September is upon us, which only means one thing — football is right around the corner! With that, I wanted to do something fun (and interesting) to predict what may occur during the Atlanta Falcons’ 2020 season. On August 28, Madden 21 officially released to gaming consoles so I thought — let’s simulate the Falcons season and see what happens?
That’s exactly what I’m going to do. Before I start the simulation, I just want to be up front about the rules. I won’t be playing any of the games, the Falcons season will rest solely on the computer’s shoulders. Also, I’m using the first roster update prior to the Sept. 5 deadline to cut players, so if the team (in real life) did something insane like release wide receiver Julio Jones, he would still be in my simulation.
It is worth noting that some UDFAs weren’t included in the first roster update for Madden 21 that have a realistic chance of making the real roster, such as wide receiver Chris Rowland and OT Evin Ksiezarczyk. EA Sports has already confirmed that UDFAs will be added once real-life rosters are trimmed down to 53 players.
In every part of the series, I’ll include up-to-date seasonal stats, game summaries, injuries and the team’s current record. If they make it to the playoffs, expect a sole article on that. We’ll have some fun with this and see where it goes. Part I of this series will cover week’s 1-6, with Part II covering week’s 7-12, Part III covering week’s 13-17 and a Part IV covering the playoffs (if needed.)
With that being said, let’s kick it off!
Madden 21 had preseason games in play, so I turned off injuries until the season began. The team (like in real life) was forced to trim the roster down to 53 players prior to the start of the 2020 NFL regular season.
Cuts: WR Devin Gray, DE Charles Harris, DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, SS Jamal Carter, FS Chris Cooper, SS J.J. Wilcox, RG Sean Harlow, CB Josh Hawkins, LT John Wetzel
Week 1 — (0-0) Seahawks vs. (0-0) Falcons
With no Chris Rowland, wide receiver Brandon Powell became the starting kick returner. The first offensive play of the game, quarterback Matt Ryan hit wide receiver Julio Jones on a 22-yard dart over the middle. By halftime, the Falcons were up big with a 24-7 lead. Ryan was on fire with a stat line of 20/27 attempts, 233 yards and three passing touchdowns. Calvin Ridley at the halfway point led in receiving with 104 yard and a touchdown.
Things didn’t improve for the visiting Seattle Seahawks in the second half. Quarterback Russell Wilson had a bizarre day throwing 50 times for 0 touchdowns, although he did sneak one in from the 1-yard line in the 4th quarter. It wasn’t enough though, as the Falcons committed to the run in the second half with Todd Gurley carrying the ball 20 times for 179 yards and a touchdown. Ito Smith even saw some action, getting five carries for 20 yards and two receptions — one of which he scored on. Julio Jones has a modest four receptions for 49 yards and defensive end’s Dante Fowler and Takk McKinley both recorded a half sack.
FINAL: Falcons 34, Seahawks 18
QB Ryan: 24/32 att, 266 yards, 3 TDs, INT
RB Gurley: 20 carries, 179 yards, TD
WR Ridley: 8 receptions, 104 yards, TD
Week 2 — (1-0) Falcons vs. (1-0) Cowboys
The Falcons would travel in Week 2 down to visit the Dallas Cowboys in what should be a heavily offensive game. Similar to the week before, Matt Ryan’s very first throw went to Julio Jones who took it to the house on a 74-yard touchdown reception. The Cowboys however did answer back with a 42-yard reception by rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. With a few seconds remaining in the first quarter, Ryan hit tight end Khari Lee on a 5-yard pass putting the Falcons up 14-7. Lamb became a hot target for quarterback Dak Prescott, as he would score again on a 31-yard reception. The Falcons would punt the ball back to the Cowboys who scored on a 71-yard run from Ezekiel Elliot to enter halftime up 14-21 over the Falcons.
Would things turn around for the Falcons in the second half? Not really. Cowboys’ kicker Greg Zuerlein had the only score of the third quarter, making a 27-yard field goal to extend the cowboys lead to 14-24. Thing unfortunately wouldn’t improve in the fourth quarter, as the Cowboys would go on to add 17 more points to the board. Randomly, Falcons’ wide receiver Laqoun Treadwell had a breakout game scoring two touchdowns late in the game. The team however allowed Elliot to rush for 196 yards and two touchdowns, which caused them to fall way short of victory. The injury bug did hit the Falcons in this game, with defensive tackle Tyeler Davison and corner back Isaiah Oliver both leaving the game late.
FINAL: Cowboys 41, Falcons 27
QB Ryan: 25/40 att, 351 yards, 4 TDs, INT
RB Gurley: 13 carries, 34 yards, 5 receptions, 46 yards
WR Jones: 4 receptions, 102 yards, TD
Injuries: DT Tyeler Davison (Hamstring - 6 weeks), CB Isaiah Oliver (Torn Labrum - 2 weeks)
Week 3 — (2-0) Bears vs. (1-1) Falcons
After getting blown out on the road last week, the Falcons returned home in Week 3 to take on the Chicago Bears. The Bears, quarterbacked by Nick Foles, moved the ball suprisinglywell on their first drive. Falcons’ linebacker Foye Oluokun left the game with a chest injury and would not return. His replacement, veteran linebacker Deone Bucannon, made an immediate impact picking off Foles on the very next play. After a series of punts throughout the first half, the Bears would enter halftime with a 0-3 lead in Atlanta.
Things would begin to spiral out of control in the third quarter. The Bears would score an unanswered 21 points and the Falcons’ running game was struggling with only 31 rushing yards. The Falcons did begin to fight back, scoring 16 points in the final quarter of the game. It wasn’t enough though, as Bears’ defensive end Khalil Mack recorded 3.5 sacks to help cause the Falcons to lose for the second straight week.
FINAL: Bears 27, Falcons 16
QB Ryan: 23/38 att, 341 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
RB Gurley: 11 carries, 16 yards
WR Treadwell: 5 receptions, 119 yards, TD
Injuries: DT Tyeler Davison (DNP/Hamstring - 5 weeks), CB Isaiah Oliver (DNP/Torn Labrum - 1 week)
Week 4 — (1-2) Falcons vs. (2-1) Packers — MNF
This hasn’t been the start the Falcons were hoping for, and no doubt the fans have been livid. Week 4 is that much more important as the team travels north to Wisconsin to play the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. Some good news — the Falcons got corner back Isaiah Oliver back from injury who has been missing since Week 2. The Falcons would receiver only to quickly turn the ball over via a Matt Ryan interception.
That’s okay though, because on the very next play, Falcons’ safety Ricardo Allen picked off Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who made an ill-advised throw into traffic. This would lead to a quick 8-yard Ryan touchdown pass to Laquon Treadwell. The Packers answered back on their next drive, marching down the field and topping it off with a 1-yard touchdown run by Aaron Jones. Ryan’s favorite target of late Treadwell would haul in his second touchdown of the evening, a 75-yard reception to end the first quarter giving the Falcons an early 14-7 lead. Nothing exciting really happened in the second quarter, aside from two Mason Crosby field goals to narrow the Falcons 14-13 lead to enter halftime.
The Falcons’ virtual fans were on the edge of their seat during halftime, likely tweeting a mixture of optimism and anger prior to the team returning to the field. To their delight though, the Falcons would further their lead to 21-13 due to a Todd Gurley 16-yard touchdown reception to end the third quarter. The fourth quarter was a nail-biter, as a combined 35 total points were scored between the two teams — with (for some reason) two more touchdown receptions by Treadwell. The Packers attempted to make a comeback late in the game, but the Falcons narrowly held them off in what would be considered one of the best NFL games to this point of the 2020 NFL regular season.
FINAL: Falcons 36, Packers 33
QB Ryan: 17/27 att, 354 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT
RB Gurley: 17 carries, 89 yards
WR Treadwell: 5 receptions, 190 yards, 4 TDs
Injuries: DT Tyeler Davison (DNP/Hamstring - 4 weeks)
Week 5 — (1-2-1) Panthers vs. (2-2) Falcons
A shaky start to the season had the Falcons’ fans nervous about what the road ahead would be like. Defeating a tough opponent like the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football certainly eased the tension. In Week 5 the team would return to Atlanta to face their first divisional opponent of 2020 — the Carolina Panthers. On the opening drive of the first quarter, the Panthers would score via a 2-yard run by running back Christian McCaffrey. On the Falcons first drive starting left guard James Carperter left the game with an undisclosed injury, so rookie Matt Hennessy would step in to fill the void.
The Falcons would top-off a seven play drive with a 16-yard rushing touchdown by Todd Gurley, leveling the score to 7-7. The Panthers answered back though, thanks to a 75-yard rushing touchdown by McCaffrey to end the first quarter. Falcons’ linebacker Deone Bucannon made a huge play in the second quarter, sacking Panthers’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for a safety. On the Falcons drive, Gurley hauled in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to give the team a 16-14 lead. Bridgewater got the Panthers back into it, driving down field and throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Robby Anderson.
Exiting halftime the Falcons were trailing 16-21, receiving the ball first. Nothing really exciting happened in the third quarter, except for a Younghoe Koo 38-yard field goal which narrowed the Panthers lead to 19-21. The fourth quarter would be the opposite however. Ryan hit tight end Hayden Hurst for a 4-yard touchdown following a nice drive. With 1:38 remaining in the game, Bridgewater hit Panthers’ wide receiver Curtis Samuel for a 1-yard touchdown pass after a lengthily drive of their own. Ryan, as he’s done in the past, drove the Falcons downfield into field goal range. Koo came onto the field with :24 remaining and the Panthers leading 26-27. Koo nailed it, and the Falcons won another close one.
FINAL: Falcons 29, Panthers 27
QB Ryan: 24/36 att, 312 yards, 2 TDs
RB Gurley: 23 carries, 92 yards, TD
TE Hurst: 5 receptions, 47 yards, TD
Injuries: LG James Carpenter (Torn Labrum - 5 weeks), DT Tyeler Davison (DNP/Hamstring - 3 weeks)
Week 6 — (3-2) Falcons vs. (1-4) Vikings
With some momentum behind them, the Falcons traveled north to face the Minnesota Vikings. Falcons’ rookie Matt Hennessy would get his first NFL start, filling in at left guard for the injured James Carpenter. On the first play from scrimmage, Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan was intercepted by Vikings’ corner back Holton Hill who took it to the house giving the Vikings an early 0-7 lead. The Falcons put together a nice drive but in the red zone Hennessy left the game with an elbow injury, but would return. Matt Gono would fill-in for Hennessy at left guard, and help running back Todd Gurley punch it in from the goal line.
For some reason unknown to me, Falcons’ kicker Younghoe Koo missed the PAT. The Vikings would respond quickly, as running back Dalvin Cook scored on a 55-yard run, putting them up 6-14. On the Falcons drive, a very cool moment occurred when wide receiver Julio Jones caught an 18-yard pass, which the commentator said moved Jones up to 30th all-time in career receptions, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Largent who has 819 career catches. In his return to Minneapolis, Falcons’ wide receiver Laquon Treadwell scored on a 5-yard pass from Ryan with :21 remaining in the first half. The Falcons would enter halftime down by one, 13-14.
Not a whole lot happened in the third quarter. Vikings’ kicker Dan Bailey made a 36-yard field goal and Koo answered back with a 54-yarder of his own. The Falcons still trailed the Vikings 16-17 heading into the fourth quarter. Both offenses would struggle to get things going, and ultimately Ryan was picked-off by Vikings’ safety Harrison Smith who took it to the house, sealing the victory.
FINAL: Vikings 24, Falcons 16
QB Ryan: 31/51 att, 300 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs
RB Gurley: 16 carries, 51 yards, TD
DE Bailey: 1.5 sacks
Injuries: LG James Carpenter (DNP/Torn Labrum - 4 weeks), DT Tyeler Davison (DNP/Hamstring - 2 weeks)
End of Part I (Weeks 1-6)
Well, through the first six weeks, the Falcons are sitting at .500 with a (3-3) record. This isn’t a terrible start, especially by 2019 standards, but the team lost some games that I believe they should’ve won. Losing to the Bears in Week 3 would’ve had everyone grabbing for their pitchforks, but the team bounced back with a close one against the Packers the following week. Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan also leads the NFL currently with 1,924 passing yards.
The road ahead for the Falcons has some favorable opponents, such as the Detroit Lions in Week 7 and Denver Broncos in Week 9. The team also has a nicely-placed Bye in Week 10, with the following game being a road game against the New Orleans Saints. Look for Part II of this series on Thursday, Sept. 3rd which will cover Weeks 7-12.
Team Leaders (Weeks 1-6)
QB Ryan: 144/224 att, 17 TDs, 7 INTs, 1924 yards
RB Gurley: 100 carries, 461 yards, 3 TDs, 15 catches, 183 yards, 2 TDs
WR Treadwell: 30 catches, 528 yards, 9 TDs
WR Jones: 28 catches, 411 yards, TD
WR Ridley: 27 catches, 331 yards, 2 TDs
DE McKinley: 3.5 sacks
MLB Jones: 42 tackles, 2 INTs
K Koo: 5/5 att, 55 long, 15/16 PAT
*If you have any specific questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Madden 21 is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows. Click here to get your own copy!