Super Bowl savant: Will Madden predict this year's game as perfectly as last?

Carolina Panthers fans hope that Electronic Arts’ perennial bestselling football video game, Madden NFL 16, once again got it right with its Super Bowl prediction. Madden forecasts Cam Newton’s Panthers will edge out Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos 24-21. Of course, Broncos fans remember all too well when the same video game franchise incorrectly predicted that the Manning-led Broncos would beat the Seattle Seahawks 31-28 in Super Bowl XLVIII – a game Seattle dominated 43-8.

But if you’re a betting fan, the Madden NFL Super Bowl prediction isn’t a bad way to go (though, of course, we’re not condoning betting on sports). Madden has correctly predicted the winner of nine of the last twelve Super Bowls. And as the video game engine technology and artificial intelligence of the players has improved with the transition to Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the results have too.

Last year’s prediction of the Big Game not only correctly forecast the final score from Arizona, but also accurately called that Tom Brady would win the Super Bowl MVP award, that New England would overcome a 10-point 3rd quarter deficit and that Julian Edelman would score the deciding touchdown. The video game also called for Edelman to finish the game with eight catches for 106 yards, he actually ended up with nine catches for 109.

“From an accuracy standpoint, last year was the epitome of how well we can simulate football given that we nailed the score and what happened in the closing moments in the game,” said Randy Chase, senior director of North American marketing at EA Sports. “It’s a tribute to how much work goes into the ratings and authenticity. We update player ratings every week during the season and every week during the playoffs.”

Chase said all of that weekly data goes into the player ratings, which in turn impacts how a virtual Ted Ginn Jr. makes a special teams play that leads to a Panthers touchdown in the Super Bowl 50 simulation. He noted that Ginn didn’t have great ratings when Madden 16 launched last summer, but his breakout real-life season saw those intricate player ratings go up throughout the year and into the Big Game.

Although the sports pundits have been focusing on the air game between future Hall of Famers Manning, who’s leaving behind a stellar career, and Newton, who’s just begun his journey, the Madden sim factors in the great defenses these two teams have built. As much fun as high-scoring video game-style football is to watch, the actual video game doesn’t expect that to happen at Levi’s Stadium in California on Feb. 7.

“The Broncos have the No. 1 defense in the NFL and they have the No. 1 defense in Madden,” Chase said. “24-20 is a low score for a Super Bowl. Last year’s score was higher than that. Ultimately, it will be a defensive struggle, but there are dynamic guys on offense and on special teams, which is something people don’t always think about.”

Superbowl 50, as predicted by Madden NFL 16

Carolina, which has a history of jumping to an early lead this season, kept that record intact with an early 17-0 run in the first half. Cam Newton connected with Greg Olsen in the air, and the Panthers showed their offensive balance with a Jonathan Stewart rushing touchdown.

After the half-time show (which thankfully doesn’t feature Coldplay and Beyonce in the video game sim), Manning fought back Father Time once again and made a game of it. In what’s likely his last NFL game, the quarterback capped a scoring drive with a touchdown pass to Emanuel Sanders. Denver’s defense also responded, with Aqib Talib picking off Newton and setting up a Broncos field goal.

“From an accuracy standpoint, last year was the epitome of how well we can simulate football given that we nailed the score and what happened in the closing moments in the game,”

In what seemed like a repeat of the Panthers’ home playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks on Jan. 17, Denver kept on scoring. The Broncos added a field goal in the third quarter and a touchdown score courtesy of Demaryius Thomas to go up 20-17.

But Newton wasn’t finished. And the Panthers weren’t about to go 0-2 in Super Bowl appearances, after barely losing to the New England Patriots 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, TX. The quarterback kept the ball and rushed for a touchdown to seal the victory 24-20 and bring home the Vince Lombardi trophy.

In real life, Newton has scored 50 touchdowns this year (38 passing and 12 rushing), which is expected to earn him the NFL MVP Award this year. In the simulation, Newton earns the Super Bowl MVP Award, completing 19 of 26 passes for 216 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Across the field, Peyton Manning completed 21 of 37 passes for Denver, tallying 241 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Will lightning strike twice?

As for EA Sports being able to repeat its perfect score with the Madden Super Bowl sim, Chase said there’s always the unpredictable nature of the game on Sunday.

“You can prognosticate as much as you want, but things happen on Sunday that you can’t anticipate,” Chase said. “Our game accurately reflects players’ skills and how they match up against other playmakers on the field. But usually one or two things happen in a game that you can’t anticipate.”

That’s why they call it the “game before the game.” And why over 160 million people globally tuned in for last year’s Big Game. The fact that this year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Big Game, and Manning’s swan song, should only help. Plus, the Madden sim doesn’t feature those expensive commercials (at least not yet).

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