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1995 season DVOA and Tecmo Super Bowl 3

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I came across this excellent article from Football Outsiders breaking down DVOA rankings for the 1995 season and after reading over it a second time, I got to thinking about TSB 3. Some of these ratings reflect into the game.


Tecmo has always amazed me over the years with how accurate they estimated a number of players in rankings and team behaviors. Of course, they could never get a season completely accurate in a simulation run, they usually are close with player rankings and such. When it comes to the perennial playoff teams of the early to mid 90's which the old games cover (Dallas, SF, GB, Pittsburgh, KC, Houston, Buffalo), Tecmo's simulation runs and overall game behavior usually are on the money. 



One of the fun games we can play with these old years of play-by-play is "What if Football Outsiders had existed back then?" The Giants' historic upset of the Patriots in this year's Super Bowl has forced us to constantly explain the difference between probability and certainty, but that's nothing compared to the kind of knots we would have tied ourselves into during 1995. This was right in the middle of the great Cowboys-49ers rivalry of the 90's, so it is no surprise that the Cowboys and 49ers were the top two teams in DVOA. The surprise is which team ranked first.

The dominant team of the 1995 season, according to DVOA, was defending champion San Francisco. The 49ers finished the season with a DVOA rating of 41.0%, which is the third-highest regular-season DVOA ever recorded, just ahead of the 1996 Packers but behind the 2007 Patriots and 1999 Rams. The 49ers were more than 10% DVOA higher than second-place Dallas, yet they only finished 11-5. The only other team to finish worse than 12-4 despite a DVOA rating over 30% was the 2002 Oakland Raiders (11-5, 30.9%). Six of their wins came by at least three touchdowns, and that doesn't count their 38-20 ass-whupping of the Cowboys at Texas Stadium in Week 11. Their five losses, meanwhile, came by 1, 1, 3, 4, and 6 points.


Off topic from Tecmo; 


Interesting note here; between 1994 to about 1998, the NFC was basically a triangle between the Niners, Cowboys and Packers. The playoffs came down to them avoiding one team and getting matched with another; the Packers owned the 49ers, the Cowboys owned the Packers and the 49ers owned the Cowboys. 


This bit that talks about the Niners don't mention how the Packers thoroughly dominated them. GB was always the thorn in their side during this time span, meanwhile Green Bay had their own problem with Dallas. 


IMO I've always felt the 1995 NFC playoffs were determined out of the match up seedings between these three teams. Dallas got to avoid the 49ers while they got GB in the NFC title game whom they owned. Change around the teams in the NFCCG and there's a way all 3 of them could've made the SB just from the triangle of how they stomped each other down in this time. 




This wasn't even the biggest upset of the weekend. According to DVOA, seven of the top nine teams in the NFL that year were NFC teams. Kansas City and Pittsburgh were more dominant in the AFC than San Francisco and Dallas were in the NFC. The day after Green Bay beat San Francisco, the Chiefs hosted wild card Indianapolis. The Colts finished 24th in DVOA but managed to finish 9-7 thanks to the second-easiest schedule in football and five wins by a field goal or less. They somehow upset defending AFC champion San Diego in the first round of the playoffs, even though Marshall Faulk was injured on the first play from scrimmage. The Colts had a bad defense, terrible special teams, and their best player was done for the season. Kansas City ranked first in special teams and second in defense, with an above-average offense. A simple pick, right? Wrong. Chiefs kicker Lin Elliott missed three field goals and Indianapolis upset Kansas City 10-7, the game that more than any other may have cemented Marty Schottenheimer's reputation for postseason failure.



Couple notes here - 


It's so easy to breeze through TSB 3 with the Chiefs or Steelers. They both dominate the AFC pretty handily without much competition. The Chiefs rank higher in DVOA for 1995, which I think makes a lot of sense with how they finished 13-3 were the #1 seed that year. Tecmo also gets this right; in almost every simulation I run of TSB 3, the Chiefs always win 11 or more games and rank in the top 5 on defense through the year. I would argue that this is the best version of the Chiefs in any of the SNES Tecmo games. Their offense may not be as good as previous versions,, but their defense is much superior than any of the 3 versions on TSB 2. When your offense is struggling, you can just sit back and run nickel formations to prevent big passing plays and grind the opposing offenses to a halt. 


I'd say Tecmo also gets this right with the Colts. Even if you switch in Jim Harbaugh during the season, the Colts are awful in this game. I've never had a simulation where they actually make the playoffs. The one time I did put them in the playoffs myself, they got crushed in every simulation I ran. Funny enough, against the Steelers, Chargers and Chiefs whom all wiped the floor with them in the game despite underachieving vs them in the real world. I got Indy to the SB one time running multiple simulations on Save states and Dallas beat them into the ground. 




As noted earlier, the 1995 NFC Central was one of the strongest divisions in NFL history. On the other hand, the AFC East somehow sent three teams to the playoffs despite being the worst division in football. Every single team in the AFC East finished the season with a DVOA rating below 0%. Buffalo, Miami, and Indianapolis got fat with close wins over expansion Jacksonville  and the mediocre teams of the NFC West. The Jets somehow finished 3-13 despite having the easiest schedule in the NFL according to average DVOA of all 16 opponents. They played only three teams with DVOA ratings above 0% and only one (Atlanta) with a DVOA rating above 6%. The only team in the division with an above-average schedule was New England, which had to go on the road to play (and lose to) four of the top five teams in DVOA. (The only team they didn't play was Dallas.)


All the teams in the NFC Central are pretty good in TSB 3. I've seen it mentioned on here over the years how the Bears really aren't a bad team in TSB 3 and it's mostly their schedule that can be tough. The Bears even rank in the top 10 of DVOA on this article, proving that the people on here who like the Bears were definitely onto something. Their offense is even ranked in the top 5 of Offense DVOA. They're not a bad team by any means. 


I like to mess around with the Bucs in these games cause they usually make the game very challenging due to how bad they are (yet have a favorable playbook in every game), but this game is the one exception where Tampa Bay can be pretty good. The Bucs defense is vastly improved over the previous versions in TSB 2. The offense also has play makers in Alvin Harper and Rudy Harris.


The divisional games of the NFC Central in TSB 3 are so unpredictable at times. If you're just simulating the season, you never know what's going to happen in this division. Only with the Packers have I ever stomped through all games and despite that, the Bears usually give me issues in one game through the year and Barry Sanders can run all over you. If you switch in some substitutions on the Bucs defense (put Warren Sapp in), the Bucs can also be a threatening opponent. 


When shifting the roster around on defense with Tampa Bay, their defense can be threatening even if you are playing the CPU. I've had games where the Bucs front just annihilate my QBs and games where their secondary has tore me up, even getting interceptions off Troy Aikman and Steve Young. I've simulated the Bucs many times and they usually don't make the playoffs due to an inept offense. One time I did put them in the playoffs and they had some crazy simulations vs Dallas and Detroit where they forced a ton of turnovers on both of them.


Some of the AFC East teams do have easy schedules, especially Buffalo and Miami. I've always seen one or the other reach the playoffs in a simulated season. Miami is usually the winner of the AFC East in my simulations. 


It's hilarious in this article they bring up the Jets, whom we all know on this forum is the worst team in all of TSB 3. I could write essays with stories of my times playing as the Jets and all the crazy stuff that has occurred with them. They are the only team I have ever lost multiple games from hail mary attempts on. The Jets have the worst playbook in the whole game, even worse than the Cardinals and it makes them challenging to use as you try to work around all the playbook. 


I've always held the Patriots as an underrated team in TSB 3. Football Outsiders brings up the tough schedule they had which is also a statement to be made for this game. The Pats are a good team but their schedule can kill them in simulations. In the 1994 season of TSB 2, the Pats are one of the better AFC teams but in that game they have a much easier schedule that can get them to a 12-4 record. 



When we move onto individual stats, what stands out from 1995 are the wide receivers having career years. Four of the top 11 single-season performances in receiving yards came in 1995, including the top two: Jerry Rice with 1,848 yards and Isaac Bruce with 1,781 yards. Rice was second in DPAR and Bruce was third. The wide receiver who led the league in DPAR -- and now holds the all-time record for wide receiver DPAR in a single season -- was Michael Irvin. The difference between Irvin and Rice is small, and it primarily comes down to fumbles (Irvin had one, Rice three) and schedule strength.


This pretty much reflects TSB 3 in a way with how you can carve up teams with wide receivers you never dreamed was possible. It's a shame Isaac Bruce isn't in the game. 


This is the one Tecmo game that managed to get Michael Irvin's speed right. It's always bugged me in TSB 1 and 2 how Irvin is slower than Alvin Harper. Irvin still catches most passes thrown to him in those games, but he can't burn the player as badly as he can in TSB 3 where he's got the speed. 


Some of my favorite Tecmo receivers I've had monster seasons with in this game -


Irving Fryar (Dolphins), Robert Brooks (Packers), Bert Emanuel (Falcons), Alvin Harper (Bucs), Michael Haynes (Saints), Jake Reed (Vikings) 


Even the CPU as the Jets using Yarbough can rack up a 1,000+ yard season. (Often fooling the player into thinking Yarbaugh is some amazing receiver)


Some final notes on DVOA - 


The Falcons rank 5th overall in DVOA and they're another team like the Patriots whom I've felt was underrated in TSB 3. I've had some great luck with the Falcons over the years and they usually do well in simulations often making the playoffs. Their defense is surprisingly really good and can be a challenge to play against. The only problem I tend to have with them is that Jeff George is their QB who can be absolutely amazing one game and then a dumpster fire the next week. 


Minnesota and Detroit both rank ahead of Green Bay in DVOA. I find this surprising cause I tend to believe the Packers are one of the best teams in TSB 3, but this might just be my confirmation bias showing and being a huge fan of Brett Favre. In the last few years, I've began to finally see the weaknesses all around with GB in this game, despite them having some great play makers on both offense and defense. I used to argue they were a top 5 team on defense and only in the last few years I've come to realize it and admit that their defense isn't one of the best units in this game. 


Denver ranks at #10 on overall DVOA and #4 on offense. I almost want to call them an underrated team, simply due to how improved they are in TSB 3 compared to the previous game. All 3 versions of the Broncos in TSB 2 are mediocre teams that live and die off the arm of John Elway. He gets injured very often in 1992 and 1994 simulations. I've grown to really love the Broncos offenses in these games and had Tecmo continued to make these kind of games after 1995, it would've been interesting to see them with Shanahan's style of playbook and with Terrell Davis and Rod Smith on offense. 


The Cardinals rank lower than the Jets in DVOA. At least the Cards are more manageable in the game with a few playmakers but what really helps them is having a better playbook than the Jets. Both teams have arguably the worst playbooks in the whole game, but the Cardinals are manageable. It helps that they can run the ball better for sure.  

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