If poring over stats and analyzing the play-calling tendencies of teams is what gives you a thrill, then NFL Pro League Football (Micro Sports Inc., $79.95) for the IBM PC and compatibles is for you. This game is licensed by the NFL, so it involves real players and real teams. Pro League has two play modes. In the Head to Head mode, you pit yourself against the computer or another player by calling plays before every down. You don't control players on the screen; you simply send in the plays and watch what happens.
But the League mode is what makes NFL Pro League Football unique. Strictly speaking, the League mode is not a video game but a sophisticated statistical modeling system. You don't control players or call specific plays. Rather, you set up a game plan for a team, specifying tendencies for every possible situation, and then let the computer crunch out the results. Before a game you fill out a menu indicating what you want your team to do in various situations.
For example, you might tell the computer that on first-and-10, you want to run the ball 53% of the time. Next you would instruct the program that on such running plays, you want to give the ball to the halfback 66% of the time, the fullback 27%, the wide receiver 4% and the quarterback 3%. Then you would fill in percentages for a number of other options, like the side of the field you would run to (wide side, short side), the type of rushing play (draw, trap, slant, sweep), etc. Once you have filled in your game plan, you sit back and watch as the computer flashes the results of every play in a game.
As you can imagine, the number of strategic options is mind-boggling. Not only do you have to contend with all these decisions, but you also have to tailor your game plan to take into account the strengths of your team as well as the weaknesses of your opponent. Luckily the League mode provides ready-made game plans for every matchup.
When a game is played well in the League mode, the results are uncannily accurate. Dave Holt, NFL Pro League Football's designer, has used the program to correctly predict the outcome of four of the last five Super Bowls for USA Today. (In the one Holt missed, Super Bowl XXV, between the Bills and the New York Giants, Scott Norwood of Buffalo missed the winning field goal as time expired.) For example, Holt's pregame projection of this year's game had the Washington Redskins beating the Bills 34-31. In Holt's game Washington led 17-0 at halftime, and Mark Rypien was named Super Bowl MVP after passing for 336 yards and three TDs. In reality Washington led 17-7 at intermission, Rypien won MVP honors by throwing for 292 yards and two TDs, and the Redskins prevailed 37-24. Of course, the program wasn't perfect: Holt's Super Bowl was very close and exciting throughout.