Eleven NFL teams have started the season winless, all of them teetering on the edge of the abyss, staring into the heart of an immense darkness. Yet to hear Carolina Panthers fullback Brad Hoover tell it, an 0-2 record isn't the end of the world.
Hoover is right, of course: 0-2 isn't the end of the world. Not when 0-3 is just around the corner. Since 1990, only three clubs to begin the season with three straight losses have advanced to the playoffs. Which means it's time for the NFL's Dirty Near-Dozen to press the panic button.
Winless teams need new schemes, new personnel, new plans of attack. And they need them yesterday, because the status quo ain't cutting it.
Can't stop the bleeding? We suggest Madden NFL 07.
College football programs already use video game-like simulators as quarterback training tools. Chargers cornerback Drayton Florence told a San Diego newspaper that he sometimes uses Madden to scout opposing receivers. Why not go a step further, and look to the popular football game for some much-needed relief?
Forget Ron Jaworski. The NFL's 0-fers have a sickness; Dr. Madden has the cure. Using the game, Page 2 gave each struggling team a classic Madden fix, then simulated its next game. We think we're onto something. Decide for yourself:
Last loss: Buffalo, 16-6
Next game: Tennessee
Symptoms: Daunte Culpepper looks less like the Pro Bowler who landed the Madden 2002 cover than the erratic chucker who sank a thousand fantasy squads before leaving Minnesota. Offensive line is feeble (Culpepper sacked 10 times in two games, Ronnie Brown averaging 3.3 yards per carry). In Week 1 loss to Pittsburgh, ultra-intense coach Nick Saban was inexplicably slow with the challenge flag.
Madden prescription: Use create-a-player to reincarnate the Culpepper of Madden 2002. Increase user pass-blocking slider to maximum level. Turn replay challenges OFF in options menu.
Simulated outcome: Dolphins win, 28-10. Rejuvenated Culpepper (23-of-35 for 336 yards passing, 4 TDs, Player of the Week honors) was never sacked behind suddenly awesome O-line. Alas, we couldn't figure out how to turn replay challenges OFF in the options menu.
Now we know how Bob Stoops feels.
Green Bay Packers
Last loss: New Orleans, 34-27
Next game: at Detroit
Symptoms: "Most talented" team Brett Favre has ever been a part of looks hopeless and clueless -- beaten at home by the vagabond Saints after being bageled by Chicago (26-0) in Week 1, the first shutout of Favre's illustrious career.
Madden prescription: Have the famous Madden on-field quarterback ambulance rescue No. 4 from what looks to be a forgettable final season -- oh, and if the ambulance runs over Favre's talented teammates en route, so much the better.
Simulated outcome: Rats! Crazy Madden ambulance hasn't been in the game since early '90s (as we remember it, the back-of-the-box caption read: "Biggest play of the year -- quarterback sneak to the hospital!"). Even in the virtual world, the Packers are completely out of luck.
Last loss: at Indianapolis, 43-24
Next game: Washington
Symptoms: DID NOT DRAFT REGGIE BUSH DESPITE AN OVERWHELMING CONSENSUS THAT BUSH IS THE MOST EXCITING RUNNING BACK PROSPECT TO ENTER THE LEAGUE SINCE BARRY SANDERS. Also, the club suffers from general suckitude, especially on defense.
Madden prescription: Use roster management function to swap No. 1 pick Mario Williams for Bush. Defense may win championships, but the Texans' defense can't even win a game. Why not sell some tickets and make fantasy owners happy instead? (And really -- Ron Dayne?)
Simulated outcome: Houston wins, 23-17, in OT.
Against Washington's tough defense, Bush runs for a ho-hum 78 yards on 18 carries -- which is still waaaaay better than current Texans starter Wali Lundy's average of 28.5 yards per game. Too bad Houston doesn't have a time machine.
Last loss: at Cincinnati, 34-17
Next game: Baltimore
Symptoms: Gained just 186 total yards on offense in Week 1, 45 more than Bush gained against Cleveland's defense. Against the Bengals last week, the Browns failed to get more than one first down on any of their first-half drives. Oy. Clearly, Cleveland isn't getting enough balls to Kellen Winslow -- and if you don't believe us, just ask him.
Madden prescription: Throw every single pass to Winslow; on running plays, line up Winslow in the backfield and put the pigskin in his gut. Of course, we're talking about Kellen Winslow Sr., whom we added to the Browns via Madden NFL 07's Hall of Fame player pool. Better to have a Winslow who's actually done something in professional football, right?
Simulated outcome: Browns win, 13-10. The old man can play: 56 yards rushing, 147 yards receiving, 1 TD and zero motorcycle accidents while attempting to re-enact "Biker Boyz." Good job!
Last loss: at Chicago, 34-7
Next game: Green Bay
Symptoms: Lions' top draft picks since 2002: Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Mike Williams. Oh, and the team is reportedly thinking about acquiring Oakland malcontent Jerry Porter, since underachieving pass-catchers are obviously invaluable. Hmmm. Could Detroit's woes maybe, just maybe, stem from front office incompetence?
Madden prescription: Do what the Ford family won't, and take control of team management via Madden's franchise mode. Step No. 1: stop drafting wide receivers in the first round.
Simulated outcome: Through shrewd trading, drafting and player development, the virtual Lions thump the Packers and finish the season 12-4. The '09-'10 season, that is. Uh-oh.
Kansas City Chiefs
Last loss: at Denver, 9-6
Next game: San Francisco
Symptoms: Quarterback Trent Green is out with a concussion, leaving the once-potent Chiefs offense in the not-so-capable hands of Damon Huard.
Madden prescription: Replace injured Green with team cancer-cum-Oakland cut Jeff George, largely because Tennessee has already signed the equally washed-up Kerry Collins. So what if George hasn't thrown a pro pass since 2001? Page 2's Jason Whitlock says he's awesome. You can't handle the NFL truth!
Simulated outcome: We had to use create-a-player to make Jeff George -- inexplicably, the game doesn't include him. The Chiefs still lost, 30-24. Worse still, George looked pedestrian: 284 yards passing, 1 TD, 3 INTs. Maybe we shouldn't have given him a zero team morale rating. Who knew that it mattered?
Last loss: at San Diego, 40-7
Next game: at Miami
Symptoms: Off-the-street free-agent pickup Kerry Collins posted a 1.3 quarterback rating -- note: not a typo -- against the Chargers. The Titans' secondary was riddled by noodle-armed Chad Pennington in Week 1 loss to the New York Jets.
Madden prescription: Forget Collins. Forget pass defense. Just put in Vince Young for more than one series at a time. Seriously, the guy is awesome. Well, in Madden he is. Have you seen his scramble rating? (As for the secondary, too bad virtual Pac Man Jones can't be replaced by Pac Man, a guy who eats opponents for lunch. C'mon, EA Sports, make it happen in Madden NFL 08!)
Simulated outcome: Titans win 21-17, behind a heroic rushing effort from Young (24 carries, 138 yards). The rookie QB absorbed a half-dozen brutal open-field hits but never fumbled or got hurt, probably because we turned player fatigue and injuries OFF. If only Jeff Fisher could do the same.
Last loss: at Minnesota, 16-13
Next game: at Tampa Bay
Symptoms: Without All-Pro receiver Steve Smith, Jake Delhomme sports a QB rating of 61.5 and has yet to throw a touchdown pass. In a Week 1 loss to Atlanta, the vaunted Panthers defense was gutted for 252 rushing yards. Also, their uniforms are hideous.
Madden prescription: Activate Smith. To help the embattled Carolina rush defense, take control of Tampa Bay's offense and call all pass plays. Nothing we can do about the unis, though, since the game doesn't seem to include a team edit function.
Simulated outcome: Panthers lose 35-17, with Bucs QB Chris Simms throwing for 355 yards and Smith failing to break 100 yards receiving. Chris Simms. Egads! If it's in the game, it's not in the game.
Tampa Bay Bucs
Last loss: at Atlanta, 14-3
Next game: Carolina
Symptoms: Unlike the virtual Simms from above, the real-life quarterback has an NFL-low passer rating of 39.9, with six INTs and no TDs. Formerly fearsome defense surrendered 303 rushing yards to the Falcons, the most in team history. (Not good, considering Tampa Bay's mostly putrid team history).
Madden prescription: Duh. Focus on rushing. On offense, only use goal-line package runs to keep game out of Simms' hands. On defense, always put eight defenders in the box.
Simulated outcome: Oops. Bucs lose 24-7, as the Panthers' Smith nets 226 yards receiving and three TDs. As anyone on the Chicago Bears can tell you, covering Smith with a single defender is not a good idea.
Last loss: at Dallas, 27-10
Next game: at Houston
Symptoms: Under new coordinator Al Saunders, offense has been abysmal, averaging 13 points per game. Free-agent pickups/former 49ers Andre Carter and Brandon Lloyd have yet to make an impact, which is surprising given how much success San Francisco enjoyed last season.
Madden prescription: Use ASK MADDEN function on offense, since the Skins' current play-calling isn't getting the job done. Saunders may be a genius, but John Madden is in the Hall of Fame (heck, it says so on the game box). Also use create-a-player function to make and sign Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. If you're gonna raid the Niners, make sure you get good players.
Simulated outcome: The ASK MADDEN voice-over advice is right -- just look for the guy who's open, and get the ball in his hands. (Note: strategy works best when Montana is doing the looking, and the open guy is Rice.) Redskins win, 38-14. Maybe EA Sports can program an ASK BILL WALSH function, too.
Last loss: at Baltimore, 28-6
Next loss: Cleveland
Symptoms: Where to begin? How about having as many sacks (9) and punts (9) as first downs (9) in a Week 1 loss to San Diego? How about reports that Porter was laughing at struggling QB Aaron Brooks from the sideline? How about Porter defending himself by claiming he wasn't paying attention to the game? How about coach Art Shell looking as though he wanted to swallow a bottle of sleeping pills after losing to the Ravens? (In Shell's defense, maybe he just needed a nap.)
Madden prescription: We're stumped. Big John's former franchise looks even worse than the Packers. And that's saying something.
Simulated outcome: With the Raiders trailing 17-3 in the second quarter, we pulled a Porter and stopped paying attention. Does the Xbox 360 come equipped with a panic button?
Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2. Sound off to Page 2 here.