Over the next few weeks, we'll analyze the NFL playoffs using EA Sports' powerhouse football simulation, Madden NFL 25, determining the pros and cons of each team and picking an overall winner.
To get started, we're taking a look at the match-up between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers, and what each team brings to the table.
Cincinnati Bengals – Madden NFL 25 Team Rating: 81
The Cincinnati Bengals are no stranger to the playoff picture. They've made the post season the past two years, although they haven't gotten past the first round. This year, however, could tell a completely different story.
This team achieved a number of wins over the NFL season, leading the AFC North. This wasn’t by accident.
Part of the team's success comes down to passing. Andy Dalton managed did moderately well with a completion rate of over 60 percent, with 33 touchdowns and nearly 4,300 overall yards. However, he also has a tendency for interceptions, as he accumulated 20 over the course of the season – a factor that could play out well for the Chargers defense if he isn't careful.
In addition to a great quarterback, the Bengals also have a strong set of receivers, including A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Jermaine Gresham, among others. They also do quite well on the defensive end, with over 40 sacks and an average of about 19 points allowed per game. That's not bad compared to the general team average. In addition, they picked up 20 interceptions during the regular season.
Playing With the Bengals
Despite the Bengals' previous failures to move forward in the playoffs, you've got a great team to play with here. Dalton can really get a lot done on the pass plays, and the main guy you'll want to watch out for is Green. He can get a lot done on receptions, provided he can get open downfield. Sanu and Gresham can get a lot done as well, but don't be afraid to mix it up with other receivers.
The Chargers defense could read some of these pass plays, so don't be afraid to throw in a few running ones as well.
San Diego Chargers – Madden NFL 25 Team Rating: 73
The Chargers barely got into the playoffs, having to rely on a last-minute win against the Kansas City Chiefs to secure a sixth seed in the AFC. However, it's not entirely a matter of luck. While the team has seen better days when it comes to playoffs, it does have a strong offense, led by quarterback Philip Rivers.
Rivers maintained a strong passer rating, with approximately 70 percent of completions over the season, near 4,500 yards and 32 touchdowns. By comparison, only 11 of his passes led to interceptions, a surprisingly low rate compared to the general average.
In addition to Rivers' powerful arm, the Chargers have a strong offense, featuring Ryan Mathews, Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead, each with a fairly good number of receptions. The team averaged about 395 yards per game, and around 25 points.
On the defense side, San Diego hasn't done half bad, with only around 22 points allowed per game. Eric Weddle plays a big part in this with 115 tackles for the season, backed by the likes of Donald Butler and Marcus Gilchrist. Still, going against the Bengals, they'll have their hands full.
Playing With the Chargers
Don't rely too much on Rivers' arm to get the job done. He's a viable quarterback, but that doesn't necessarily make him perfect. If you see the opportunity to take a running play with Gates or another eligible receiver, see what it can do for you. The Chargers aren't half bad when it comes to rushing.
Rivers does quite well with short pass plays, but long ones could be susceptible to interceptions. The goal here is to see how open your receivers become. Check the routes on your plays and see how the defensivemen line up. If you see someone open, don't be afraid to get the ball open downfield. Go for the quicker pass, rather than a high lob that could easily be caught. This'll get you more yards in the long run, and less interceptions.
So Who Wins?
The first thing that plays a factor in this match-up is the passing game. Rivers is reliable with fewer interceptions. However, Dalton is certainly no slouch, and can add up some big numbers.
Likewise, the Bengals have a little more momentum when it comes to its regular season performance, where the Chargers have fallen a bit behind. Case in point, when the team secured victories over the likes of the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers – two high-caliber post-season teams.
Defense will also play a huge role. One error from a quarterback can easily lead to an interception, or worse yet, a pick six, which can easily change the course of the game. Defenders will have to stay on their mark and look for opportunities to stop their opponent’s momentum, whether that means getting a sack on a quarterback or keeping runners from getting that all-important first down.
The teams met last month in a regular season contest, with the Bengals prevailing 17-10. This was due to three turnovers by the Chargers over the course of the game, as well as Cincinnati keeping enough momentum in the second half to seal the deal. If Philip Rivers' squad doesn't bring enough energy into this playoff game, this could easily be a repeat situation.
From the simulation we played, the Bengals prevailed 31-14, thanks to Dalton's strong passing game and a mistake by Rivers in the second half with an interception. Considering the Chargers barely made it into the playoffs, this could very well be the case this weekend.
Stay classy, San Diego – there's always next year.
Madden NFL 25 is available now for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.