1:46 British running back Jay Ajayi tells NFL Overtime a Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs have a good chance of winning back-to-back Super Bowls
Mahomes, taken with the 10th pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, was held out for most of his rookie year only to then launch himself into superstardom a season later when throwing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns! His 2018 tally was just the third time in NFL history a QB brought up a half-century of scoring strikes and it was enough to see him named league MVP.
In 2019, Mahomes proved it was far from a fluke. A knee injury saw him miss a couple of games and limited his play a little – just the 4,031 yards and 25 TD tosses in a supposed ‘down’ year – but Mahomes fired at just the right time, taking his team to the Super Bowl.
If Mahomes was to repeat the trick this season, it would see him become the youngest quarterback ever to win back-to-back titles.
Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens)
Jackson took Mahomes’ MVP crown from him after a remarkable 2019 season in which the dual-threat quarterback threw for 3,127 yards and 36 TDs, adding a further 1,206 and seven scores on the ground.
Jackson’s efforts were good enough to inspire Baltimore to a league-best 14-2 record, but they were unceremoniously bounced out of the playoffs with a shock defeat at home to the Tennessee Titans and, unfairly, a lot of the blame was laid at Jackson’s door.
1:04 Watch as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson scores an epic 48-yard run touchdown run against the Tennessee Titans in their Wild Card Weekend win
His record in the playoffs read 0-2, having also lost to the Chargers in his rookie year, and questions were being asked whether he could perform on the biggest stage, while those same people wondered if he had in fact been ‘found out’ as the Ravens slipped to 6-5 midway through this season.
But Jackson has turned a corner, leading his team to five-straight wins to end the season and then to a revenge win over the Titans last Sunday to finally get that postseason monkey off his back.
Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills)
Hosting Jackson’s Ravens this Saturday are the Buffalo Bills, lead by their own emerging talent at the quarterback, Josh Allen, who was picked in the same 2018 Draft as his upcoming opponent.
Baker Mayfield, taken No 1 overall from that draft class, is also in action this weekend – going up against Mahomes’ Chiefs – and, of the bunch, he was the standout from their rookie campaign, throwing a then-record 27 touchdown passes. The 2019 season then belonged to league MVP Jackson, but 2020 has very much been Allen’s year.
0:45 Josh Allen shows off his improvising skills as he tries to run the ball, only to then throw it up to Dawson Knox for a touchdown in the Buffalo Bills’ Wild Card win over the Indianapolis Colts
The Bills quarterback threw for 4,544 touchdowns and 37 touchdowns this season, adding a further eight scores on the ground, in inspiring his team to a 13-3 record and the No 2 seed in the AFC behind only the Chiefs.
The most important measurement in which Allen has improved, though, is with his ball placement. He’d never logged a completion percentage of greater than 59 per cent in college or his prior two years as a starter in the NFL. This year, he was touching almost 70 per cent, combining his gun of an arm with elite accuracy to devastating effect.
Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Highlighting the age gap between quarterbacks in the divisional round even further is the fact that the youngsters are all battling it out in the AFC, leaving the old-timers (with the exception of 26-year-old spring chicken Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams) to fly the flag for the NFC.
Leading the way, like usual, is 43-year-old Brady, who continues to defy father time, and who has arguably had one of his best-ever seasons – even when taking into account his storied career which has earned him a record six Super Bowl rings already.
3:26 Watch Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady’s best throws from his 381-yard game against the Washington Football Team on Super Wild Card Weekend
Brady’s 4,633 passing yards is the fifth-highest mark of his two-decade-long career, while his 40 touchdowns is second only to his 2007 season tally of 50 when the New England Patriots were chasing an undefeated season before being stunned by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
After his offseason exit from New England for the sunnier shores of Tampa Bay, Brady and the Bucs were middling at best at the midway point of the season, posting a 7-5 record, with the veteran QB serving up 11 interceptions.
Since, Brady has got hot down the stretch, averaging 342.8 yards per game, 14 TDs to one pick, as they’ve won five straight – including their Wild Card win over Washington last weekend, in which Brady became the oldest QB in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass.
Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
Going up against Brady this Sunday, looking to take him down for the third time this season is Brees, whose career is so often linked with that of his opposite number.
3:12 Relive some of Drew Brees’ best plays as he helped the New Orleans Saints beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this season
Brady and Brees are comfortably the NFL’s all-time passing leaders, with Brady topping the table in terms of touchdowns thrown (581-571), but Brees currently having the edge in career yardage (80,358 vs 79,204) – though, admittedly, those stats skew more in Brady’s favour once you factor in their respective postseason records.
Brady also dwarfs Brees in the Super Bowls column, with the latter winning his solitary championship back in the 2009 season. Looking to cement his legacy with at least a second trophy is the motivation behind Brees continuing to play at his age – and he’ll never have a better chance at bowing out on top than this season.
Brees has looked a little his age this year, unable to force the ball downfield to the degree he used to in his prime, but with a variety at offensive weapons at his disposal, his dink and dunk approach has proven mightily successful, steering the Saints to a 12-4 record and the NFC’s No 2 seed.
The defense is also helping him out, playing to an elite level, ranking in the top five of all major statistical categories, and it was they who did a job twice against Brady this season in a couple of convincing victories, in which Brady threw a combined two TDs to five interceptions.
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)
Coming in at a sprightly 37 years of age compare to the grizzled old vets of Brady and Brees is Rodgers, widely considered the league MVP of the 2020 season.
3:23 Brian Baldinger joins Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold on Inside The Huddle to discuss whether it should be Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers who wins league MVP in 2020?
Rodgers has been in truly ridiculous form this season, throwing for 4,299 yards, with a completion percentage above 70 for just the second time in his career (70.72), a 121.5 passer rating and posting a career-high in touchdown passes, with 48 to just five interceptions.
Those marks have been good enough to fire the Packers to a 13-3 record on the year and the No 1 seed in the NFC, seeing the road to Super Bowl LV run through Green Bay – never the easiest of tasks for road teams come January, even with no fans this year.
Might that prove pivotal as Rodgers too goes in search of his second Super Bowl ring? In order to make that dream a reality, though, first he must overcome the Rams and their No 1 defense on Saturday, with Brady or Brees lying in wait in the Conference finals.
Safely negotiate both of those obstacles, one of the young upstarts from the AFC will be all too ready and willing to knock him off his perch come Super Bowl Sunday in Tampa on February 7.