and 30th in yards allowed. Tom Brady turning 40 is not the ideal time for the defense to go missing, although Brady had his share of struggles – especially throwing deep. Drew Brees ran up against an equally stingy defense in Minnesota. Both of them are likely licking their chops for a rebound performance. The game should be a shootout between two quarterbacks with a cumulative age of 78. The Patriots defense is more likely to bend. The Saints are more likely to break.
Madden’s Take – Although the simulation didn’t show the same utter disrespect for both teams’ defenses, the result is the same. Tom Brady righted the ship with three touchdowns. Two went to Cooks, who hauled in 10 receptions for 118 yards. Apparently the Patriots defense was playing possum week one. Malcolm Butler intercepted Brees three times. Stephon Gilmore rebounded from a shaky debut to add a fourth. Adrian Peterson may have yelled at Sean Payton more behind closed doors, because he led the team in carries for 86 yards. Mark Ingram and Coby Fleener accounted for New Orleans’ two scores.
- Kownack: Cowboys 17, Broncos 13 / Madden: Cowboys 34, Broncos 25
My Take – It might be a mistake to pick against Denver at home, but the Cowboys match up well as long as Ezekiel Elliot’s availability continues. Denver struggled against the run last year. Dallas is fine playing into that and limiting Dak Prescott’s responsibility. Sunday night showed the team’s ability to shut down Eli Manning. They likely do the same to Trevor Siemian in a low scoring affair.
Madden’s Take – Ezekiel Elliot had another 100-yard day and scored three times on the ground. Both quarterbacks had their shares of highs and lows. Dak Prescott threw two touchdowns and two interceptions. The fearsome Denver pass rush got to him four times. Trevor Siemian matched Prescott’s touchdown total but tallied three interceptions. Madden made sure to have some fun with it. Brock Osweiler was called upon due to a late game injury and threw for 33 yards. A scintillating performance.
- Kownack: Packers 28, Falcons 34 / Madden: Packers 24, Falcons 23
My Take – Green Bay is coming off a hard fought victory against Seattle in which their defense showed signs of life. They’ll require the same effort to have any chance at avenging their NFC Championship blowout against the Falcons. Atlanta won both games against Green Bay in 2016. It’s difficult to beat a quality team three consecutive times, but the Falcons benefit from the insane atmosphere that comes with opening a new stadium. Rodgers and company landed the unlucky role of playing in Minnesota’s week two home opener on Sunday Night last season. They lost. This matchup comes during the same week in the same time slot.
Madden’s Take – Although the Falcons amassed over 400 yards of offense and outpaced Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers led a 4th quarter comeback to spoil Atlanta’s first Sunday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Packers have an improved defense in the virtual world as well. They sacked Matt Ryan four times and held Julio Jones, a constant thorn in their side, to four catches and 50 yards. The simulation predicted Rodgers will throw an interception in consecutive weeks for the first time since week 10 of 2016, but he met little resistance other than that. The offensive line kept him upright for the whole game.
- Kownack: Lions 17, Giants 21 / Madden: Lions 34, Giants 28
My Take – Maybe the Giants really should pay Odell Beckham quarterback money. They should at least pay him more than Eli Manning if the front office is basing monetary compensation on value to the team. Manning looked ineffective without his number one option against a division rival. You have to figure the offense kicks it into a higher gear once Beckham returns to the field. Detroit will likely do what Detroit does and mount a 4th quarter comeback. New York’s defense will prove up to the challenge.
Madden’s Take – Madden agrees the Lions will require a 4th quarter comeback to eke out a victory, but they don’t see New York surviving the late push. Detroit outscored New York 9-0 in the 4th quarter to force overtime. Stafford kept up a hot start to the season with three touchdowns. Eli Manning only threw for 169 yards. Beckham accounted for 113 of them. There wasn’t much defense to speak of, but Ziggy Ansah did have two sacks.
NFL Survivor Pick
* Madden’s selection based on biggest margin of victory
Kownack: Raiders (vs. Jets) – As mentioned last week, the Jets opponent is always a tempting option in survivor pools. The Raiders should come away victorious without breaking much of a sweat. The Seahawks have a favorable matchup against the 49ers (seven game winning streak), but they have more obvious winnable games coming up than the Raiders do.
Madden: Seahawks (vs. 49ers) – Speaking of the Seahawks, Madden has them taking out their anger on the hapless 49ers. The slumbering offense woke up as Russell Wilson threw five touchdowns. The Legion of Boom held Brian Hoyer to a 179 yards and an interception in a 43-6 drubbing.
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