If there's a universal truth in Madden NFL, it's that online players will always gravitate to the cheapest teams possible. And the NFL being what it is, those teams tend to remain relatively constant from year to year. Ask anyone who had to deal with the Philadelphia Eagles in Madden 11.
So with Madden 12 hitting the market August 30, I've decided to profile what will likely be the five most annoying teams in the game; and as a bonus, I'm throwing in some tips on how to beat them.
The "Dream Team" | Philadelphia Eagles
Why They're Tough to Beat: It remains to be seen whether the Philadelphia Eagles have what it takes to win the Super Bowl, but one thing's for sure: Andy Reid and company have put together probably the best Madden team of all time. The only way these Eagles would be tougher would be if they were lead by the Michael Vick of Madden 2004 rather than the Vick of the present--not that 91 speed is anything to sneeze at.
And it's not like Vick's relying on the likes of Alge Crumper and TJ Duckett this time around. Receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have terrifying speed, and halfback LeSean McCoy can burn you on the ground or through the air. On defense, they boast two of the three top corners from Madden 11--Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Needless to say, with that kind of talent, the Eagles will be a popular pick online.
How to Turn the Tables: The Eagles boast an outstanding backfield, but they're weak upfront. Their best linebacker--Moise Fokou--is only 76 OVR; and while Trent Cole and Jason Babin are two very good defensive ends, they aren't particularly strong up the middle. Moreover, with Quentin Mikell on the Rams now, their safeties aren't particularly great either. With that in mind, the solution to beating the Eagles should be apparent: run the ball, and then run it some more. When the Eagles get the ball back, have a linebacker spy Vick and take note of your opponent's preferred routes. Mix up your coverages while manually covering your opponent's receivers with your free safety, and you will begin to force the kind of mistakes that will help you to victory.
The Perennial Contenders | Pittsburgh Steelers
Why They're Tough to Beat: The Steelers are just plain good--no surprise given that they've been to three Super Bowls since 2005. Their strength is mostly on defense; but speedy receivers like Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders add a dangerous dimension to the offense, and Rashard Mendenhall can be tough to stop in the hands of a good player. Basically, they're the "Mario" of Madden NFL--they're very good at a number of positions; and a result, they can beat you in a number of ways.
How to Turn the Tables: It's not easy to run on the Steelers. Troy Polamalu can blow you up at anytime, and that's before you even consider guys like 98 OVR linebacker James Harrison. That doesn't mean that you should abandon the run entirely--just realize that you'll probably have to go through the air to have any success.
Luckily, outside of Polamalu and the speedy corner Taylor, the Steelers defensive backfield is quite average. You'll need to pick on corners like Bryant McFadden, who lacks both speed and coverage skills. Your opponent will probably use zone coverage to minimize that weakness, so slants and drag routes work well (just watch out for the omnipresent Polamalu). On offense, put your best corner on Wallace, and do your best to put pressure on the good-but-not-great offensive line. Get a decent lead, and you may find the Steelers hard-pressed to make a comeback.
Commitment to Being Cheap | Oakland Raiders
Why They're Tough to Beat: Don't let that average rating fool you: in Madden 11, the Oakland Raiders were the single most annoying team in the game. In fact, it got to the point that I quit as soon as someone picked the Raiders, simply because I was so sick of putting up with wide receiver Jacoby Ford and Nnamdi Asomugha. They aren't quite as bad in Madden 12--Asomugha and tight end Zach Miller are both gone--but their team speed is still problematic. If your opponent picks the Raiders, be prepared to be frustrated.
How to Turn the Tables: Even without Asomugha, it's still tough to move the ball on the Raiders. Their defensive backfield is extremely fast, and guys like Richard Seymour can dominate the line of scrimmage up front. Most Raiders players like to stick with man coverage though, so it's possible to work the areas near the sidelines or abuse them with pitchouts (just watch out for strong safety Tyvon Branch, who boasts 95 speed).
When they have the ball, expect them to rely heavily on the run while mixing in the occasional screen or slant pattern. The name of the game with the Raiders is to frustrate you with their ball control offense, and running back Darren McFadden and his 97 speed can be quite tough to stop. Luckily, the Raiders are exceptionally weak on the right side of the line; if you want to trick them, run an SS Blitz, shift your line to the left and put your defensive end in a QB Contain. If they don't go straight up the middle, they'll either run into your defensive end or your blitzing safety, which will cause much frustration on their end.
The Champs | Green Bay Packers
Why They're Tough to Beat: It's tough for me to say this as a diehard Vikings fan, but that Aaron Rodgers kid turned out alright. Good enough, unfortunately, that when I pit the Purple against Rodgers' Packers, it usually ends in tears. As it turns out, the Vikings' putrid defensive backfield is just no match for Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Rodgers. Naturally, it's those same qualities that will make the Packers a popular pick online, which means that I'm in for even more frustration than usual this season.
How to Turn the Tables: Unless you're playing as the Jets or the Eagles, you're probably not beating Rodgers. Even mediocre players can just heave the ball up there; and more often than not, Jennings or Driver will come down with it (Driver has a 97 Catch in Traffic Rating). And even if you shut down those guys, Jermichael Finley is there for the quick outlet pass.
Really, the only obvious weakness that the Packers have is their running game. The Ryan Grant-John Kuhn-James Starks tandem might work well in real life; but in Madden, they're pretty mediocre. Thus, Packers fans are apt to rely heavily on the pass, which plays into your hands somewhat. Blitz linebackers through the gaps and generally try to keep Rodgers off-balance, or he will be able to sit back and pick you apart. When you get the ball back, play ball control defense and try to run away from Clay Matthews as much as possible. Methodically drive down the field, minimize the impact of guys like Jennings with manually coverage, and you will have a decent chance to win.
One the Rise | Detroit Lions
Why They're Tough to Beat: The Detroit Lions haven't established themselves as a powerhouse--or nuisance--in quite the same sense as the Raiders or Packers, but it wouldn't be a shock if they became a popular pick this season. They've got many of the ingredients needed to be a powerful Madden team: a great receiver, a speedy running and a good quarterback who can get them the ball. The defensive backs are definitely wanting; but if Madden 12's pass rush is really as vicious as it looks, watch out.
How to Turn the Tables: Lions players usually have one strategy: go up top to Calvin Johnson. Unfortunately, this is a strategy that usually works, as Megatron has 95 speed and 99 jumping. And once you start double (or triple) covering him, a smart opponent will go to speedy receiver Nate Burleson, reliable tight end Brandon Pettigrew or Jahvid Best--another speedster--out of the backfield.
It is possible to get pressure on Detroit's mediocre line though, so blitz linebackers through the gaps and generally try to make sure that Stafford doesn't have time to set and throw deep to Johnson. If you don't let them turn the game into a track meet, you should be able to take your time and pick apart the slow secondary with lots of short, quick passes. Just watch out for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and his 95 hit power.
This story, "The Most Annoying Teams in Madden NFL 12 (And How to Beat Them!)" was originally published by GamePro.