The NFL is the cruelest league. More than any other professional sport, player fortunes rise and fall with the whim of an unlucky break and an accountant’s pen. Today’s top-flight running back is tomorrow’s scrap heap castoff, where slightly-reduced effectiveness renders you useless to a salary-cap-savvy executive.
Rather than pity the gladiators who – literally – risk life and limb on Sundays for our entertainment, though, we’ve got our own job to do. We’ve pored over last year’s Madden NFL 12 player ratings from the start of the season and analyzed who we think the biggest and shakers will be. Who’s rocketing up the charts? Who’s plummeting to new depths? What about some familiar names that are in new places – or may not be what they used to be?
Let’s start with who’s moving up.
Player: Matt Flynn Team: Seattle Seahawks Position: QB Madden 12 Player Rating: 75 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 86 Why we think it will change: His body of work is small, but includes a record-setting performance with the Packers late last year that helped him land a big contract – and big expectations – with the Seahawks. Seattle fans are starving for some offense, having seen mostly desultory performances from the most important position in sports for several years now. Head Coach Pete Carroll will likely set Flynn loose, and the potential for a powerful run-pass combination (thanks to the mercurial Marshawn Lynch) could spell big numbers for the ‘Hawks. We have a feeling Madden NFL 13 is going to be generous toward Mr. Flynn and Seahawks fans, cranking his OVR up to 86.
Player: Jason Pierre-Paul Team: New York Giants Position: DL Madden 12 Player Rating: 75 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 91
Why we think it will change: The Giants’ one-man tornado tosses linemen around like child playthings, single-handedly blowing up plays and generally causing havoc. Easily the steal of the 2010 draft, his contributions were significant in New York’s run to a Super Bowl championship. By the end of last season, offensive coordinators were designing plays to stay as far away from him as possible. Now, the Madden 13 ratings will reflect that as he jumps from the mid-70’s to the low 90’s, making the virtual New York Football Giants that much more imposing to opponents everywhere.
Player: Fred Jackson Team: Buffalo Bills Position: RB Madden 12 Player Rating: 80 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 90
Why we think it will change: The Bills’ powder keg had a magnificent 2011 season – until a gruesome fractured leg ended it prematurely ten weeks into the campaign. Until that unfortunate moment, Jackson had been one of the best running backs in the league, sporting six 100-yard games and a gaudy 5.5 yards-per-carry average. Injuries happen to everyone in the NFL, and we think Madden 13’s ratings gurus will shine brightly on Jackson now that he’s healthy again and the proud owner of a shiny new 2-year contract.
Player: Andy Dalton Team: Cincinnati Bengals Position: QB Madden 12 Player Rating: 71 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 83
Why we think it will change: Big Red came from nowhere as a rookie to lead the usually-moribund Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs. While he faded near the end of the year – and had a rough debut in the postseason – a lot of people feel he’s got what it takes to be successful calling signals in the NFL. We’re pretty sure Madden 13 will feel the same way, bumping him up significantly from his original rating in the low 70’s. This season is a big test though – has the league figured him out, or will he prove last year was just a taste of future victories?
Player: Victor Cruz Team: New York Giants Position: WR Madden 12 Player Rating: 61 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 95
Why we think it will change: This Salsa-dancing Super Bowl Champion was a nobody when Madden 12 shipped last August, but after posting over 1,500 yards receiving and winning the Super Bowl, he will be the highest rated number two wide receiver on any team. One of the very first promotional videos that was released for Madden 13 highlighted Victor Cruz's Salsa dance touchdown celebration and, from what his ratings will likely be (95+ speed, acceleration and catching) in Madden this year, we'll be seeing that dance a lot.
Player: Cam Newton Team: Carolina Panthers Position: QB Madden 12 Player Rating: 77 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 92
Why we think it will change: Cam Newton's robust athleticism made the Carolina Panthers use their number one draft pick on a quarterback for the second year in a row, and it paid off big. Newton's speed and throwing power will make him one of the most exciting QBs to play with in Madden 13 - and it will also make people want to quit out of an online match before it has even started. After breaking the record for most passing yards by a rookie in a single season, Newton will be breaking down defenses all year long in Madden 13.
Player: Matt Moore Team: Miami Dolphins Position: QB Madden 12 Player Rating: 73 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 86
Why we think it will change: Moore couldn't cut it in Carolina, but he should be a much more serviceable option at QB when playing with the remarkably unexciting Dolphins this time around. After taking over for the injured Chad Henne four games into the season, Moore improved each game, ending the 2011 season with a QB rating higher than Cam Newton, Michael Vick and Jay Cutler. Although Moore doesn’t elicit a great deal of excitement in general, we should still see his ratings get a significant bump, even though the Dolphins might take a significant dump in Madden 13.
And that's all for the rising stars. Now, we move on to our predicted drops...
Player: Josh Freeman Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Position: QB Madden 12 Player Rating: 87 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 78
Why we think it will change: Few player ratings will fall more precipitously than those of Tampa’s quixotically struggling signal-caller this year. Just when he looked to be embarking upon greatness, everything fell apart, as Freeman’s erratic play led to a boatload of losses and an entire new coaching staff. This is an all-or-nothing season for the massive QB, who should’ve been more like Cam Newton but wound up like Ryan Leaf. His ratings will reflect that disappointment.
Player: Chad Ochocinco Team: Miami Dolphins Position: WR Madden 12 Player Rating: 85 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 79
Why we think it will change: After the debacle that was Ochocino’s tenure with the New England Patriots, many people thought the flamboyant former All-Pro was finished. The Dolphins clearly think differently – although many people (including us) disagree. With greatly diminished speed and a penchant for running halfhearted routes, Ochocinco will need something close to a miracle to turn it around in South Florida, and his Madden NFL 13 ratings will reflect that, dipping from a generous 85 to something in the upper 70’s.
Player: Peyton Hillis Team: Kansas City Chiefs Position: RB Madden 12 Player Rating: 91 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 82
Why we think it will change: From Madden cover athlete to afterthought, to say Hillis struggled last year would be an understatement. Alienating fans and teammates with strange injuries after being mostly ineffective, Hillis was run out of Cleveland in a fall from grace faster than any athlete in recent memory. He gets one more shot to re-establish the punishing, bruising style that made him (briefly) popular, but he’ll start off rated much lower than anyone would have dreamed just 12 months ago.
Player: Chris Johnson Team: Tennessee Titans Position: HB Madden 12 Player Rating: 96 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 87
Why we think it will change: Last season, Chris Johnson went from CJ2K to CJ just OK. Johnson's lack of performance may have had something to do with his long holdout in the offseason, or being injured, but after rushing for over 2,000 yards in 2009, barely topping 1,000 yards two years later isn't going to help you maintain an elite overall rating in Madden. Even though former Titans coach Jeff Fisher recently stated that this season we will see a return of CJ2K, don't expect Madden Ratings Czar Donny Moore to start Johnson off much higher than the upper 80s. He will be more of a wait and C (JOK) this season.
Player: Philip Rivers Team: San Diego Chargers Position: QB Madden 12 Player Rating: 96 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 90
Why we think it will change: Philip Rivers threw for just as many yards as Aaron Rodgers last season (over 4,600 yards) but he also threw as many interceptions as Rex Grossman (20). Rivers wasn't clicking like he was supposed to, and fumbling snaps on QB Kneels and throwing picks late in games doesn't exactly earn you a spot at the top of the QB pile. It also won't merit giving Rivers a rating as low as Grossman, but Rivers will have a lot to prove this season if he wants to restore his high 90s overall rating. Look for a significant drop in his accuracy and awareness.
Player: Antonio Gates Team: San Diego Chargers Position: TE Madden 12 Player Rating: 99 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 94
Why we think it will change: Antonio Gates came into Madden 12 as the highest rated tight end, topping out at a 99 overall. He had an amazing 2010 season that was plagued by injuries, but Gates' 10 touchdowns in only 10 games that year earned him that elite rating. Gates recorded 7 touchdowns last season over 13 games, which is respectable. But when compared with tight ends like New England's Rob Gronkowski, Gates should not be considered the best of the best. Even though we will see Antonio Gates slip a little in the ratings this season, he will still be a powerful weapon - but he won't be a 99.
And amidst the risers and sinkers, there are the high-profile moves that have heads turning and sports columnists losing sleep. Here's a look at a few...
Player: Peyton Manning Team: Denver Broncos Position: QB Madden 12 Player Rating: 98 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 93
Why we think it will change: Most Colts fans assumed we’d have a Zombie Apocalypse before their beloved Manning would change teams, but the NFL proves every year it plays no favorites. With no playing time for over a year, multiple neck surgeries, and a new team and offense in Denver, no one has any idea what to expect from this first-ballot Hall of Famer. One thing’s for sure – that 99 Injury rating is coming down, and while EA will be respectful of Manning’s body of work, we have to believe his overall will dip a few notches yet remain (for now) in the 90’s.
Player: Ray Lewis Team: Baltimore Ravens Position: LB Madden 12 Player Rating: 95 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 89
Why we think it will change: Lewis has been knocking people silly and dancing like a crazy man in pre-game warmups for so long that many Ravens fans assume he’ll play forever. His play took a noticeable dip last year, though, and he’s nearing the end of his Hall of Fame line. We can’t imagine that his overall rating will be near last season’s 95, although it may not fall to where it probably should simply because Donny More doesn’t want to take the chance Lewis will beat him up. Even so, Ray should be in the high ‘80s when Madden 13 kicks off.
Player: Ed Reed Team: Baltimore Ravens Position: FS Madden 12 Player Rating: 98 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 93
Why we think it will change: Another longtime player in Ravens’ purple – and sure-fire Hall of Famer – that’s getting a little ling in the tooth, Reed will face an uphill climb to maintain his lofty status. A few serious injuries have chipped away at his effectiveness recently, so it’ll be hard to imagine matching his 98 overall from last season. When healthy, he’s still scary and always a threat to turn a pick six, but it’s getting harder and harder for Reed to stay on the field.
Player: Matt Forte Team: Chicago Bears Position: RB Madden 12 Player Rating: 89 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 91
Why we think it will change: Many argued Forte’s ratings were too low last year, and despite a devastating injury we have a feeling he’ll get a 2-3 point bump. The newly-signed Forte isn’t worrying about a contract anymore, and if he has a terrific training camp then EA will likely crank up some of his individual attributes too – although it’s pretty clear the 95 injury rating will take a hit. You never know which directions athletes that finally get paid the big bucks will go; Bears fans hope it’s up up up.
Player: Tim Tebow Team: New York Jets Position: QB / Special Teams Madden 12 Player Rating: 77 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 84
Why we think it will change: A better question: how will Tim Tebow’s ratings change? Unfortunately for Skip Bayless, there is no “he just wins” rating. Even with one of the more suspect, ahem, “spirals” in professional football, there is no denying that Tebow is an exceptional athlete. He led the Broncos to an AFC West title and an amazing overtime playoff win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. For Madden 13, Tebow will now be on the Jets as Mark Sanchez’s backup, but the more scintillating development is that Tebow will also be a feature on New York’s special teams squad. It will be interesting to look at his final individual ratings, but we imagine Tebow’s overall rating may look more like a fullback’s than a quarterback’s.
Player: Tony Romo Team: Dallas Cowboys Position: QB Madden 12 Player Rating: 88 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 94
Why we think it will change: As the leader of “the most talented team in football,” Tony Romo can be a polarizing figure. There’s no denying that he is at least a good quarterback, but is he an elite quarterback? When you look at the numbers, Romo looks like he is right on the cusp of achieving the “elite” status when it comes to passing yards (over 4,000 last year) and touchdowns (31). However, when it comes to winning big games and making big plays, Romo falls short. Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny Romo’s talent and we should see a significant increase in Romo’s accuracy, awareness and throw on run ratings for Madden 13. But we wouldn’t be surprised to see that his “Is Clutch” attribute is a solid HELL NO.
Player: Darrelle Revis Team: New York Jets Position: CB Madden 12 Player Rating: 99 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 99
Why we think it will stay the same: When you hear NFL broadcasters use the phrase “shut down corner,” they are more often than not referring to Darrelle Revis. When you look at Revis’ impressive stats from last season (4 interceptions, 52 tackles and a 100 yard pick six against Miami) they don’t really tell the full story. You have to look at his opponent’s receivers stats. Outside of one game where he was covering 6’4” Brandon Marshall, not a single wide receiver that Revis matched up with broke 85 yards. Quarterbacks tend not to throw towards Revis Island and there is no sign of that changing any time soon. It would be shocking to see Revis drop from on top of his 99 overall status in Madden 13.
Player: Troy Polamalu Team: Pittsburgh Steelers Position: SS Madden 12 Player Rating: 99 Our Predicted Madden 13 Player Rating: 95
Why we think it will change: Fan favorite Troy Polamalu has been Head & Shoulders above this generation of safeties for several years now. Polamalu is showing slightly noticeable signs of slowing down, and his league competition in the secondary is getting fiercer every season. The 2011 season saw Polamalu stack up in the upper echelon of strong safeties, but even young players like Seattle’s Kam Chancellor had more tackles and picks than Polamalu. It would be odd to give Polamalu a 99 overall when a good number of safeties had statistically better seasons than he did last year, but it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to drop him down a great deal. Even at the age of 31, he is still performing at a high level, but this should be the year where we see him slide a little in the ratings.
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