Should Richard Sherman be concerned about the ‘Madden Curse?’


(Photo by Chris Park/Invision for EA Sports/AP Images)

The face of Madden NFL 15 is defensive back Richard Sherman of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

Sherman is the first defensive player to have the Madden NFL cover all to himself since Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis graced the cover in 2005. Sherman is also be the first Seattle Seahawks player on the cover since running back Shaun Alexander was on the cover for the 2006 release following his MVP season in 2005.

It’s a great honor to be on the cover. Since Madden NFL 99 was released, the packaging has featured a player on the cover who is considered to be at the apex of their careers. It is also a curse.

“I’m trying to avoid the jinx,” Rivera said.

San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst, the first player to appear on the cover, ran for 1,570 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry in 1998. But he suffered a gruesome ankle injury against the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs that season and wouldn’t set foot on the gridiron again until the 2001 season.

Donovan McNabb suffered a sports hernia in Week 1 of the 2005 season after he appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 06, and would play just nine games that season.

Shaun Alexander would make the cover the following year but broke his foot in Week 3, limiting him to 10 games. He would be out of the league two years later.

Peyton Hillis had a breakout year for the Cleveland Browns in 2010, rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. The next season, after he appeared on the Madden 12 cover, he rushed for 587 yards and three touchdowns, playing in only 10 games.

Out of the 16 players featured, 14 have had underwhelming seasons and/or suffered serious injuries in the year the game is released (the cover year is a year ahead of the season).

So is the curse real? Not exactly. It’s more of the natural order of things, for two reasons. The first is an increased number of injuries in the NFL.

The number of injuries that forced a player to miss at least eight days jumped every year from 2009 to 2012, according to an analysis of NFL injury data. The study by Edgeworth Economics, based on information collected by the league, also shows that players with concussions missed an average of 16 days last season, up from only four days in 2005, while the length of time out for other types of injuries has been steadier.


SOURCES: Edgeworth Economics, NFLPA, NFL Injury Surveillance System. Published July 22, 2013.

Players are getting more serious injuries more frequently. According to the Edgeworth Economics study, there were 1,095 instances of injuries sidelining a player for eight or more days in 2009 — including practices and games in the preseason, regular season and postseason — and that climbed to 1,272 in 2010, 1,380 in 2011 and 1,496 in 2012.

Secondly, a player on the cover is most likely coming off a career year, so there is some regression toward the mean.

Regression toward the mean implies that a career year — or one that is significant enough to warrant inclusion on the cover of a video game –  is unlikely to happen again and that the following season will be more representative of a player’s career as a whole (the mean, or average). In fact, using Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value metric — which puts a single numerical value on any player’s season, at any position, from any year — studies have found there is almost no difference in a player’s performance two or three seasons before being on the cover, and the season after being on the cover.

Plus, stats say Sherman was at risk for a down year before EA decided to put him on the cover of Madden 15.

According to Pro Football Focus, just 11 cornerbacks – including Sherman – have kept opposing quarterbacks to a sub-50 rating in the past seven seasons. Only Charles Woodson (2007 and 2008), Darrelle Revis (2009 and 2011) and Sherman (2012 and 2013) have done it twice. None have done it three times. So while it is likely Sherman, 26, will continue to have an impact, history says that impact will be lower than the past two seasons.

“I don’t believe in curses,” Sherman said. “I believe in God.”

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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