If you like vintage cars, 12-year-old Scotch, and Turner Classic Movies, you are going to love the NFC playoffs.
If you’re into Teslas, triple-hopped zero-gravity IPAs, and binge watching “Cobra Kai,” then the AFC playoffs are right up your alley.
Eight teams are left for this weekend’s divisional playoff round, and the quarterbacks are neatly divided into the Old Guard and the New Kids.
The NFC quarterbacks are plenty familiar, with 43-year-old Tom Brady, 42-year-old Drew Brees (his birthday is Friday), and 37-year-old Aaron Rodgers. Even 26-year-old Jared Goff is older than all four of his AFC counterparts.
The NFC quarterbacks (average age 37.2 years) have combined for 52 playoff wins, 12 Super Bowl appearances (at least one by each), and eight titles. Brady and Brees are even older than three head coaches still competing: Sean McVay (35), Kevin Stefanski (38), and Matt LaFleur (41).
The AFC quarterbacks, meanwhile, are barely shaving. Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield are the old men of the group at 25, followed by Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson (both 24). The foursome (average age 24.9 years) has combined for just seven playoff wins, one Super Bowl appearance, and one title, both by Mahomes.
This marks the first time that all four quarterbacks in one conference are under the age of 26.
“You’ve got so much young talent at the quarterback position around this league that really makes you feel like there’s going to be a lot of exciting football in the future with these guys leading the charge,” Brees said.
Let’s take a look at the eight quarterbacks and what each of them has at stake:
▪ Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs (Sunday vs. Browns): That he’s still the king.
Brady has the rings, Brees has the stats, and Rodgers has the longevity, but Mahomes is clearly the NFL’s alpha QB right now. He’s the defending champion, the quarterback with the best record this year (14-1, since he sat in Week 17), and by age 25 he has an MVP, a Super Bowl, and a Madden cover.
He has a good chance to add more hardware this year; he almost certainly will finish in the top three in MVP voting (probably second behind Rodgers), and the Chiefs are the betting favorites to win the Super Bowl.
If Mahomes wins another championship, he will accomplish something no one else has in the Super Bowl era, not even Brady — winning two rings by age 25.
▪ Baker Mayfield, Browns (Sunday at Chiefs): That he belongs with the big boys.
Mayfield had a nice bounce-back season, cutting his interceptions from 21 to 8 and leading the Browns to their first playoff win in a quarter-century. He was great in the second half of the season, throwing 14 touchdown passes against just one interception over the last 10 games while leading the Browns to a 7-3 record.
But he still hasn’t quite lived up to the billing as the No. 1 overall pick in 2018. He’s a bit erratic as a passer, and cracked 300 yards only twice in a season of unprecedented passing numbers.
Mayfield isn’t in the same league yet as Mahomes, Jackson, Allen, Ryan Tannehill, or Deshaun Watson. But he can earn a lot of respect by knocking off the Chiefs on the road.
▪ Lamar Jackson, Ravens (Saturday at Bills): That he’s a clutch/money player.
Beating Tennessee last week for his first career playoff win was a good start. But Jackson generally has struggled in the postseason in his short career. He has a 1-2 record, with both losses coming at home. His postseason passer rating is just 69.7, with 3 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and 16 sacks.
And though the Ravens overcame an early 10-0 deficit last week against the Titans, Jackson still has to prove that he can play from behind. He is 1-8 as a starter when trailing at halftime, and just 2-6 when trailing after the first quarter.
Jackson has been phenomenal in the regular season, but the postseason is where quarterbacks carve their legends. A road win against the Bills would give him a significant boost.
▪ Josh Allen, Bills (Saturday vs. Ravens): Nothing, really.
He made his point this year. After two seasons, Allen was bordering on “bust” territory. After his third, he is a legitimate MVP candidate and playing like a hybrid of Ben Roethlisberger and Dan Marino, to paraphrase Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale.
Allen had the greatest two-year jump in completion percentage in NFL history (from 52.8 percent in 2018 to 69.2 this year). He threw for 4,544 yards, rushed for 421 yards, and combined for 45 touchdowns. He threw for 300 yards in nine of 17 games, led the Bills to a 13-3 record, and they won their first playoff game in 25 years. Allen will likely finish in the top three in MVP voting.
The real test will come next year, when he has to prove that this season wasn’t a fluke. But even if he loses to Baltimore, Allen has proven that he is a legit starting quarterback.
▪ Aaron Rodgers, Packers (Saturday vs. Rams): That he’s an all-time legend.
Rodgers is a lock for the Hall of Fame if he never plays another down. He has two MVPs (and a third likely this year), a Super Bowl ring, and several top-10 all-time passing numbers, including the highest career passer rating (103.9) for quarterbacks with at least five seasons.
But Rodgers, considered by some to be the most physically talented quarterback in NFL history, is not yet on Mount Rushmore because of his postseason résumé. If he wants to be mentioned in the same breath as Brady, Joe Montana, John Elway, and Peyton Manning, he has to win at least one more championship.
He hasn’t won a title in 10 years, with a 6-7 playoff record and three losses in the NFC Championship game in that time.
Rodgers, 37, is running out of chances. But this is the year to win another title, with the Packers holding a first-round bye and home-field advantage.
▪ Jared Goff, Rams (Saturday at Packers): That he’s not just a system QB.
To be honest, Goff may not be able to prove that as long as McVay is his coach. Goff’s numbers this year didn’t stand out; he was 23rd in passer rating (90.0, the lowest of the eight quarterbacks still playing), and he threw just 20 touchdown passes against 13 interceptions. The Rams’ success probably has more to do with coaching and defense than quarterback play.
But Goff does have a Super Bowl appearance and a 42-20 regular-season record as a starter over the last four seasons. A win in Green Bay could help change the perception of Goff, especially if he does it with an injured thumb on his throwing hand.
▪ Drew Brees, Saints (Sunday vs. Buccaneers): That he is an all-time legend.
Brees has a résumé similar to Rodgers’s — all of the regular-season stats, but only one Super Bowl ring, won 11 years ago. He has been back to the NFC Championship game just once since then (2018).
Brees will go down as one of the greatest passers in NFL history. But if he wants to be an all-time legend, he needs a second Lombardi Trophy.
▪ Tom Brady, Buccaneers (Sunday at Saints): That it was he and not Bill Belichick who won those six Super Bowls in New England.
OK, that’s probably overstated. If Brady wins a seventh with a talented Bucs team, it doesn’t prove that Belichick was just along for the ride. And if Brady doesn’t win this year, it’s not a sign that he was just a product of Belichick’s system, either.
But Brady would add another layer of cement to his status as the GOAT if he can win another Super Bowl, without Belichick. And it certainly would tilt all of those Brady-or-Belichick arguments at the sports bar in his favor.