Settling the debate with a look back at where the AFC’s two brightest young quarterbacks came from, and the history of their rivalry and careers thus far.
Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769
Before every rivalry game kicks off, there is a buzz in the air outside the stadium as fans enter, inside the stadium as they find their seats, and is the most pronounced inside of the home and away locker rooms. Warm-ups are over. Coordinators and positions coaches are making final adjustments and personnel decisions. Players are shoring up any additional tape, padding, or bracing they may need from the training staff. The locker room has a familiar smell of football equipment and a slight hint of sweat coming from the players who have been through their personal and team warmups, preparing their bodies and minds for battle.
The excitement is bubbling up. The butterflies are there. Outside, you can hear tens of thousands of fans firing up, getting loud. Fueled by sheer adrenaline and whatever they consumed in the parking lot in the hours leading up to their pilgrimage to their seats. But you must contain all of these emotions. You must approach the game with your head, with a little bit of heart mixed in. This is what you trained, practiced for in hot summer months, this is why you have given your life to a sport that you love, to be a champion. To beat the team that is about to come out of the opposite tunnel. In football, like most other sports, when you step in between those white lines, you have no choice but to be locked in. Focused at a psychotic level on the opponent in front of you, anticipating the moves they will make or the plays they will call before the ball is snapped. Staying a step ahead. The rigors of professional football are very physical in nature, but the game can be equally as taxing mentally to players and coaches alike. There is no time that these mental rigors and over-preparation kick into overdrive quite like they do when you’re facing a rival team, especially in the playoffs.
In the NFL rivalries are all the same, but all different. Some rivals are born out of geographical proximity – think Chiefs/Rams back in the day. Some originate in the incubator of sharing a division – Chiefs/Raiders. Some stem from great battles past – championships won or lost, Hall of Fame players squaring off against each other, longstanding ownership disagreements – Chiefs/Packers (basically just because of Super Bowl 1). Others are born when two franchises make the jump from perennial outsiders looking in, to the teams that are vying for the lone spot at the top of the football mountain. The Chiefs and the Bills find themselves in the latter class of rivalry origins, but in a short amount of time have gone from teams that saw each other annually because they were average at best the season before, to being division champions clashing twice in each of the last two seasons – once in the regular season, and once in the postseason. Each franchise has excelled in roster building over the last 5 years, but nowhere is that more evident than at the quarterback position for each club.
Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen find themselves at the center of attention this week both in their respective home markets and in the national media. There are hot takes being crafted as we speak to try and top the gas that has already been released through your TV screens by ESPN, NFL Network, Fox Sports – anyone covering this weekend’s Divisional matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. A majority of the debates center around one topic : which of the two franchise quarterbacks that we will see on Sunday is better? The flavor of the week seems to be Allen, with many of the older, more football savvy “analysts” sticking with their guns (and history) in saying Mahomes. While this question won’t be answered completely on Sunday, the result of the game will undoubtedly guide the narrative for the coming weeks, leading into Super Bowl 56. The part of all this that is largely being ignored is that these two have taken similar paths to get where they’re at, and the path they continue to forge is not one that any of the folks debating their current places in the league’s week to week hierarchy of greatness would have ever predicted.
Josh Allen is from a place called Firebaugh, CA. He grew up on a 3,000 acre cotton farm, played football, basketball, and baseball in high school, and was top 4 in the nation in diversified crop production of cantaloupe, cotton, and wheat with his local FFA chapter. This was the only thing he was considered “elite” at in high school. He didn’t get a sniff from D1 programs, only a preferred walk on spot from San Diego State that he turned down because their coach wouldn’t promise him playing time. The reason he wasn’t recruited? He didn’t go to any major quarterback camps or 7-on-7 tournaments because he and his teammates were playing baseball and basketball in the summers. He ended up at the University of Wyoming by way of Reedley College, where he grew 2 more inches from his high school days and gained around 50 pounds before being drafted with the 7th pick as a project by the Bills in the 2018 NFL draft.
Mahomes had a little higher profile as a young, up and coming quarterback, but not by much. He of course grew up in Tyler, TX, the son of a Major League pitcher. From a young age he was around professional sports and professional athletes, something that has very clearly shaped his ability to lead and excel at the highest level. But in high school, his path was very similar to Allen’s. Multi-sport athlete, excelling at football, basketball, and baseball. Because of his lack of emphasis on one sport, he ended up as a 3 star recruit coming out of high school and signed to play with Texas Tech rather than the more prestigious in-state institutions like Texas A&M or the University of Texas. The top QB recruits in Mahomes graduating class? Kyle Allen, Keller Chryst, David Cornwell, and Wil Grier. Ever heard of em? The concern was that he was going to be drafted in the MLB draft and choose baseball instead, but when he wasn’t selected until the 37th round of the MLB draft following his senior year in high school, he chose the football route. After starting for two years at Tech, he was drafted in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 10th pick of the 2017 NFL draft, seen mostly as a “project” – even called a reach by many.
Both with humble beginnings. Both doubted out of college. Both here playing in the Divisional round in Kansas City on Sunday night. When these two take the field, leading their teams to their fourth meeting in the last two seasons, all eyes will be on them. But who is better? Who is the real alpha dog of the AFC quarterback pack? To answer that question, we have to consider 3 aspects – ability, statistics, and achievements.
Josh Allen has as much ability as anyone in the history of the NFL. Being 6’5” and 237 helps his cause immensely, as his size, strength, and athleticism allow him to do things that other quarterbacks have never been able to. Not only can Allen throw the ball “75-80” yards (at reportedly 66 miles per hour), he can stand back in the pocket and usher pass rushing defenders by him with relative ease. And if he can’t? He can escape the pocket and hurt you with his legs. I included this snippet in my blog yesterday about the statistical anomalies Allen has piled up the past couple of seasons :
This season, Allen became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 750. Last year, he became the first quarterback in league history with at least 30 passing touchdowns and 8 rushing touchdowns. He’s also the first player in league history to reach 100 passing touchdowns and 30 rushing touchdowns in his first 4 seasons. His 135 total TD in 4 years trails only Dan Marino (144) for the most in NFL history in that span.
Impressive without question. In fact, over the course of his four years as starter for the Bills, Allen has racked up 14,114 passing yards (1,245 completion on 1,999 attempts for a 62.3% completion percentage), 103 touchdowns to 46 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 91. This season alone Allen threw for 4,407 yard and 36 touchdowns. With his legs he’s damaged opposing defenses as well, rushing 422 times in his career for 2,325 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and 31 touchdowns. Hell, he even has a 12 yard reception (from 2020) for a touchdown on his resume. That’s just the regular season! In the playoffs (in 5 games) Allen has amassed 1,389 passing yards for 10 TD and just 1 interception. Allen has guided the Bills to the playoffs each of the last 3 seasons, and won the AFC East in back to back years for the first time since 1991 for Buffalo. Last year he came within a game of taking them back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994. After a career performance against New England where Allen threw for 308 yards and 5 TD and took his career playoff record to 3-2, number 17 looks poised to take the Bills on another deep playoff run, this time in hopes of reaching and winning Super Bowl 56. There’s only one problem.
He’ll be facing off against Patrick Mahomes in the divisional round. We all know about Patrick Mahomes abilities, from his rocket right arm (he guesses he can throw it around 80 yards as well), to his elusive “fat boy” speed that was showcased most famously in the 2020 AFC Championship game against Tennessee, to the smooth nature with which he executes play fakes and keeps defenses guessing at times looks like he’s either faking a pass to score an easy transition basket on the basketball court or turning a play at shortstop. People also forget Patrick himself is 6’3” 227, certainly big enough to hold his own in NFL action. Mahomes extensive resume of NFL records can be found here, I will link it because if I didn’t this blog would be roughly 10,000 words long. I’m self-aware enough to know that I’m already long winded, doing that to you would be torture. Mahomes numbers for his career aren’t too shabby, either. In 4 seasons as the Chiefs starter, Mahomes has blazed through the NFL record books. He has 18,991 passing yards (1,550 completions on 2,345 attempts – 66.1% completion percentage), 151 touchdowns to 37 interceptions, and a QB rating of 105.8. In the playoffs (in 9 games) Mahomes has put up 2,728 passing yards for 22 TD and 5 interceptions. To make matters worse for future opponents, he appears to hit his stride last week against Pittsburgh with 433 total yards and 5 touchdowns. Mahomes has guided the Chiefs to the playoffs in each of his 4 years as a starter, including a Super Bowl win in 2020, and another Super Bowl appearance in 2021 after a victory in the AFC Championship game over…checking my notes…Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, who he is 2-1 in his career against.
To summarize the statistical portion of this exercise, please observe the snippet below :
So we’ve covered ability and statistics, let’s take a look at achievements, shall we? Josh Allen is no slouch. He has been named to the Pro Bowl in 2020 and 2nd team All-Pro in the same season. As I’ve said a couple times already in this blog, he also led the Bills to within a sniff of the Super Bowl last year. He’s got the Bills in the hunt for the third year in a row with a chance to move past the mark they set last year. But Patrick Mahomes is in another league, folks. Mahomes has guided the Chiefs to each of the last 3 AFC Championship games, has been to two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl 54 along with the Super Bowl MVP trophy in the same game. He was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2018, the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2018, was a 1st Team All-Pro in 2018, the Bert Bell Award winner in 2018, was a 2nd team All-Pro in 2020 as well as the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year. He has also been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first 4 seasons.
One could make the argument that the situation Mahomes was drafted into in Kansas City was better than the one Allen was drafted into in Buffalo, but by how much? The Bills made the playoffs at 9-7 the season before drafting Allen. The Chiefs were on a pretty good run of playoff appearances when Mahomes was drafted, but players like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill were not who they are now. The bottom line is this – if there is a debate being had about who is the better player between Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, it’s valid. Both are great players, and the fact that we as fans get to watch this rivalry continue to grow and develop this year (and for many years to come) is something that we should sit back and truly appreciate win or lose. But right now there is only one correct answer to the question being posed. The answer is the King of the AFC is the best player taking the field this weekend, and until someone takes the throne away, that answer remains the same. Josh Allen could be the one to do it this weekend, if he and his team show up and execute an effective gameplan. But if King Patrick and the Chiefs show up and do the same, I like the chances of the crown staying in the Kingdom.