On Sunday afternoon as millions of Americans come to the conclusion of a fairly lackluster noon slate of games, most of those tired eyes will turn their attention to what is certainly the game of the year thus far. The 4-1 Buffalo Bills travel to a very familiar place – Arrowhead Stadium – to take on the 4-1 Kansas City Chiefs. Two of the more rabid fanbases in the NFL will converge on football’s Mecca. Meats will be grilled and sauced, beers will be deleted from the face of the planet, and in reckless fashion, several folding tables will likely be broken in the parking lot leading up to the 3:25 kickoff on CBS.
The matchup itself is one of the better regular-season matchups in recent memory. The Bills, still the near consensus Super Bowl favorite in 2022, come in sporting units on both sides of the ball ranked at or near the top of the league. The Chiefs bring the league’s highest-scoring offense and a defense that, before last week against Las Vegas, was the stoutest in the league against the run and was generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
From a complete roster standpoint, this matchup has shaped up to be the football embodiment of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object in a lot of ways. While players at each position on both teams will have massive impacts on how this game ultimately turns out, that’s not what we’re here to talk about.
Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen have shaped the overall landscape of quarterback play and roster building around the league.
It’s not very often that you get to see teams built like this face off with quarterbacks who are by far and away the two best the league has to offer. Unitas versus Starr, Bradshaw and Stabler, Marino battling Kelly, Aikman going up against Steve Young? Some of the most iconic quarterback rivalries in the history of the game have done nothing but add magnitude to the rivalries their franchises and fan bases still long to dominate to this day. The gold standard? Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Two of the top 3 or 4 players to ever do it, these two squared off 17 times in their careers. Brady dominated Manning in the regular season to the tune of 9-3 against Peyton with both the Colts and the Broncos. Manning got the better of Brady in the playoffs though, ending Brady’s season 3 times compared to Tom’s 2 wins.
I’m not the first to say it, but I will say it emphatically – we are witnessing the development and progression of a rivalry that will match or surpass the magnitude of those I mentioned before with Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.
There are a lot of “it” guys right now in the NFL. Jalen Hurts has generated a ton of MVP buzz in leading the Eagles to a 5-0 start. Before his terrifying injury, Tua Tagovailoa was turning heads in Miami. Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and Justin Herbert are ascending young stars that have received plenty of admiration from fans, media, and the rest of the league – and rightfully so. These guys are all great players, but they’re not generational. When this era of NFL football is chronicled and busts are admired by children 40 years from now in Canton, those words and stories will reflect an era of quarterback dominance spearheaded by two quarterbacks. Those two quarterbacks will square off in Kansas City this Sunday for the fifth time in their already storied careers.
But how have they impacted the league around them? Allen and Mahomes’ backgrounds and time in the league are eerily parallel. Neither were 5-star recruits out of high school. Mahomes was ranked 30th in the country behind guys like Kyle Allen, Will Grier, and David Cornwell while Allen was ranked 199th nationally in his senior year. Both guys went to colleges that you don’t see in the College Football Playoff race, ever – Texas Tech and Wyoming. Both were passed up for inferior talent in the NFL Draft. Mahomes sat and watched as 9 teams picked players ahead of them, including the Bears trading up from the third pick to the second to take Mitchell Trubisky, and Allen watched six teams take players not named Josh Allen, including Baker Mayfield at 1 and Sam Darnold at 3. Those two are currently wasting away on a Carolina team that might be the worst in the league, and it’s safe to say that Chicago, Cleveland, and the Jets would all trade their current quarterback situations straight up for Mahomes or Allen.
These two have not just revolutionized the way that the quarterback position is played, they have changed the way that offensive football is called. Granted, their respective offensive coordinators have been blessed to have them as weapons at their disposal, but these two players have also benefitted from working with some of the brightest offensive minds in the game. Without Andy Reid’s mind and quarterback coaching acumen, there likely is no Patrick Mahomes as we know him today. Without Brian Daboll’s tutelage and Ken Dorsey’s ability to carry the torch after Daboll’s departure to the New York Giants, there’s likely no Josh Allen as we know him today. In the same breath, those coaches likely haven’t reached the peaks that they have without these two players- Reid likely has no Super Bowl rings without Mahomes, and Daboll is still a coordinator without Allen. The “chicken or the egg” question in this scenario is null and void, neither can exist in its present form without the other coexisting with it.
Look at the way teams in the AFC have built their rosters over the course of the last few seasons, the Chiefs and Bills included. Any team with an above-average QB has gone above and beyond to pick up wide receiver talent over the last few years. The Raiders grabbed noted civilian assaulter Davante Adams, the Dolphins traded for Tyreek Hill, and the Bengals drafted Ja’Marr Chase after taking Joe Burrow the year before. The Jets drafted Garrett Wilson to give Zach Wilson a target to try to compete with. Baltimore has added players around Lamar Jackson. The Broncos traded for and gave a massive contract extension to Russell Wilson that seems to be really paying off nicely. Offensive lines have been bolstered all in an effort to try to keep up in the arms race that the Chiefs and Bills are still heads and shoulders above the competition in.
On the defensive side of the ball, you find the most obvious impact that Mahomes and Allen have had on league GMs. Specifically in the AFC West this past off-season, it felt like the only goal that teams had was to find a way to slow the Chiefs’ offense down. With the additions that the Chargers (Khalil Mack and JC Jackson), Broncos (Randy Gregory), and Raiders (Chandler Jones) made to the defensive side of the ball, it would appear they’re going all in to try to slow down the Chiefs train and it’s conductor Mahomes. In the AFC East, Miami has been building its defensive unit over the course of the last 3 drafts and free agency periods. The Jets in the last 4 years have drafted Sauce Gardner, Jermaine Johnson, and Quinnen Williams and have brought in Carl Lawson, C.J. Mosely, Solomon Thomas, and LaMarcus Joyner in free agency all with the goal of slowing down the Bills and Josh Allen.
Has it worked? Well, so far no. Allen and Mahomes find themselves at 4-1 heading into the most highly anticipated matchup of the NFL season. Two quarterbacks who have been near the top of their respective games in 2022 and rosters that are revamped with the same organizational goal in mind – winning Super Bowl 57. The statistical accolades that each continues to knock down are progressively more and more staggering. It seems like nearly every week there is a number that Mahomes or Allen reaches that they are either the youngest or second youngest to surpass. If they’re second, it’s typically because the other guy (or Dan Marino) has gotten there first.
Peyton Manning vs Tom Brady stands as the greatest rivalry between two quarterbacks in league history. There are certainly more Lombardi trophies shared in the rivalries between Troy Aikman and Steve Young, Terry Bradshaw and Ken Stabler, and Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr. But none of these rivalries have been this potent this early. Mahomes’ league MVP, Super Bowl MVP, and Super Bowl 54 championship stand as the only “significant” accomplishments thus far between Mahomes and Allen, but each has dug their franchises out of a place of hopeless mediocrity and given them a reason to be excited—a reason to have sky-high expectations year in and year out. They have given the two most rabid fan bases in the NFL a reason to not just boast blindly, but to boast about something that is significant.
Think back to the divisional round game last January. If you took your love for the Chiefs (or Bills if anyone from BIlls Mafia is reading this) out of the equation, what did you see? You saw the greatest football game ever played. You saw the two best quarterbacks in the NFL in a stare-down where somehow no one ever blinked. You saw an electric beginning, middle, and end of a high-stakes game. Now, consider that when you watch on Sunday. Sure, we’re all watching our favorite team and quarterback take the field. But don’t forget to appreciate the fact that we’re getting to watch two of the best to ever do it battle each other head-on once more. Not many folks get the opportunity to repeatedly see something quite like this.