In an alternate reality, the Cincinnati Bengals made it to the 2013 AFC Championship game vs the Denver Broncos.

The weird thing about this reality is that the 2013 AFC Championship (AKA our CincyCon Strat-O-Matic Football Championship) would be decided in a 3-game series. Both players are in the Strat Football GMVFL (Greater Miami Valley Football League), founded in 1970. Denver was coached by Chuck W., Cincinnati by me, Brad Plogsted.

The 2013 Broncos’ Peyton Manning had the best year of his career, throwing almost 5,500 yards and 55 TDs resulting in arguably the best Strat QB card ever printed. With 22 chances on his Short Pass Right column, he had 75% more chances to gain 10+ yards than his counterpart Andy Dalton (including Dalton’s must run results if rolling a 2 or 3). Manning also had 9 hits to Dalton’s 7 on the Long Pass Right column. Dalton’s advantage was Flat Pass, edging Manning 20-16 in completion chances on the Right column, not including “Receiver.” Finally Manning’s chances of throwing an interception were less than half of Dalton’s on the Short Pass Right (rolling an 11): 10/36 to Dalton’s 33/36, clearly over three times as likely to throw a pick. Long Pass Right, Manning has 22 chances on the 11 but Dalton jumps to the 9 for the INT with 33/36 chances, still triple Manning’s chances.

Denver’s pass protection was nearly perfect with only one weak spot at LG (blocks the right tackle vs Cincinnati’s 4-3 D… remember that for later). Denver from left to right: (tackle/guard/center/guard/tackle), 7/4/7/7/7. Cincinnati had very good protection with 7/5/5/5/7. No defense had an asterisk pass rusher unless they blitzed with the safety so the pass protection by Denver’s best RB (a 5) and Cincinnati’s best (a 4) are less important.

Denver’s top three wide receivers – Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker – all were “30’s.” That is, 30 chances of 36 on the Short Pass Wrong column, the highest completion percentage a receiver can have for the Short Pass. The TE Julius Thomas was the weak link with ONLY 26 of 36 chances SP Wrong. In the Long Pass columns, D. Thomas and Decker both had 21 hits Wrong, Welker had 15. Cincinnati brought the formidable A.J. Green to the table, matching Denver’s best with 30 SP Wrong and 21 LP Wrong but then it drops off with Marvin Jones as a 26/18, Mohamed Sanu 22/6, and Andrew Hawkins 18/10. Cincinnati’s TEs – Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert – only had 22 catches Short Wrong, with Eifert showing 10 chances LP Wrong and Gresham 6. Some monster yardage was available on Demaryius’ and Decker’s cards with 5 and 4 chances respectively allowing for a Long Gain or better (like the 70 yards on D. Thomas’ “2”). A.J. had a 53 yard gain on his SP “2” with 4 chances for that or a Long Gain on his SP Wrong column. Next up was Hawkins with 3 LG chances, so although his percentage was overall the worst among those listed here (18/36 Short Wrong), apparently when he caught the ball he was dangerous.

Running Game
We’ll start up front on the offensive lines: Denver and Cincinnati both totaled the same run blocking numbers, left to right (again, tackle/guard/center/guard/tackle) 4/5/4/6/5. Cincinnati had 6/4/4/5/5. Cincinnati’s LT Andrew Whitworth could move over to LG as a 5 for a slight bump for the Linebuck play. They both had (right) TEs with a 4 run block, although Denver’s starter J. Thomas was a 0.

I’ll use one of Mert Adkins’ judgment criteria for a valuable running back – the chances (Wrong) out of 36 he’ll have a breakaway run of 8 yards or more. Denver’s Knowshon Moreno (24 attempts allowed) and rookie Montee Ball (12) had for Linebuck/Off Tackle/End Run: 8/7/7 and 7/7/9, respectively. Their longest runs were capped at 31 for Moreno (remember that) and 45 for Ball. Cincinnati had a rookie too in Giovani Bernard (17 att) as well as the “Law Firm” of Benjarvus Green-Ellis (22) with long runs of 25 for BJGE and no limit for Gio Bernard (his longest of 35 was for a TD). Their breakaway chances were: Gio 7/8/8 and BJGE 5/6/8.

Moreno could catch Short Passes pretty well for an RB (18/36 chances Wrong with 3 of those going for 30+ yards but since it was a 35+ and for a TD, there was no cap for the distance of a reception in-game). Gio too had 18 chances SP Wrong with the extra advantage of being able to catch Long Passes (6 chances Wrong with a long of 41).

So far it’s been all Denver in the offensive comparison but in Defense, Cincinnati has the edge. Their 4-3 run D is all 5’s with pass rush numbers (from left to right) of 8/3/6/4. Backup End Wallace Gilberry (0 vs Run, 8 Pass Rush) was frequently on the line instead of the starting RE Michael D. Johnson (5 run D, 4 Pass Rush). The linebacker corps left a little to be desired at a 4-4 (4 pass rush) LLB, 4-4 (3) MLB but redeemed itself with Vontaze Burfict at 6-6 (5) at RLB. So the BB/BTE was covered up with a 6 but if Chuck wanted to test his FB with a Short Pass (which he frequently did with Moreno), he had a good shot of beating the 4 defender. Backup MLB Vincent Rey (0-0, Pass Rush 6) was in a handful of times in 2nd and long / 3rd and long situations, to allow Burfict to maintain coverage on the blocking back/TE while still blitzing at decent value of 6 (to Burfict’s 5). Cincinnati’s secondary had a hole against the flanker but decent coverage for the TE and SE with 4/5/5 and a 5-5 FS.

Up front, Denver also plays a 4-3 with a line of 4/5/5/4, which makes the End Run a little tastier for Cincinnati. The best pass rusher on the field (remember that) belonged to Denver in RE Shaun Phillips (11 rush). The rest of the line was 5/2/4 (LE/LT/RT). Backup End Malik Jackson (0-0, 7) was available for obvious Short/Long passing situations. Their outside linebackers are solid at 6-6 (pass rush 7) in LLB Von Miller and 5-5 (4) in Danny Trevathan. Thus Cincinnati’s FB and HB slots are covered very well. There’s a gap at MLB with Wesley Woodyard coming in at 0-0 (3). This makes the Nickel D very tempting because the extra DB for Denver was a 4 in backup S Mike Adams. So yes, you lose the +2 blitz modifier if you bring the 0-0 MLB to the line but you gain a 4 at that spot who can also move to the SP or LP zones AND double team anybody (not just the RBs or TE) without suffering the Linebacker double team drawback of not shutting down the “Receiver” reading. Two big drawbacks for the Nickel are in Run D of course: if you call Run, the FS has to move to the line, and you cannot use the Short Yardage Run Defense. And finally for Denver’s secondary, there’s just a little weakness against the TE: 5/4/5 with a 5 FS.

On to the defensive cards. In the run game, the cards’ numbers are virtually identical. One difference was on the 4 with no LB in the zone (5 or 15 yards). Denver allowed among LB+OT+ER a total of 62 chances out of 108 while Cincinnati allowed 38/108. The advantage for total “stops” (allowing 0 or fewer yards) goes to Cincinnati too, but it’s slight: just 6 more than Denver in a total of 78 opportunities (I’m not including the “LB in zone” results on 5 or 9, because the coach could put a 0 LB there or a 6, depending on the situation and zone). Finally a bigger edge for Cincinnati is in fumble chances: they force a fumble 94 times in 216 dice rolls (I’m using both the “0 LB” and “1 LB in zone” columns for all of LB/OT/ER). Denver strips the ball just 50/218 times.

So both defenses seem pretty close so far, right? Unfortunately for Denver, their SP and LP defense cards were full of hits. Starting with Short Pass (4 men in zone), not comparing the fractional chance on the 2 for both teams, Cincinnati allows a catch only on a 6 (5 chances), Denver on a 5, 6 and 12 (10 chances). With just 3 men in the zone, Cincinnati allows 10 chances for a catch and Denver 15. Cincinnati is fractionally better at picking off the pass on a 9 with 1 more chance in the “3 men” column and 4 more chances in “4 men” (roll a 2-6 on a 9 vs Cincinnati, it’s snagged).

The Long Pass is much worse for Denver. Without a man back, the chances to NOT hook up a Long Gain are less than one. 0.5 to be exact (out of 13): half a chance on the 2. Both teams offer the same chances for Receiver (8) and Defender (9). The 7 (6 chances) is always an interception chance, with Denver grabbing it 25% of the time and Cincinnati 28%. For Cincinnati, they too have just under half a chance for the LG on the 2, but only 5 more chances for a catch out of the 13 mentioned previously. With 1 man in the zone, Denver fills some holes but still allows 6.5 chances out of 13. Cincinnati locks it down with just 0.9 chances out of 13 to catch a pass. Again, both teams allow the same chances for Receiver, Defender and Defensive Back. Cincinnati’s INT percentage is also higher at 58% to Denver’s 44% (when rolling a 7).

All said and done, from my experience in our Strat-O-Matic football league, the team with the best QB wins, followed closely by Defense (the most 6’s on the board). Since Manning was lights out better than Dalton and the defenses were closely matched (as far as player ratings went), on paper, I’d give Denver the best chance to win. Maybe it’s overconfidence, maybe it’s seeing from personal experience how effective a “nickel-dime / double-team as often as possible” strategy can work against and offensive powerhouse, but I gave myself a 50/50 shot of beating Chuck. The game summary tells the whole story….