WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 4 (Part 1)

Before we get to the first half of this week’s Greatest of All Time simulations, there was an actual league transaction of some importance yesterday as the 49ers traded Alex Smith to the Chiefs for a 2nd-round pick this year and a conditional draft pick (probably a 3rd-rounder, though it supposedly could rise to another 2nd-rounder) in 2014.

Now in the short term, this is a big upgrade at quarterback for Kansas City. Smith isn’t going to have anywhere near the type of talent surrounding him that he had in San Francisco, but the coaching dropoff from Jim Harbaugh to Andy Reid isn’t particularly steep (last year notwithstanding) and Smith certainly comes in with a stronger pedigree than Matt Cassel did when the Chiefs made a similar trade in 2009. If Smith performs as the league-average starter he seems to have become next year – and, more importantly, if the Chiefs’ defense has a strong bounce-back year – then it’s not hard to talk yourself into Kansas City becoming 2013’s out-of-nowhere team that rides an easy schedule to nine or ten wins and a playoff spot.

Long-term, however, San Francisco won this deal handily. The pick they’re receiving this year from the Chiefs is the 34th overall in the draft and they now own five of the top 100 picks in the draft. They can now stockpile even more young talent or, as SI’s Chris Burke terrifyingly notes, use those picks as the foundation for a deal to acquire Darrelle Revis or Percy Harvin. Let me just be the first to say that if Darrelle Revis gets traded to the 49ers next season, there will be no point in having a season, other than seeing if the 49ers could potentially be the greatest team of all time. Lord knows they don’t need any more help.

This deal could also hurt Kansas City in the long-term because even after two above-average years in San Francisco, Smith’s ceiling still doesn’t look any higher than “Superbly Accomplished Game Manager.” Having that type of guy at quarterback is a good way to get your team stuck in NFL purgatory, sticking within seven-to-ten wins every year and never having a real shot at a Super Bowl. Isn’t there a decent chance the Chiefs could have gotten the same type of production they’re likely to get from Smith by just choosing a quarterback with that 34th overall pick – and at a much cheaper price?

Those are questions that will start being answered six short months from now. The question of who will emerge victoriously from this week’s WhatIfSports simulations of the Greatest of All Time season, however, will be answered momentarily! This week brings our first byes into action, as the 2006 Colts, 2000 Titans, 1960 Eagles and 2009 Saints are all resting up their virtual hamstrings. The rest of the league springs into action below, starting with…

1992 Dallas Cowboys (3-1) 21, 1989 San Francisco 49ers (1-2-1) 16

One of the more anticipated games of the season finds the 49ers gaining seventy more yards and 7 more first downs than the Cowboys yet falling short due to a number of big plays generated by the Dallas offense. Foremost among them, Kelvin Martin caught a 68-yard touchdown pass from Troy Aikman in the second quarter and Emmitt Smith ran for a 31-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to stake the Cowboys to an ultimately insurmountable lead. Aikman finished 13-of-21 for 206 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception and Smith finished with 116 combined rushing and receiving yards. Joe Montana went 21-of-29 for 238 yards – 117 of those going to Jerry Rice – but a late 4th-and-2 screen pass from Montana to Tom Rathman was halt for a three-yard loss, ending San Francisco’s final threat.

2012 Atlanta Falcons (1-3) 19, 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2) 14

Michael Turner scored on a two-yard touchdown run with 59 seconds remaining and the Falcons won their first game of the year, primarily thanks to an outstanding performance from Matt Ryan (18-of-24, 291 yards, 1 TD). Mark Brunell threw three costly interceptions for the Jaguars, including one to Dominique Franks with 37 seconds left that essentially ended the game.

1981 Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) 20, 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) 10

Cris Collinsworth caught a go-ahead 58-yard touchdown pass from Ken Anderson with 10:11 remaining in the game and the Bengals put up over 430 yards of offense on the Steel Curtain at Riverfront Stadium. Collinsworth finished with six catches for 163 yards and a whole lot of pleas for “heheh pass the corn chips, Ken.” And pass those corn chips he did: Anderson ended up 18-of-32 for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Franco Harris finished with 155 yards on just 15 carries and scored on a 38-yard run early in the fourth quarter to briefly tie the game, but the Steelers couldn’t overcome a subpar performance from both their defense and Terry Bradshaw (11-of-25, 129 yards).

1979 San Diego Chargers (3-1) 17, 1968 New York Jets (2-2) 10

Dan Fouts threw for 299 yards and Clarence Williams scored both touchdowns for the Chargers, as they improved to 3-1 with a road victory at Shea Stadium. The Jets scored on their third play from scrimmage on a 54-yard touchdown throw from Joe Namath to George Sauer but wouldn’t find the end zone the rest of the day. Two Fouts interceptions kept San Diego from building an insurmountable lead, however, despite 130 more yards of offense and the Chargers had to sweat out a Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the game before claiming victory.

1985 Chicago Bears (2-2) 23, 1952 Detroit Lions (1-3) 6

The Bears shrugged off two consecutive home losses and held the Lions to 24 passing yards in a blowout win at Tiger Stadium. Neither team could muster 200 total yards of offense: Walter Payton was held to 46 yards rushing on 21 attempts but did score both Bears touchdowns. Bobby Layne had an even rougher time when he was on the field: he was sacked five times (twice by Otis Wilson) and when he did get to throw, he could only rack up seven completions, 60 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on 19 attempts.

2007 New England Patriots (4-0) 26, 1990 Buffalo Bills (3-1) 23

In the unquestioned Game of the Year so far, Laurence Maroney caught a 48-yard Hail Mary from Tom Brady with no time remaining and the Patriots stunned the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in a battle of previously unbeaten AFC East foes. The Bills had just retaken the lead with 32 seconds left when Jim Kelly capped a nine play, 95-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to James Lofton. After the kickoff gave the Patriots the ball at their own 29-yard line, Brady hit Sammy Morris with a 23-yard pass and then threw three straight incompletions before striking gold on the final play of the game. The two teams combined for 34 points in the fourth quarter – a Thurman Thomas touchdown run gave the Bills a 16-6 lead with a little over twelve minutes remaining, but a 67-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Randy Moss and a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown by Randall Gay gave the Patriots a 20-16 lead, setting up those classic last two minutes. Brady finished 14-of-25 for 299 yards and three touchdowns.

1962 Green Bay Packers (4-0) 41, 1973 Minnesota Vikings (1-3) 14

The Packers rushed for 272 yards and destroyed the Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium to run their record to 4-0. Jim Taylor rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 22 attempts and Paul Hornung added 87 yards on only six carries as the Packers took a 31-7 lead into halftime and were in complete command the entire way. Fran Tarkenton performed fairly well given the circumstances, going 14-of-26 for 220 yards and two touchdowns, but the Purple People Eaters had no answers for the Packer Sweep or Bart Starr (8-of-18, 151 yards, two touchdowns).

Tomorrow: The ’91 Redskins meet the ’86 Giants in the Meadowlands; the ’02 Buccaneers try to improve to 4-0 against the ’05 Panthers; and the ’72 Dolphins make a quarterback switch in an attempt to get their first win of the season at the hands of the ’58 Colts.

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