The Madden curse: quantified
Tom Brady was named as the latest cover star for the Madden video game franchise this week. Looking at the past 10 cover stars from the game franchise, only five played a full 16-game regular season immediately after appearing on the cover. The average dip in grade was -8.0, and only Richard Sherman managed to grade better during his cover season than the previous year, though some would say the curse merely made its way to the 2014 Super Bowl, given how it ended. Seven of the 10 cover stars had overall PFF grades that measured in the “Elite” category for the season that earned them their spot on the game cover, but there were zero “Elite” grades during “cover seasons.”
Can Brady beat the curse?
- Brady is seemingly only getting better with age, as each of the last three seasons he has improved his overall grade from the season before, and he earned the best PFF grade of any QB in the PFF era with his 99.3 grade in 2016. At his age his pocket manipulation is as strong as ever, only getting sacked on 10.6 percent of his pressured dropbacks, third-lowest in the NFL, and while under pressure he posted a QB rating of 84.9, fifth-best.
- The Patriots have added big-time weapons to an already potent offensive arsenal. They traded a first-round pick for receiver Brandin Cooks, who on deep passes in 2016 had 0 drops and 544 receiving yards, second-most in the NFL. They also signed former Bills restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee, whose yards-after-contact average of 3.34 and breakaway percent of 43.3 percent (percentage of yards gained on runs of 15 yards or more) both ranked third in the NFL last season.
- Rob Gronkowski returning to the team healthy would arguably be the biggest addition any team will make this season. Gronk was a victim himself of the Madden curse, missing eight games a season ago after appearing on the cover, but has been a regular feature on the shelf with injuries throughout his career. Before getting injured in 2016, he led all tight ends and wide receivers in both yards per catch (21.6) and yards per route run (3.18).
- The Patriots return their entire starting offensive line in 2017. In 2016, four out of the five starters on the O-line improved their overall PFF grades from 2015, while the fifth — LG Joe Thuney — was a rookie, who should only improve in 2017 with more experience. As a unit the Patriots O-line allowed 115 total pressure on Brady Weeks 5-17, the ninth-lowest amount in the NFL.
Only one way to go from 2016
Whether you call it a curse, or just common sense, it is likely that Brady’s PFF grade will be lower in 2017 than it was in 2016. Most intelligent people would argue there is no curse at all, rather players being put on the Madden cover who are coming off of career years, which are very hard to repeat. It doesn’t get much higher than a grade of 99.3, which leaves very little room for improvement.
Also working against Brady’s favor is Father Time. Brady is entering his age-40 season, and with age comes physical decline and a higher risk of injury. While he has stated he wants to and thinks he can continue to play and perform at a high level for another five years or so, Father Time is undefeated, and will strike eventually, although at this rate it might not be until he is 50.
Tom Brady does not care about his PFF grade. What matters to him is winning the Super Bowl, and the Patriots are the favorites to win once again. While it is unlikely for Brady to repeat his record setting grade of 99.3, there are no signs of him slowing down. If he continues to play at a high level, the Patriots will have a great chance to win their third Super Bowl in four years for the second time, which would be plenty enough to consider this curse broken.