MADDEN 97 / EA / Sega Genesis
The gameplay isn't significantly different from the previous installment, yet somehow it feels a lot less janky than game ever has to this point.
The one major downer is that we're back to the All Whitey League again - why did EA have so much trouble with different skin tones on their sprites? Thankfully, the awful Combine is gone, and new characters are instead allotted a finite amount of points like an RPG. You've also now got free agency w/ free agents from the beginning of the 1996 season, plus the characters you've created at a cool 2 mil apiece.
This was also the first of the series to have visible player fatigue, so you can't spam an epic running back over and over ten plays in a row (though fatigue can also be turned off.)
There's no more FOX license so no more obnoxious music, but they made a remix of it that actually sounds way better than the original.
Graphics are largely the same exception of slightly more detailed player animations - they point and gesture prior to plays, and limp off the field painfully when injured.
There's also a shit ton of "classic" teams, and they don't have to be unlocked, you get them right from the outset.
This one is about as good as it gets for 16-bit football games that aren't called Tecmo Super Bowl. Still far from ideal, but pretty damn playable all the same.
* Gameplay Video