The last time Josh Freeman and Drew Brees shared a football field, Freeman's side came out ahead.
Now the two franchise-cornerstone quarterbacks are going head-to-head…in cyberspace, at least. And this time, you can determine who wins in the end.
Freeman, the quarterback who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to late season upset road wins over Brees' New Orleans Saints in 2010 and 2009, is one of 32 possible choices for the coveted cover of the upcoming "Madden NFL 12" game. So is Brees. Soon, only 16 choices will remain, and one of those two NFC South passers will be out of the running.
How can you get involved? Click here to go to the ESPN Sportsnation voting page that will determine the much-anticipated Madden 12 cover decision. For the first time ever, the decision will be made by fans of the NFL and the wildly popular Madden game, as Sportsnation has devised a 32-man NCAA tourney-style bracket to narrow down the choices.
The tournament features one player from each of the NFL's 32 teams, and voting started this week. The first round of balloting will continue through Sunday, March 27, and will determine which 16 players move on to the next round. The two-sided bracket is seeded from 1-16 on each side, and each pairing features two players from the same division. That's how Brees and Freeman have become matched up; on the other side of the bracket, fans will also vote on the pairing of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross.
Visitors to the Sportsnation bracket page can choose to vote for any or all of the matchups. Fans can even watch a highlight package of each player as he would appear in the new Madden 12 game. Freeman's highlights include touchdown passes to the Madden versions of Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. Freeman's outstanding mobility is also put on display, as he throws on the run to Benn in the first clap and scrambles for a long touchdown run on the third clip.
By the seedings, Freeman is the underdog in his pairing with Brees, though both had outstanding 2010 campaigns. Brees, the fourth seed on his side, threw for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns last season and helped New Orleans get back to the playoffs in a bid to defend their Super Bowl XLIV championship. Meanwhile, in his first full season as an NFL starter, Freeman threw for 3,451 yards and had a remarkable 25/6 TD/INT ratio while leading the youngest team in the NFL to a 10-6 record. Freeman, who is the 13th seed on his side, finished sixth in the NFL with a passer rating of 95.9; Brees was 12th with a rating of 90.9.
Of course, Freeman is trying to pull off the first-round upset over not only a perennial MVP candidate but also the defending title-holder, in a way. The "Madden NFL 11" game features Brees on the cover. Other players who have recently graced the Madden cover include Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald (2010), Brett Favre (2009), Vince Young (2008), Shaun Alexander (2007) and Donovan McNabb (2006).
Should Freeman prevail in the fan voting against Brees, he will be pitted against the winner of a vote between New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (the fifth seed) and Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jake Long (the 12th seed). The #1 seed on Freeman's side of the bracket is San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. On the other side, Super Bowl winning quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is the #1 seed.
The second round of voting will take place from March 28 through April 3, and that will determine the final eight in the bracket. Those eight will be narrowed down to four in voting that takes place from April 4-10, then to two from April 11-17. The final two in the bracket will go head-to-head in balloting that lasts from April 18-26.
Of the 32 players in the bracket, nine are quarterbacks. In addition to Freeman, Brees, Ryan, Sanchez, Rivers and Rodgers, voters may also choose St. Louis' Sam Bradford (vs. Fitzgerald), Denver's Tim Tebow (vs. Kansas City's Jamaal Charles) and Philadelphia's Michael Vick (vs. Dallas' DeMarcus Ware). Freeman and Brees are the only two quarterbacks who are going head-to-head in the first round.