Each NFL season is its own unique time capsule, as out-of-nowhere stories pop up every year. Did anyone think the 49ers would host the NFC Championship game heading into last season? What about the Cincinnati Bengals making the playoffs? How about the Philadelphia Eagles anointed the Dream Team in the preseason imploding to the point of irrelevancy before Thanksgiving?
While a few teams maintain consistency over the course of several seasons, the vast majority of clubs rocket up and down like a roller coaster. The bottom line is no one really has a clue whats going to happen when the NFL season kicks off, which is part of what makes it so awesome. So, with that as a backdrop, were here to follow up our recent player predictions with our forecast for the biggest movers in Madden NFL 13.
Why we think it will change: Having to play the Patriots and the Jets twice a season is a huge challenge, but its even worse when your quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick) is an 81 overall and your running back (Fred Jackson) is an 80. In Madden 12, the Bills started out as a 73 overall and went on to win five of their first seven games. On top of that, Jackson rushed for over 930 yards and had 442 receiving yards. The Bills surprisingly showed a great deal of improvement on offense during the 2011-12 NFL season.
On defense, the Bills picked up the most coveted free agent defensive player this offseason, defensive end Mario Williams. With the ratings boost that last years rookie defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will get coming into Madden 13, they will likely have three players on their defensive line rated over 90 (Williams, Dareus and Kyle Williams) to complement an already solid defense. The Bills should be rated in the mid to high 80s for Madden 13.
Why we think it will change: One of the biggest surprises of 2011-12 wont sneak up on anyone this year including the Madden NFL 13 ratings crew. Between coach Jim Harbaugh, quarterback Alex Smith (yes, Niners fans, hes back again!), and a swarming defense that mauled opponents last year, the 49ers are poised to equal or surpass their NFC Championship Game berth.
Their one true weak spot was at the wide receiver position, which they addressed via the draft (top pick AJ Jenkins) and free agency (Mario Manningham and Randy Moss). While Moss may not even make it through training camp, Manningham and Jenkins add depth to a team that had very few holes in the first place. San Francisco will be one of the top four ranked teams in the NFL.
Why we think it will change: Tim Tebow is a hard player to rate for Madden; unfortunately, there is no He Just Wins category. When the Broncos started out in Madden 12, you had to choose between the mediocre Kyle Orton or the almost-impossible-to-use Tim Tebow at quarterback. For Madden 13, however, the Broncos made a serious upgrade when they signed future Hall-of-Famer and Madden ratings super-stud Peyton Manning this offseason. It also helps that they brought tight end Jacob Tamme, one of Mannings favorite targets from the Colts, along for the ride.
With the return of Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller at linebacker and the dominance of defensive end Elvis Dumervil, both the Broncos defense and offense should get a substantial bump from where this AFC West Champion team started in Madden 12. Lets pencil the Broncos in to being Madden 13 with a plum rating of 87 overall.
Why we think it will change: Cam Newton may not have won the Madden NFL 13 Cover Vote contest, but he did set an array of records last year that were as impressive as any rookie quarterback campaign we can remember. A dual-threat-terror out of the backfield, Newton can throw lasers to rejuvenated superstar wideout Steve Smith or run with abandon into the end zone when the situation calls for it. Theyve also got three solid runners vets DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are complemented by free agency pickup Mike Tolbert to round out an offense with frightening potential.
Their defense is scary for other reasons, though, as it was one of the worst in the league last season. Rookie draft pick Luke Kuechly will provide some stability at the linebacker position, but this porous group remains the reason the Panthers overall wont rise beyond the very low 80s. Still, its a nice bump from their desultory status at the start of last year.
Why we think it will change: It wouldve been impossible to predict that this young Bengals team would come out of the AFC North and make the playoffs last season, and Madden 12 surely didnt rate them as a playoff contender either. Through the exceptional play of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and rookie wide receiver A.J. Green, though, the Bengals look poised to contend again as the new NFL campaign kicks off.
The Bengals lost a solid running back in Cedric Benson this offseason, but they should be able to count on former New England running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis to fill his shoes. Also, by drafting the second highest rated rookie corner in Stephon Gilmore and picking up the older but dependable defensive back Terrence Newman, the Bengals improved an already solid defense. Look for Cincinnati to be rated in the top ten in Madden 13.
Why we think it will change: Calvin Johnson aka Megatron snared the cover of Madden NFL 13 this year and his fellow teammates will power the Lions overall rating north of last years. Between Johnsons most-likely 99 rating and quarterback Matt Staffords numbers going up as well, the Lions will be one of the better-ranked squads heading into the season.
Helping their cause will be the havoc-inducing Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line, one of the most dominant in the game, as well as a strong linebacking squad. However, their secondary is questionable thanks to the release of their starting cornerback Aaron Berry, who was arrested not once, but twice this offseason. The biggest question is whether or not their ordinary, oft-injured running corps can provide enough balance to power Megatron and Stafford through the air. We think they do to the tune of an 86 overall rating.
And now, we shift gears to look at who will be taking a downward shift in the upcoming game
Why we think it will change: In Madden 12, it was hard to select the Dolphins. The thought of choosing between Matt Moore and Chad Henne as your quarterback was only palatable because you knew that you had WR Brandon Marshall as your primary target. Matt Moore will be back at the helm in Madden 13, but without Brandon Marshall, you will likely be throwing to a crop of wide receivers with ratings in the mid to high 70s.
It gets even scarier at running back, where the once-rating-rich Reggie Bush will be starting. Bushs injury ratings will ensure that you will probably be spending more time with his backup, rookie LaMar Miller, who wont break out of the mid 70s to start Madden 13. Compound the offensive troubles with a pretty mediocre defense - outside of linebackers Carlos Dansby and Cameron Wake - and the Dolphins may be the lowest rated team in Madden 13.
Why we think it will change: The South Florida Swoon continues, moving west from Miami to Tampa. Traditionally a Tiburon favorite, the Buccaneers will struggle to approach the mid-70s to start the season. Their offense is mediocre at absolute best, with a fading Josh Freeman and ordinary LeGarrette Blount leading the charge. While they did sign the mercurial Vincent Jackson at wide receiver, his best days are likely behind him not to mention hes always a moment away from freaking out about something.
Top pick Mark Barron from Alabama will help on defense, but its still a lackluster crew thats old (Ronde Barber is still playing!) and mediocre. An entirely new coaching staff - headed by the totally inexperienced college coach Greg Schiano - has their hands full with a mess of a roster and an apathetic fan base that is clearly bored and tired of their team.
Why we think it will change: After trading up in the 2011 draft to pick up wide receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons looked deadly on offense and stable on defense. Ultimately, the Falcons werent terrible, but they werent terribly exciting either. Jones surely wasnt as explosive as the Bengals rookie phenom A.J. Green, while Rowdy Roddy White and Michael Turner did not have an impressive second half of the season. In fact, the whole team was bizarrely flaccid in November and December before an embarrassing loss in the first round of the playoffs.
As far as the actual pieces go, the Falcons look competitive on defense after picking up Asante Samuel, but they lack depth in the secondary and linebacking corps. Its going to be a rough road for Atlanta this season, especially if they take on an injury or two (which in the NFL is always likely). While they wont get a huge ratings decrease, the hype for the Falcons seems to be gone in Madden NFL 13.
Why we think it will change: Where to start? The Colts may as well put a giant REBUILDING YEAR PLEASE BE PATIENT banner at the top of the Lucas Oil Stadium. Most players the fans have come to know and love including Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, and Joseph Addai are gone, leaving a motley collection of rookies and veterans wearing the uniforms but looking nothing like the dominant Colts of years gone by.
Of course, it will probably be fun to play with Andrew Luck, the top pick of the NFL Draft. His initial ratings will be in the low- to mid-80s, though, and other than Reggie Wayne theres not much to work with on offense. The defense is even worse off, with an atrocious secondary that will offset any benefit that the stalwart vets (now forced t play at linebacker) Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis provide. This team will not be for the faint of heart to choose.