This AFC North blogger has officially retired from the popular "Madden" video game series. Free time during football season is just too scarce.
But this weekend I rented a copy of "Madden 11" for (cough, cough) research purposes. Our community wants to know how the AFC North will play out this season. So we simulated an entire season.
Here is what you can expect in 2010:
Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, first place)
It will be a great year for the AFC North as three division teams make the playoffs. The Steelers will win the division at 12-4. I couldn't figure out how to sit quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for six games. So the Steelers were dominant in the regular season, sweeping the division (6-0) for the second time in three years.
Outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley (14) and James Harrison (15) will combine for 29 sacks this season, According to "Madden 11." Woodley, who is in the final year of his contract, will be a very rich man next year if that's the case. Darnell Dockett of the Arizona Cardinals will lead the NFL this season with an amazing 21 sacks.
Roethlisberger will be solid, but not spectacular. The "Madden 11" simulation projects he will throw for 3,242 yards, 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. To no surprise, he also will get sacked 46 times this season.
Tailback Rashard Mendenhall will have another good season -- 1,092 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Receiver Hines Ward keeps plugging along this season with 82 catches for 1,109 yards and eight touchdowns.
According to "Madden 11," receiver Mike Wallace doesn't step up in his first year as a starter, recording just 40 catches for 556 yards and three touchdowns. Wallace had more yards (756) and more touchdowns (six) last season as a backup.
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, second place)
Receiver Chad Ochocinco will back up his offseason trash-talking with a monster year. "Madden 11" projects he will grab 80 receptions for 1,388 yards and nine touchdowns in 2010. The Terrell Owens factor helps. Ochocinco's yards will be second in the league behind Andre Johnson (1,397) of the Houston Texans.
Owens is a decent addition. Besides being a decoy for Ochocinco, he records 54 catches for 652 yards and five touchdowns. First-round pick and tight end Jermaine Gresham will shine in his rookie season with 67 receptions for 529 yards.
According to the simulation, tailback Cedric Benson will prove 2009 was no fluke. He will rush for 1,049 yards and six touchdowns. Benson's numbers are slightly down because of Cincinnati's penchant for throwing the ball more this season. Backup Bernard Scott also was solid with 408 rushing yards.
Quarterback Carson Palmer will return to form and make the Pro Bowl, "Madden 11" says. Palmer will throw for 3,556 yards, 29 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His yards rank fourth in the NFL. Palmer also stays healthy and plays all 16 games.
Baltimore Ravens (9-7, third place)
Quarterback Joe Flacco also is stellar in his third season, with a 87.5 passer rating, 3,550 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Flacco's passer rating is third in the NFL behind Drew Brees and Tony Romo.
Beware fantasy buffs: "Madden 11" projects running back Ray Rice will get hurt this season. He records just 789 yards and two touchdowns. Backup Willis McGahee fills in with 508 rushing yards, and fullback Le'Ron McClain adds 445 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
The Anquan Boldin acquisition was solid in his first season in Baltimore. He notches 61 catches for 896 yards and a team-high 11 touchdowns. Derrick Mason's production will drop off significantly, according to "Madden 11," as he records just 44 receptions for 639 yards. Those totals are his lowest as a Raven.
Linebacker Ray Lewis will lead the team once again with 98 tackles and three interceptions. But this simulation projects the secondary will be a disappointment. Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington combine for just three interceptions and 25 tackles. Both will be hurt at different points of the season. The Ravens will be just 2-4 in the AFC North, according to "Madden 11."
Cleveland Browns (4-12, fourth place)
Many expect the Browns to struggle this season, so a 4-12 projection isn't surprising. The game predicts Cleveland will be 0-6 against the AFC North and 2-10 against AFC opponents.
The simulation also predicts Browns starting quarterback Jake Delhomme will be brutal this season. He will have a 61.3 passer rating and throw for 2,811 yards, 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Tailback Jerome Harrison will not be able to stay hot, according to "Madden 11." He will rush for 737 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging just 2.6 yards per carry.
No one will step up at receiver. Mohamed Massaquoi will grab 62 receptions but for just 533 yards (8.5 yards per catch). Josh Cribbs will be a bright spot and surprise with 59 catches for 712 yards and five touchdowns. Cribbs also leads the NFL in kickoff return average (29.8 yards with a long of 86 yards) and makes the Pro Bowl. "Madden 11" believes Brian Robiskie will disappoint with just 23 catches for 117 yards (5.0 yard average) no touchdowns.
This simulation projects the AFC North will be successful in the wild-card round. The Bengals will pull off a road upset against the Indianapolis Colts in a shootout, 38-35. The Ravens also will travel to beat the Denver Broncos, 20-16, to advance.
But the season stops in the divisional round for the Bengals, according to "Madden 11." The New York Jets pound the Bengals in the playoffs for the second straight season, winning 27-17. The simulation believes the Ravens will continue their hot streak in the playoffs by going to Heinz Field to defeat the AFC North champion Steelers at home, 21-17.
The Ravens will be in the AFC Championship Game for the second time in three years. This time "Madden 11" predicts Baltimore goes to the Super Bowl as an AFC wild-card by beating Rex Ryan and the Jets in a rematch from the regular season, 20-17.
Ten years after winning their only Super Bowl in franchise history, the Ravens weren't so lucky this time, according to "Madden 11." The Minnesota Vikings will beat the Ravens in Super Bowl XLV, 27-14, as Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson rushes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Peterson gets Super Bowl MVP honors. Meanwhile, Flacco struggles on the big stage, throwing for only 144 yards.
So that's how the 2010 season will play out, according to "Madden 11." It looks like the Steelers will win the division, but the Ravens will advance to the Super Bowl.
How accurate was this game simulation?