It’s official. No matter what Peyton Hillis does between now and the end of the season, he’s become the latest victim of the Madden Curse.

Hillis, who has been plagued by hamstring and hip injuries all year, has played in only six of Cleveland’s 12 games. He also ran into controversy when he sat out a Week 3 game due to strep throat, causing many to believe that he held himself out to send a message to the team as he fights for a new long-term contract.

And when he’s been on the field, he’s been significantly less effective than he was in his breakout 2010 season.

One year after accumulating 1,654 yards from scrimmage and scoring 13 touchdowns, Hillis has just 445 total yards and two touchdowns thus far in 2011. His yards per carry average has dropped from 4.4 to 3.5 — the lowest of his four-year career. Since returning from injury last week, he has just 110 yards on 31 carries. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since Sept. 18.

But is it fair to label Hillis as the latest victim of a curse that has been active for nine years running? Hillis is probably the lowest profile athlete ever to grace the cover of the Madden video game, and some might simply chalk this up to him coming back to earth after an excellent 2010 season that might now be called an aberration.

It’s not like there were big expectations for Hillis when he was a seventh-round pick four years ago. Previous curse victims — Eddie George, Daunte Culpepper, Marshall Faulk, Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, Vince Young, Brett Favre, Larry Fitzgerald and Drew Brees — were superstars selected by EA Sports to represent the popular game. But Hillis had only one good season under his belt, and he made the cover by winning a fan vote that may or may not have involved people deliberately voting for guys like him to prevent their favorite stars from being hit by the curse.

It’s a debate that will rage for decades to come. Or at least weeks. One thing’s for sure: it’ll be even more difficult for EA to find a willing volunteer to hit the cover in 2012.