Photograph: Matt Ludtke/AP
Last Sunday’s epic between the Chiefs and Bills was about more than an individual game. It redefined what is possible in a playoff game, and what is now expected for a team to compete at the top of the AFC.
Twenty-five points in the final two minutes. One haymaker after another. The Mahomes-Allen Show made one thing clear: Having a great quarterback used to be the league’s greatest advantage in making a deep playoff run. Now it is a prerequisite.
The AFC is Mahomes’ conference for now, but Josh Allen is right there. Over the past fortnight, Allen has delivered one of the most impressive postseasons runs in modern history. No quarterback can do much better than lead his team to a touchdown on 75% of his drives against a Bill Belichick-led defense (the second-ranked scoring defense in the NFL) and a feisty Chiefs defense that has been No 1 in scoring defense since week six. And still, it wasn’t enough: Allen and the Bills were dumped from proceedings before they could reach a championship game thanks to the flip of a coin and some Mahomes magic.
This is the state of the AFC, then. The race is on to find a quarterback who can pilot an offense that can keep pace with Mahomes and Allen, the Chiefs and the Bills.
But it’s not just that pair. The league’s top, young quarterbacks are concentrated in the same conference. True, the AFC runs through Mahomes and Allen. But it also runs through Joe Burrow and the Bengals. It runs through Justin Herbert and the Chargers, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. All are former MVPs or current MVP contenders. All typify the changing nature of the sport. They are no longer the game’s future generation, but its current stars.
The median age of that group: 25.
That’s meaningful. If all five play until they’re 38 – the current age of Aaron Rodgers, the reigning MVP – that’s another 13 seasons on average. Thirteen seasons of slogging through an AFC playoff picture featuring the kind of all-world…