Every Madden NFL Cover Athlete Ranked from Most to Least Cursed

The definitive ranking of Madden's most cursed cover athletes.

Image via EA Press Kit

While being selected to appear on the cover of Madden is a prestigious honor among the NFL elite, a number of the players lucky enough to be bestowed with this achievement have ended up with misfortune, spanning from injuries to underperformance after appearing on the cover, thus creating the legend of “The Madden Curse.” There is obviously no possible logical explanation for why athletes who play one of the most physically demanding, competitive sports in existence could get injured or underperform, so we can only assume that Madden demons are to blame.

This completely serious, not in any way joking article will examine every Madden NFL cover athlete since the curse began, taking a deep look into the NFL’s paranormal plague, analyzing and ranking which players were most impacted by Madden’s Curse and which lucky few defeated it.

24. Patrick Mahomes II QB, Kansas City Chiefs – Madden NFL 20

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes II, has the unique designation of being the least cursed player of every Madden cover athlete so far. Madden NFL 20 was released on August 2, 2019, in Mahomes’ second year as the Chiefs’ starter.

Curse Evidence: The third-year quarterback did see significant statistical regression in his Madden cover year, throwing for only 26 touchdowns, just a little over half of the 50 he put up in his MVP season the previous year. Furthermore, Mahomes suffered a dislocated knee in a Thursday night football game against the Denver Broncos, which kept him out of action for two weeks.

Evidence Against: Mahomes would get the last laugh against the Madden Curse, as he made his second Pro Bowl appearance and became the first and only Madden cover athlete to earn a Super Bowl MVP in the same season as appearing on the cover, as he led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl ring in 50 years with a 31-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.

Verdict: Curse Defeated. Mahomes recovered from a scary-looking injury to win a Super Bowl, no other Madden cover athlete can say the same.

23. Tom Brady QB, New England Patriots – Madden NFL 18

The GOAT, Tom Brady, made his Madden cover debut at age 40 on August 25, 2017, when the game was released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Evidence Against: During that season, Brady would lead the league with 4,577 passing yards on the way to his third career league MVP award and his then eighth career Super Bowl appearance.

Curse Evidence: In Super Bowl LII, despite an impressive Super Bowl record of 505 passing yards, Brady and the New England Patriots would come up short against the Philadelphia Eagles in a 33-41 loss.

Verdict: Not cursed. While Brady didn’t win the Super Bowl, it’s fair to say he bested the Madden Curse with one of the best years of his career.

22. Barry Sanders RB, Detroit Lions – Madden NFL 25 (should have been Madden NFL 14)

While Madden NFL 25 is one of the least cursed games, it has one of the most cursed titles, as instead of naming it Madden NFL 14 like the game should have been, it was given the “25” designation for the 25th anniversary of Madden NFL games. The game released on August 27, 2013 featured Barry Sanders, the legendary running back of the Detroit Lions, who finished as the second all-time leading rusher in NFL history. He had been retired since after the 1998 season, so the Madden curse is not applicable. However, since he never won a Super Bowl (through no fault of his own), he is just under Brady and Mahomes as the third least-cursed player on this list.

Verdict: Not cursed.

21. Tom Brady QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Madden NFL 22

At age 44, after leaving the Patriots and winning his seventh Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brady would appear on the Madden cover for the second time in his career alongside the aforementioned Mahomes, when the game was released on August 17, 2021.

Evidence Against: Tom Brady led the NFL in passing yards with 5,316 (the most of any season in his career), and 43 touchdown passes (the second most of his career).

Curse Evidence: He lost in the divisional round to the Los Angeles Rams, having more turnovers than touchdowns, he would then retire/un-retire shortly after.

Verdict: Slightly cursed.

Losing in the divisional round is rare for the greatest quarterback of all time, who had only done so four times previously in his career as a starting QB. Brady should have quit (being on the cover of Madden) while he was ahead.

20. Ray Lewis LB, Baltimore Ravens – Madden NFL 2005

Defending defensive player of the year, Ray Lewis, was selected for the cover of Madden NFL 2005, which became one of the most important in the series for its introduction of the “hit stick,” as the game was released on August 9, 2004.

Evidence Against: Lewis earned a Pro Bowl selection as well as first-team All-Pro honors.

Curse Evidence: Ravens missed playoffs, Lewis missed one game due to injury.

Verdict: Slightly cursed.

19. Eddie George RB, Tennessee Titans – Madden NFL 2001

Eddie George was the first official cover athlete, as all of the previous ones were in blurry pictures behind John Madden (and don’t count). Madden NFL 2001 was also the first new Madden game of the 21st century, as it was released on August 14, 2000.

Evidence Against: Eddie George had the best year of his entire NFL career, rushing for 1,509 yards and scoring 16 total touchdowns. He earned a Pro Bowl selection, and his only first-team All-Pro honor of his career.

Curse Evidence: After barely losing in the Super Bowl to the St. Louis Rams in the 1999 season, the Titans lost in the divisional round to the Baltimore Ravens.

Verdict: Slightly cursed.

18. Larry Fitzgerald WR, Arizona Cardinals – Madden NFL 10

After losing in Super Bowl XLIII to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Larry Fitzgerald would become the first wide receiver to appear on the cover of Madden, alongside Steelers’ safety, Troy Polamalu when the game launched on August 14, 2009.

Evidence Against: In his sixth season, Fitzgerald would earn a Pro Bowl selection and be voted second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. He would also record a career-high in touchdown receptions with 13 (a cursed number though!).

Curse Evidence: The Cardinals would suffer a 14-45 blowout loss in the divisional round of the playoffs to the New Orleans Saints during the “Bounty Gate era.” The game occurred three years prior to when it was discovered New Orleans coaches were incentivizing Saints’ defenders to injure opposing teams’ players. Cardinals QB Kurt Warner was one of the players injured by the Saints that season.

Verdict: Slightly cursed. While Fitzgerald had one of his best seasons, losing in the divisional round like that, and seeing your quarterback injured had to be a little disturbing.

17. Richard Sherman CB, Seattle Seahawks – Madden NFL 2015

After a 43-8 drubbing of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, Richard Sherman, the trash-talking star of the Super Bowl champion Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary, was the first and only cornerback to ever be featured on the series’ cover when Madden NFL 15 released on August 26, 2014.

Evidence Against: Sherman earned his third consecutive first-team All-Pro honor, and notched his second consecutive Pro Bowl nod, as the Seahawks advanced to their second Super Bowl appearance in a row, this time facing the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX.

Curse Evidence: Trailing 24-28 with 24 seconds left in the 4th quarter at the Patriots’ two-yard line, the Seahawks suffered one of the most shocking, painful losses in Super Bowl history, when the Seahawks opted to pass instead of run the football with elite running back Marshawn Lynch, and quarterback Russell Wilson threw an interception, sealing their defeat. The Seahawks were never the same after that loss.

Verdict: Slightly cursed. While the loss of a Super Bowl is painful, especially the way the Seahawks did in Super Bowl XLIX, it ultimately was not Sherman’s fault.

16. Lamar Jackson QB, Baltimore Ravens – Madden NFL 21

After winning league MVP in 2019, Lamar Jackson appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 21, the first next-gen Madden game which was first released for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on August 28, 2020, and later for PS5 and Xbox Series X|S.

Evidence Against: Jackson won his first career playoff game, getting revenge on the rival Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, and became the only quarterback with two 1,000+ rushing yard seasons in a career.

Evidence For: Jackson would once again lose in the divisional round of the playoffs, he missed a game due to COVID-19 and threw for 10 fewer touchdowns than he had the previous season.

Verdict: Slightly cursed.

15. Calvin Johnson WR, Detroit Lions – Madden NFL 13

“Megatron” became the second wide receiver to appear on the Madden cover on the unlucky Madden NFL 13, which was released on August 28, 2012.

Evidence Against: Johnson set the all-time single-season NFL receiving yards record with 1,964 yards, a mark that has yet to be broken, even as the NFL schedule has an extra game now. He earned a Pro Bowl appearance and a first-team All-Pro selection too.

Evidence For: Not only did the Detroit Lions miss the playoffs with a 4-12 record, after making the playoffs the previous year, but Johnson was also tackled at the one-yard line SIX TIMES, which would have given the star wide receiver eleven receiving touchdowns instead of his final total of five. How else can that be explained except for a magical videogame curse? Answer? It can’t. Case closed.

Verdict: Cursed.

14. Patrick Mahomes II QB, Kansas City Chiefs – Madden NFL 22

Mahomes would appear on his second Madden cover in just his first five seasons in the NFL, which no one else has accomplished, this time alongside Tom Brady when Madden NFL 22 was released on August 17, 2021. After being the only player who “beat” the Madden Curse, how would he fair in his second time on the cover?

Evidence Against: Mahomes earned his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl selection and led the Chiefs to their fourth AFC Championship game in as many years.

Curse Evidence: Mahomes threw a career-high 13 interceptions (Coincidence? I think not). The Chiefs started the season with an uncharacteristic three wins and four losses (before finishing 12-5), blew a 21-3 first-half lead to lose the AFC Championship game to the Cincinnati Bengals 24-27 in overtime at Arrowhead Stadium, and missed a chance at a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

Verdict: Cursed. In the end, Madden always wins.

Related: When Does Madden Mobile 23 Come Out? – Madden 23 Mobile Release Date

13. Marshall Faulk RB, St. Louis Rams – Madden NFL 2003

Marshall Faulk, the running back of the then St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf,” was a dual-threat superstar coming off a narrow Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots and his third consecutive NFL Offensive Player of the Year award when he appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 2003 on August 12, 2002.

Evidence Against: Faulk earned his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl, recording 1,400+ scrimmage yards and 10 TDs.

Curse Evidence: The Rams missed the playoffs after two Super Bowl appearances in the previous three seasons, Faulk started only ten games out of fourteen he played in, and he failed to win a fourth consecutive Offensive Player of the Year honor. After appearing on the Madden cover, Faulk would never rush for 1,000 yards again, and 2002 was his last Pro Bowl season.

Verdict: Cursed. A textbook case of slow-acting Madden Curse. Nothing to do with the fact he was a nearly 30-year-old running back.

12. Odell Beckham Jr. WR, New York Giants – Madden NFL 16

After a sensational rookie campaign in 2014, making one of the great one-handed catches in NFL history on Sunday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys and winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, Odell Beckham Jr. was selected to be the Madden NFL 16 cover athlete when the game launched on August 25, 2015.

Evidence Against: On paper, Beckham Jr. had his best statistical season hauling in 96 receptions for a career-high 1,450 yards, and 13 touchdowns (hmmm another 13).

Curse Evidence: While “OBJ” had a good year statistically, his week 15 fight/dirty hit against Carolina Panthers’ cornerback Josh Norman resulted in a one-game suspension, and turned him into a controversial figure in the NFL.

Verdict: Cursed.

11. Vince Young QB, Tennessee Titans – Madden NFL 08

Similar to Odell Beckham Jr., after winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2006, second-year quarterback Vince Young appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 08, which was released on August 14, 2007.

Evidence Against: Young helped lead the Titans to their first playoff appearance since 2003.

Curse Evidence: Young threw only nine touchdown passes against 17 interceptions, but the curse didn’t fully affect him until 2008 when Young suffered an injury and lost his starting job to Kerry Collins.

Verdict: Cursed. Another case of slow-acting Madden Curse.

10. Drew Brees QB, New Orleans Saints – Madden NFL 11

After defeating the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, the New Orleans’ Saints Super Bowl MVP quarterback Drew Brees was chosen to be the Madden cover athlete, as the game launched on August 6, 2010.

Evidence Against: Brees was selected to the Pro Bowl, and led the Saints to an 11-5 record.

Curse Evidence: Brees threw a career-high 22 interceptions, while the rest of his career he never even came close that interception mark. To add insult to injury, Brees and the Saints lost to the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs, who became the first team with a losing record to win a playoff game in NFL history by defeating the defending Super Bowl champions.

Verdict: Cursed.

9. Brett Favre QB, New York Jets – Madden NFL 2009

The Brett Favre Madden cover itself belongs on this list for how cursed it is. Prior to the 2008 season, Favre, the long-time Packers’ quarterback retired from the NFL after 18 seasons. Madden chose to honor the legend by making him the cover athlete on its 20th anniversary Madden game. However, Favre ruined this when he un-retired in late-July and was traded to the Jets, but still appeared as a Packer on Madden’s cover when it was released on August 12, 2008.

Evidence Against: Favre set a personal best, throwing six touchdowns in a game, and led the Jets to an 8-3 record to start the season.

Curse Evidence: After a great start to the season, Favre tore his biceps tendon, but played through the injury. The Jets wound up losing four of their last five games, missing the playoffs, and Favre led the league with 22 interceptions. He would be released from the Jets after the season.

Verdict: Very cursed. However, he had a great year with the Minnesota Vikings in 2009, making this a case of a one-year Madden curse.

Related: Every NFL Team That Has Never Had a Madden Cover Athlete Listed

8. Antonio Brown WR, Pittsburgh Steelers – Madden NFL 2019

Everything was going well for Antonio Brown’s career, he was a perennial Pro Bowler and the consensus best wide receiver in the NFL… until the fateful year that he was selected to be the cover athlete of Madden NFL 2019, released on August 7, 2018.

Evidence Against: Great statistical season, 104 receptions, 1,297 yards, and a league-leading 15 touchdowns.

Curse Evidence: This was Brown’s final season with the Steelers and the star receiver was suspended for the team’s final game for missing practices due to an alleged dispute with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. After the season he was traded to the Raiders, who released him and he has since bounced around the league from the Patriots to the Buccaneers, where more of his hijinks have ensued, including a 2021 mid-game meltdown in which he danced around shirtless in the end zone at MetLife Stadium before being released by the Buccaneers.

Verdict: Very cursed. However, Brown’s strong statistical year, and lack of injuries prevent him from being any higher on the list.

7. Donovan McNabb QB, Philadelphia Eagles – Madden NFL 06

After leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl appearance in the 2004 season, Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb was selected to be the Madden cover athlete for Madden NFL 06, which was released on August 8, 2005.

Evidence Against: McNabb was awarded the NFC Offensive Player of the month for September 2005.

Curse Evidence: There was locker room turmoil, as Eagles’ wide receiver Terrell Owens was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team,” and McNabb played through a variety of injuries, only making it nine games before suffering a season-ending groin injury. The Eagles went 6-10 after going 13-3 during the previous Super Bowl season.

Verdict: Very cursed.

6. Daunte Culpepper QB, Minnesota Vikings – Madden NFL 2002

After earning a first-team All-Pro selection in 2000, Daunte Culpepper was the second player overall and the first quarterback ever featured on the cover of Madden when Madden NFL 2002 was released on August 13, 2001.

Evidence Against: The Vikings won more games with him than without him in the lineup.

Curse Evidence: Culpepper led the Vikings to a 4-7 record before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He threw 14 touchdowns, the lowest of his career as a majority starter, while tossing you guessed it… 13 interceptions (there’s that number again!).

Verdict: Very cursed.

5. Troy Polamalu S, Pittsburgh Steelers – Madden NFL 10

While his cover counterpart Larry Fitzgerald fared much better, the defending Super Bowl champion, first-team All-Pro safety, Troy Polamalu had a rough season when he appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 10, which was released on August 14, 2009

Evidence Against: He made three interceptions in only five games played.

Curse Evidence: He was only able to play in five games due to recurring MCL injuries, and the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to even make the playoffs after winning Super Bowl XLIII.

Verdict: Extremely cursed. However, the safety would rebound the following season to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award and went on to a Hall of Fame career.

4. Michael Vick QB, Atlanta Falcons – Madden NFL 2004

After earning his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2002, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was selected to be the cover athlete on Madden NFL 2004, one of the most critically acclaimed Madden games of all time, when it was released on August 12, 2003.

Evidence Against: He had a winning record (3-1) in four games played.

Curse Evidence: Vick fractured his right fibula during a 2003 preseason game, which kept him out for twelve of the sixteen weeks of the Falcons’ season. Vick threw only four touchdown passes, and the Falcons went 5-11.

Verdict: Extremely cursed.

3. Rob Gronkowski TE, New England Patriots – Madden NFL 17

After a first-team All-Pro selection in 2015, Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski became the first and only player at his position to be a Madden cover athlete when Madden NFL 17 was released on August 23, 2016.

Evidence Against: In six games started, Gronkowski had three 100-yard receiving games.

Curse Evidence: “Gronk” only played in eight games due to injury, and ended the season on injured reserve with a herniated disk. To add insult to injury, the Patriots went on to win Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons without Gronkowski in the greatest come-from-behind victory in championship game history.

Verdict: Terribly cursed. However, he’s still a future Hall of Fame tight end, and possibly the greatest to ever play at his position.

2. Shaun Alexander RB, Seattle Seahawks – Madden NFL 07

After winning the 2005 NFL Most Valuable Player Award and Offensive Player of the Year Award in the same year, setting the all-time single-season record for total touchdowns (28), and leading the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl XL appearance, Shaun Alexander was featured as the Madden NFL 07 cover athlete when the game launched on August 22, 2006.

Evidence Against: The defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks made the playoffs again. Alexander ran for 200 yards in one game.

Curse Evidence: Alexander suffered a broken foot in the third game of the season, only playing in 10 games total. After recording 1,600+ scrimmage yards and 16+ touchdowns each of the prior five seasons, Alexander managed only 896 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. After appearing on the Madden cover, Alexander would only play three more seasons and never ran for 1,000 rushing yards again. Also, Alexander’s hard-earned single-season touchdown record only lasted one year, as Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson bested it with 31 touchdowns during the 2006 season.

Verdict: Terribly, extremely cursed.

Also, despite the fact that Alexander had 100 career rushing touchdowns, he is the only eligible player with that distinction not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

1. Peyton Hillis RB, Cleveland Browns – Madden NFL 12

Peyton Hillis was an unlikely Madden cover athlete, a former seventh-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos, who burst onto the scene with the Cleveland Browns after recording 1,600+ scrimmage yards and 13 (dun-dun-duuuun!) total touchdowns in 2010. He was chosen for the Madden NFL 12 cover when the game was released on August 30, 2011.

Evidence Against: Hillis had three good games during the 2011 season.

Curse Evidence: Hillis missed five games due to injury and one game controversially due to strep throat. He couldn’t get a contract extension with the Browns after off-season negotiations broke down. He had only 700 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns, and the unlikely hero of the Cleveland Browns was no longer on the team just one year after he appeared on the cover of Madden. He would bounce around the league for three more years with the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants.

Verdict: Horribly, terribly, extremely cursed. Peyton Hillis deserved better.

About the Author

Grant Testa

Grant Testa is a writer at Prima Games, who specializes in achievement hunting and horror gaming. He is also an avid comic book reader/collector, fantasy footballer, and rock music fanatic. Thousands who have been defeated by Grant in online multiplayer games have cried to themselves, wondering, "How did he get so good?! Why can't I be a gaming demigod like him?" They would probably be surprised to learn that Grant actually inherited his elite gaming skills from his mom, Joann Hansen, one of the speediest stenographers/typists in the nation, (and probably the world). Fun fact: he is also the son of the world’s first “let’s player” and comedy legend, Tim Testa.