*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.
Here are a few of the things we learned in week two: People love to see the Patriots fail, and Tom Brady loves to make those same people eat their words. A matchup with the Saints defense was exactly what New England needed to quiet naysayers for a week. Fragile Sam Bradford is the MVP of the Minnesota offense. He made his case without logging a single throw this weekend. The Chargers could relocate to Mars, and they’d still find a way to lose games in heartbreaking fashion. It’s uncanny. The New York Giants’ offense is lackluster. Seattle’s offense is miserable. Cincinatti’s offense is worse than both. The Green Bay Packers have a boogeyman problem by the name of Julio Jones. Trevor Siemian is looking far better than Peyton Manning the year Denver won the Super Bowl, and his defense just held Ezekiel Elliot to eight rushing yards. Now, on to week three.
Kownack Record: 19-12
Madden Record: 17-14
Week 3 Picks
Side Note – I felt bold and brave picking the Cleveland Browns to win a game. That was before the simulation results were completed. Not only does Madden feel comfortable choosing the Colts, the game sees huge upsets for the Jets, Bills, Texans, and Chargers. Predicting that Deshaun Watson outduels Tom Brady with five touchdowns makes my Browns selection about as boring as taking the Golden State Warriors to repeat as NBA champs next season.
Big Game Spotlight
- Kownack: Falcons 31, Lions 17 / Madden: Falcons 32, Lions 40
My Take – Atlanta continues its three-week opening stretch against the NFC North. They’ll likely finish the string of games undefeated. After looking sluggish against the Bears, Atlanta put up big numbers against Green Bay in a one-sided affair that initially rivaled their NFC Championship Game victory. They led the Packers 31-7 a few seconds into the third before Rodgers and company managed to make it respectable. Ford Field won’t provide the Lions enough of a home field advantage to slow Matt Ryan. One less day of rest matters when facing an opponent like Atlanta.
Madden’s Take – Madden is buying into what the Lions are selling. Both quarterbacks posted three passing touchdowns during a neck and neck shootout. Eric Ebron had a monster game, leading all receivers with 11 catches and 136 yards. Sacking Matthew Stafford five times in the game wasn’t enough to prevent him from throwing for 430 yards. If this result holds true on Sunday, expect the Detroit hype to reach an all time high with an 87% chance of crashing and burning around week 13.
- Kownack: Buccaneers 19, Vikings 14 / Madden: Buccaneers 17, Vikings 32
My Take – As of Wednesday, Sam Bradford has a bone bruise and swelling that requires an injection. His reaction to treatment will determine whether or not he takes the field against Tampa Bay. If he’s missing, Minnesota almost certainly loses their second straight. Even if Bradford plays, he could be hobbled. No matter who lines up behind center, it’s not difficult to see Tampa Bay doing just enough to defeat Minnesota.
Madden’s Take – In two simulations (one with Bradford and one without), Madden has Minnesota taking both. When Bradford was plugged into the lineup, he had a more typical day compared to the mirage of destroying a hapless Saints defense. He was efficient but contained – 22 of 31 for 215 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Dalvin Cook led the way in both simulations, scoring two touchdowns regardless of who handed him the rock. Another pattern involved Winston struggling against Minnesota’s defense. He threw two interceptions in each matchup, three of which went to Xavier Rhodes. For the record, Keenum’s Vikings only won 14-7.
- Kownack: Seahawks 12, Titans 20 / Madden: Seahawks 37, Titans 30
My Take – Seattle makes a yearly tradition of stumbling out of the gates only to finish the season with double digit wins. The Seahawks narrowly escaped a loss to the 49ers, but their stagnant offense will come back to bite them against a Tennessee team coming off a lopsided win. The Titans offense had a second half outburst, quieting notions that Jacksonville might have a top five defense this season. It will be interesting to watch if Derrick Henry continues to shift the backfield emphasis away from DeMarco Murray. Either way, the Titans need this one more than Seattle to prove they belong.
Madden’s Take – The Seahawks are apparently poised to solve their offense woes against the Titans. Russell Wilson threw three touchdowns and rushed for two more, accounting for the bulk of Seattle’s offense. Marcus Mariota matched Wilson’s three touchdowns through the air but tossed two costly interceptions. Tennessee’s 20-point 4th quarter was enough to make it interesting in a unexpectedly explosive game.
- Kownack: Raiders 30, Redskins 20 / Madden: Raiders 26, Redskins 24
My Take – The lack of marquee matchups means Sunday and Monday Night Football receive the Big Game Spotlight this week by default. The Raiders predictably manhandled New York on Sunday and didn’t ever seem truly in danger against Tennessee week one. Although the Redskins outlasted the Rams, they have done nothing to show they belong in the same league as Oakland. Kirk Cousins has looked completely average to begin the season. The combined pressure of franchise tag drama and losing his top two wide receivers from 2016 seems to be taking a toll. Things won’t improve enough for a win.
Madden’s Take – After disagreeing on the first three big games, Madden predicts a similar result come Sunday Night. The most surprising element of the simulation involves Derek Carr struggling mightily against Washington’s defense. He threw three interceptions and only one touchdown on 49 pass attempts. Marshawn Lynch and Jalen Richard combined for 104 rushing yards and contributed a touchdown each. Kirk Cousins continued a vanilla start to the season, but Pryor did find the endzone for the first time as a Redskin.
- Kownack: Cowboys 28, Cardinals 14 / Madden: Cowboys 27, Cardinals 21
My Take – David Johnson’s injury robbed the football world of seeing a Johnson/Elliot face off. It might have also robbed them of an entertaining Monday night. The Cardinals made a Colts team that previously lost 46-9 actually appear serviceable. Arizona needed a comeback and overtime to steal a win. Dallas just suffered its most lopsided loss in Dak Prescott’s career, but don’t expect a repeat dud. They’ll exorcise their demons against an aging Arizona team that’s trending in the wrong direction.
Madden’s Take – Man and machine both have Dallas bouncing back against an Arizona team that looked awful in week two. The Cardinals held Ezekiel Elliot in check for a second straight game. He only rushed for 71 yards, but Dak Prescott spread the ball around with a touchdown each to Terrance Williams, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley. Karlos Dansby and Tyrann Mathieu intercepted Prescott. Carson Palmer threw a touchdown on the opening drive before twiddling his thumbs for the remainder of the contest. Final nail, meet coffin. RIP Arizona Cardinals’ playoff aspirations.
NFL Survivor Pick
* Madden’s selection based on biggest margin of victory
Kownack: Broncos (@ Bills) – The Broncos will be riding high into a matchup with the Bills. Buffalo couldn’t move the ball against Carolina, so they’re in for more of the same against Denver. This week is the best time to pick the Broncos considering they don’t have another obvious win on their schedule again until November.
Madden: Ravens (@ Jaguars) – This is a risky pick. To be fair, Madden seems to feel the same way about my survivor advice. Like so many times before, Jacksonville’s week one arrival as a team to be reckoned with was premature. The Ravens roll 36-10 in London on the backs of Joe Flacco and Javorius Allen.