Madden 12 cover athlete vote expanded to 32-team bracket

Perhaps channeling the spirit of "March Madness," EA Sports and ESPN's SportsNation have partnered to present a five-week, bracket-style voting campaign for the Madden 12 cover athlete -- labor disputes be damned!

The first round, which starts today and runs through next Sunday, divides the field of 32 players (one from each NFL team) into two sides of seeded match-ups, with quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers representing the two #1 seeds. (League MVP Tom Brady is noticeably absent from the field of candidates.)

It's unclear how exactly the rankings and players were determined, but the first round craftily pairs match-ups by division, playing off of heated rivalries. While this setup encourages each team's dedicated fan base to vote (for themselves in the case of the lowly Seahawks), those loyalists might first have to overcome superstition. While electing Panthers' offensive tackle Jordan Gross to the cover would be quite a coup for Carolina fans, can they really risk cursing the standout lineman? Perhaps the best strategy, then, is to vote for the teams and players you hate the most.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.