Redrafting the entire NFL, Part 4: Which squad is best in our 5-season sim?

Photo illustration by Nick Roy / theScore

Imagine this: An error is discovered in the legal language of the NFL's rulebook that immediately renders all player contracts null and void. To restart the league, a draft is planned. All players are eligible to be selected.

In this four-part series, theScore's NFL editors will draft on behalf of the league's 32 teams, with each employing a unique roster-building strategy, explaining their picks as they go.

Editors drafted four teams each. If you're just joining us now, or want to recap how we got to this point, you can go back and see all the picks here:

You can also view the final 25-man rosters for every team here.

Now, let's see how these teams stack up in a full-season simulation in Madden 21.

Year 1

If you're one of those people who thinks Tom Brady is just a product of the talent (and coaching) that's surrounded him for so much of his decorated career, you're not going to enjoy the early results.

That's right: In Year 1, the New York Jets' win-now draft strategy paid off as well as you could imagine. Brady literally put up video game numbers in leading the Jets to the AFC's No. 1 seed during the regular season, winning himself another MVP award and somehow turning Cole Beasley into the NFL's leading receiver in the process. Ho-hum for the GOAT.

EA Madden NFL

The Jets making easy work of the Denver Broncos in the divisional round set up a glorious AFC title matchup with Patrick Mahomes and the Jacksonville Jaguars. But even the best quarterback on the planet wasn't enough to stop Brady's quest for ring No. 8.

New York cruised past Jacksonville in the New Jersey snow, advancing to meet Brady's old buddy, Rob Gronkowski, and his Patriots successor, Cam Newton, in the Super Bowl. This, after the Vikings knocked off Jordan Love's Packers for the NFC title.

The Vikings made a game of it, showing that it is still possible to compete without spending exorbitantly on the quarterback position, but with Brady on football's biggest stage, we all knew how this was going to turn out. Another title and another Super Bowl MVP.

Super Bowl champions: Jets

Award Player
NFL MVP Tom Brady (Jets)
Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady (Jets)
Offensive Player of the Year Russell Wilson (Bears)
Defensive Player of the Year Jayon Brown (Seahawks)
Passing Leader Russell Wilson - 4760 yards (Bears)
Rushing Leader Nick Chubb - 1420 yards (Chargers)
Receiving Leader Cole Beasley - 1372 yards (Jets)

Early on, the takeaway is clear: The younger teams were always going to take some time to come together. When in doubt, take the GOAT. If you like winning, you almost certainly won't regret it.

Year 2

This is where the Brady haters can start to celebrate. But not without a bit of a sweat, first.

After sneaking into the playoffs as the AFC's No. 7 seed, the Jets again took out Patrick Mahomes and the No. 2 seed Jaguars before stunning Lamar Jackson and the No. 1 seed Raiders. It had the look of deja vu for football fans everywhere, but Aaron Rodgers and the Browns weren't going to allow Brady to do his thing again.

Cleveland would get past New York in the AFC title game, setting up a date with Mac Jones and a loaded Cowboys defense in the Super Bowl. In yet another example of the win-now draft strategy paying off, Rodgers showed that old guys can still play. And in what could be a painful sight for Packers fans amid Rodgers' real-life rift with the organization, the future Hall of Famer got title No. 2 in another uniform.

Elsewhere around the league, it's clear that there's something brewing in Chicago. Russell Wilson continues to light it up with his high-powered passing attack. It seems like it's only a matter of time before the Bears finally get to enjoy some playoff success.

And the same goes for the Raiders, who were among the top two seeds in the AFC in each campaign. A little more development from the young talent around Lamar should be all Las Vegas needs to start translating that regular-season success to the postseason.

Super Bowl champions: Browns

Award Player
NFL MVP Russell Wilson (Bears)
Super Bowl MVP De'Vondre Campbell (Browns)
Offensive Player of the Year Russell Wilson (Bears)
Defensive Player of the Year Chris Harris Jr. (Seahawks)
Passing Leader Russell Wilson - 4710 yards (Bears)
Rushing Leader Joe Mixon - 1401 yards (Bengals)
Receiving Leader Antonio Brown - 1387 yards (Ravens)

Two years in, and our Super Bowl champions have been led by the league's two oldest starting quarterbacks. Here's hoping those teams who passed on all-time greats in favor of younger talent knew what they were doing.

Year 3

The third season of our sim marked a changing of the guard. Brady and the Jets missed out on the playoffs, leading to the quarterback's retirement. Rodgers and the Browns again found themselves in the postseason but were bounced in the first round.

After winning NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year honors in the regular season, throwing for 45 touchdowns and just four interceptions, Joe Burrow led his top-seeded Cardinals all the way to the Super Bowl for a matchup against Lamar's Raiders.

Unfortunately for Burrow and the Cardinals, that's where their magic would run out. After knocking on the door the previous two seasons, the Raiders broke through in a big way with a blowout victory to take home the Lombardi Trophy.

Super Bowl champions: Raiders

Award Player
NFL MVP Joe Burrow (Cardinals)
Super Bowl MVP Josh Jacobs (Raiders)
Offensive Player of the Year Joe Burrow (Cardinals)
Defensive Player of the Year Joey Bosa (Packers)
Passing Leader Russell Wilson - 4936 yards (Bears)
Rushing Leader Dalvin Cook - 1396 yards (Bengals)
Receiving Leader Michael Thomas - 1529 yards (Buccaneers)

It wasn't only the young rosters of the Raiders and Cardinals coming together, either. Arizona's divisional-round win came against Justin Fields and the Los Angeles Rams, while the NFC title game was a tightly contested victory over Trevor Lawrence's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And Las Vegas' path to the big stage included an AFC Championship Game against a Ravens team that complements its powerhouse defense with a young, Jalen Hurts-led offense.

Lamar is the third elite quarterback to win a title in as many years. Something tells us this is going to be a theme.

Year 4

Russell Wilson was on a mission this season. Despite being the best player in the league for the better part of the previous three years, the Bears' star quarterback had nothing to show for it. Missing the playoffs in Year 3 seems to have been something of a wake-up call.

After earning the No. 2 seed in the regular season, Chicago steamrolled through the NFC with victories over the Eagles, Vikings, and Washington. That earned the Bears a Super Bowl berth against the defending champion Raiders, but even Lamar wasn't enough to keep up with Russ' juggernaut offense.

EA Madden NFL

The 38-24 win finished off a perfect playoff run in which the Bears averaged 36 points per game. With Wilson joined by Tyreek Hill, Terry McLaurin, T.Y. Hilton, and Evan Engram, Chicago's plan was always going to involve airing it out. It took some time for it all to pay off in the postseason, but it's tough not to love the process.

Super Bowl champions: Bears

Award Player
NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes (Jaguars)
Super Bowl MVP Trevon Diggs (Bears)
Offensive Player of the Year Russell Wilson (Bears)
Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald (Lions)
Passing Leader Russell Wilson - 4744 yards (Bears)
Rushing Leader Alvin Kamara - 1432 yards (Seahawks)
Receiving Leader Tyreek Hill - 1283 yards (Bears)

If the Jets being the No. 1 seed the year after Brady's retirement caught your eye, you aren't alone. As it turns out, winning is contagious. After missing out on the playoffs the year prior, the Jets drafted themselves a stud quarterback with the No. 12 pick. As a rookie, all he did was throw for 4,647 yards (third behind Wilson and Mahomes) and 34 touchdowns.

Count that as another argument in favor of prioritizing short-term success over long-term building. Just because you maximize your chances of the former doesn't necessarily mean you're punting on the latter. Of course, getting an instant superstar quarterback picking outside the top 10 also involves a little luck.

Heading into the fifth and final season of our sim, it's tough to figure out what's going on with the Jaguars. They haven't won a playoff game since Year 1 and even missed out on the most recent postseason entirely despite Mahomes taking home the NFL MVP award. Bad luck? Or is the secondary just not built to hang around in shootouts?

Year 5

Mahomes' quest to bring a Super Bowl to Jacksonville appeared to be on track when the No. 3 seed Jaguars ran off consecutive wins to meet the top-seeded Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC title game. But they couldn't get it done this year, either.

This time it was the Bengals coming out of the AFC, facing off with the defending champion Bears, who had once again destroyed the NFC competition despite entering January as the No. 6 seed. After beating the Giants 45-17 in the NFC title game, it seemed like Chicago was destined to be our first two-time champion. The Bengals had other ideas.

Led by Joe Mixon and an outstanding running game, as well as another highly rated quarterback in Deshaun Watson, Cincinnati comes away with the first championship in franchise history.

Super Bowl champions: Bengals

Award Player
NFL MVP Russell Wilson (Bears)
Super Bowl MVP Joe Mixon (Bengals)
Offensive Player of the Year Russell Wilson (Bears)
Defensive Player of the Year Joey Bosa (Packers)
Passing Leader Russell Wilson - 4832 yards (Bears)
Rushing Leader Saquon Barkley - 1674 yards (Buccaneers)
Receiving Leader Tyreek Hill - 1405 yards (Bears)

In five seasons, that's five different champions - exactly the kind of parity the NFL is looking for. There was a clear elite class over this stretch, with the Bears and Raiders each making two Super Bowl appearances, and teams like the Jaguars and Buccaneers always being in the mix, even if they didn't quite get over the hump.

Major takeaways

As is the case in the real-life NFL, there's more than one way to win. You can take the win-now route, relying on bona fide superstars and not gambling on the long-term development of young players. When you have the opportunity to take quarterbacks like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, as the Jets and Browns did, you know you'll compete in the short term.

The Raiders went young, and it eventually paid off with some hardware, and the same likely would have happened with the Bucs had we gone for another season or two, given the path Trevor Lawrence had them on.

And then there's the hybrid approach, which brings us to the real story of our simulation: the Bears and the absolute steal of a pick they got in Russell Wilson at 10th overall. Management did a great job surrounding him with the talent that would lend itself to an explosive vertical passing game, but after five consecutive years leading the league in passing, two MVPs, four Offensive Player of the Year awards, and a Super Bowl title, it's tough not to question some other early picks.

The Dolphins managed just one playoff appearance with Kyler Murray, and there was even a 2-14 season in the mix with all their other struggles. And as good as Aaron Donald may be, as evidenced by another Defensive Player of the Year award five years into the sim, it's not hard to figure out why the Lions never sniffed the postseason.

At the end of the day, it's all about the quarterbacks. That's exactly why 19 came off the board in the first round. Russ was the perfect mix of win now and win later at the most important position on the field. And the Bears were the clear winners of this sim for both scooping him up as late as they did and then building the perfect roster around him.

Teams selecting toward the end of the first round put in valiant efforts, with a few making the occasional playoff appearance, but there were no consistent contenders among the bunch. As one may have reasonably expected, the disadvantage of not being in range to select an elite quarterback, or a potential future stud, was too much to overcome.

If you want to win in today's NFL, or in Madden, you had better have a superstar running the show under center.

Best team: Bears

Redrafting the entire NFL, Part 4: Which squad is best in our 5-season sim?
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