The 2011 NFL season is only at the halfway point and the Madden Cover Curse has already claimed another victim. Fans selected Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis as the Madden NFL 12 cover athlete, and while some joked about the curse at the time, few gave it much thought as the lockout consumed all NFL news. But here we are: the lockout is over and it’s safe to say that few players have been victimized by the curse like Hillis has.
The running back has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury and he has already been ruled out for this weekend’s upcoming game against the St. Louis Rams. Hillis also missed the Browns’ week three game against the Dolphins with a serious strep throat infection. Some reports say he lost as much as ten pounds in a single week.
As if these injuries weren’t bad enough, Hillis has only had one breakout game the entire season. In week two, against the Colts, Hillis ran for 94 yards and scored two touchdowns in a 27-19 Browns win. He even managed to catch four passes as well. It’s a disturbing return to form for the Madden Cover Curse, which spared Vince Young, Brett Favre, Larry Fitzgerald, and Drew Brees in recent years. Troy Polamalu (who shared the cover of Madden NFL 10 with Fitzgerald) was the last victim of the curse, missing 11 games in 2009.
But what about the other 32 players that Hillis defeated in EA’s single-elimination tournament to select the Madden NFL 12 cover athlete? Have they been cursed by association? All told, seven players besides Hillis have succumbed to the Madden Cover Curse, even though they were never on the cover! Two more are currently nursing injuries and may join their ranks.
I’m not sure if I believe in curses and superstitions. But the Madden Cover Curse has affected nine of the 13 cover athletes chosen since John Madden gave up his spot on the box, and while a regression to the mean is to be expected for the top players of the previous season, the curse seems to go beyond that. I’m sure some statistics grad student could create an interesting paper out of the percentage of NFL players that suffer a statline reduction from season to season. But until then, this study is the best we have.
The 12th Man – Seattle Seahawks
#10 Seed in Right Bracket (Eliminated in Round One)
I’m still in shock that EA didn’t consider any member of the Seahawks roster worthy of the Madden NFL 12 cover. But selecting “The 12th Man” has seemingly doomed the Seahawks fandom to another losing season. The Seahawks are 2-6 and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of a turnaround in sight. To top it off, Coach Pete Carroll is in trouble and the team still doesn’t have a breakout player who could be considered a candidate for the cover of Madden NFL 13.
Sam Bradford – St. Louis Rams
#8 Seed in Left Bracket (Eliminated in Round Two)
During Sam Bradford’s 2011 season, the quarterback has thrown for a respectable 1,532 yards. However, that’s about the only part of his statline that can be considered respectable this year. The Rams were winless through his first five starts and are 1-7 on the season. Bradford missed two games with a high ankle sprain, but even in his remaining seven starts he has thrown a paltry three TDs.
Jamaal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs
#6 Seed in Left Bracket (Eliminated in Round Three)
In week two, Jamaal Charles left the game against the Detroit Lions with an ACL injury. He was placed on Injured Reserve a day later and will miss the remainder of the 2011 season.
Dwight Freeney – Indianapolis Colts
#14 Seed in Left Bracket (Eliminated in Round One)
EA went with the non-obvious Colts choice and picked defensive end Dwight Freeney over quarterback Peyton Manning. But that didn’t seem to matter, as complications from an offseason surgery put Manning on injured reserve and the Colts have been unable to recover. The team is winless, including a staggering 62-7 loss against the Saints in week seven.
Andre Johnson – Houston Texans
#6 Seed in Right Bracket (Eliminated in Round Two)
Andre Johnson was having a great season (24 receptions, 352 yards, 2 TDs) until he broke his leg in week four against the Titans. He’s since missed five games but should return soon.
Chris Johnson – Tennessee Titans
#11 Seed in Right Bracket (Eliminated in Round One)
From 2008-2010, Chris Johnson was the leading rusher in the entire NFL. His skills were so evident that even after the lockout ended, Johnson held out in training camp to compel the Titans to award him with a bigger contract. On September 1st, Johnson signed a four-year, $53.5 million contract extension, making him the highest paid running back in the league. It’s all been downhill from there. Since coming back from his holdout, Johnson has rushed for just 366 yards and has entered the end zone only one time. The Titans offense isn’t the same without “CJ2K” and he has even made grown men (especially fantasy football players who drafted him very early) cry in frustration.
Danny Woodhead – New England Patriots
#4 Seed in Left Bracket (Eliminated in Round Three)
The New England Patriots have never had what you could call a “potent running game,” and Danny Woodhead’s 2011 season won’t change that perception one bit. After a 69-yard performance against Miami in week one, Woodhead has rushed for 12, 21, 13, 7 and zero yards in the following five games. My grandmother could put up better rushing stats… especially against the Raiders.
Only Time Will Tell
Darren McFadden – Oakland Raiders
#16 Seed in Right Bracket (Eliminated in Round One)
Before Darren McFadden sprained his foot and missed a week nine game against the Denver Broncos, the Raiders had a winning record. The Raiders! Can you believe that? His 614 yards and four touchdowns helped stabilize a team that didn’t really have a quarterback until they dragged Carson Palmer out of “retirement.” McFadden is set to miss a second game, but unless this sprain is super serious, there’s no reason to worry about the curse… yet.
Hakeem Nicks – New York Giants
#5 Seed in Left Bracket (Eliminated in Round Two)
With 575 receiving yards and three touchdowns, Hakeem Nicks is on pace to surpass his already impressive 2010. He suffered a slight hamstring injury in week eight, and missed the Giants’ most recent game against the Patriots, but it doesn’t appear to be a problem… yet.