Sunday, March 14, 2010

Super Bowl XXXIII redux

I've been playing around with the NFL SimMatchup on lately, where you can match up any two teams in history and play a simulated game with them, just to answer the question: If Denny Green (and not Gary Anderson) hadn't lost the 1998 NFC Championship Game for the Vikings, how would they have fared in the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos? Better than the Falcons, who got hammered 34-19 in a game that wasn't even as close as the score indicated.

It's easy to set up and sim games (if you're setting up this particular game, set 1998 Denver as Away, 1998 Minnesota as Home and select Pro Player Stadium at 70 degrees), and my first result was this 24-17 Denver win.

All right, so that's not very encouraging. But at least it was a far more exciting game than the real result, with Denver scoring the go-ahead TD with just five seconds remaining.

Still, small sample size, blah blah blah, so I ran nine more sims to get a full 10-game sample to play with. The results were:

Denver 24-17
Minnesota 18-13 (six Gary Anderson field goals)
Minnesota 23-16 (Cris Carter TD catch with 0:25 left)
Denver 24-21
Denver 27-20 (24 of game's 47 points in the fourth quarter)
Minnesota 28-17
Minnesota 23-17
Denver 54-41 (!!!!)
Denver 44-24 (Terrell Davis 239 yards rushing)
Minnesota 17-14

That's five wins apiece for each Denver and Minnesota, with an average score of Denver 25, Minnesota 23.2. And nearly all of them exciting, close affairs.

A few more notes on that insane 54-41 game:

* The game started off slowly, with Denver leading just 7-0 after the first quarter. The single-quarter scores after that were Minnesota 17-13, Denver 14-3, and Minnesota 21-20.

* Terrell Davis ran for 292 yards, which would have been an NFL single-game record at the time, and three touchdowns.

* Randall Cunningham countered with 396 yards passing and 3 TDs, 141 of it going to Randy Moss.

* Total offense: Denver 567, Minnesota 493, for a total of 1,060 yards.

* In a game like this, you'd have expected to see a few turnovers and long returns setting up or outright creating scores, but there were no turnovers and didn't appear to be any TD returns on kicks or punts.

* In a show of poor sportsmanship (which can probably be chalked up to the game algorithm just trying to score as much as possible), Denver kicked a field goal on the final snap of the game while already possessing a 10-point lead, to inflate the final score from 51-41 to 54-41. Boo, Dan Reeves!

Anyway, this is just one of the cool things you can do with the SimMatchup, and thanks to the guys at the Pro-Football-Reference blog for pointing it out to me. They've got their own interesting application for the SimMatchup planned, and I can't wait to see how it turns out. I'll definitely be rooting for the 1998 Vikings!

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