It is renowned that consistently succeeding in the National Football League starts with one crucial thing. You have to have a quarterback. Kansas City Chiefs fans know this better than anybody else after traveling through the cold, dark wilderness for the 50 years before Patrick Mahomes showed up.
Mahomes and the Chiefs are sitting pretty right now, there is no doubt. Mahomes has two Super Bowls, three Super Bowl appearances, and is five for five in making it to the AFC Championship Game. It is a great thing that Mahomes started his career on the fast track because the rest of the AFC is coming, and does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
When you compare the final four teams in the NFC and the AFC, there is a distinct difference between the two. Sure, the NFC has two former first-overall picks in Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield, another first-round pick in Jordan Love, and then a guy in Brock Purdy who was once Mr. Irrelevant and is now a budding star quarterbacking the best team in football.
The AFC, however, has four guys that you might put in your top five quarterbacks in the entire league. You have two former MVPs in Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, a perineal MVP candidate in Josh Allen, and a rookie quarterback in C.J. Stroud, who will win Rookie of the Year and perhaps get some MVP votes as well.
There is nothing to take away from the resurgent seasons the NFC quarterbacks have displayed thus far, but they just do not have the staying power of the AFC signal callers. This is not a new thing, going way back to the beginning stages of the Tom Brady era. For years and years, it was Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Philip Rivers roaming the AFC until Aaron Rodgers showed up.
There was a sprinkle of Kurt Warner, Drew Brees, the end of the Brett Favre era, the clutchness of Eli Manning in there, and the early stardom that Russell Willson produced, but that was it. The four AFC powerhouse quarterbacks, along with how good Andrew Luck was at the beginning of his career, remained.
With Brady and Rodgers residing in the NFC the last few years, there was some balance to the league. The AFC simply just had Mahomes, Allen, and the new star that was Joe Burrow, as Jackson had been limited by injuries the past few years.
However, now you look up and you might list off six or seven AFC quarterbacks before you reach the first best NFC quarterback. I am trying to avoid recency bias with the struggles Jalen Hurts had this year, but I would legitimately take Mahomes, Allen, Jackson, Burrow, Stroud, and Justin Herbert over him. That is six right there and Aaron Rodgers is still looming out there for the Jets in 2024.
Guys like Anthony Richardson and Will Levis could blow up next year too, for all we know. Then you get to guys who have flashed high levels of play such as Tua Tagovailoa, Deshaun Watson, and Trevor Lawrence. That is 12 out of 16 teams that have a decent quarterback situation. The leftover four teams are the Raiders, Broncos, Patriots, and Steelers. The Patriots have a top-three pick, so they could be adding to this list but the fact that two of those four teams are in the AFC West is good for the Chiefs.
Luckily for Chiefs Kingdom, Mahomes has started his career off fast and the rest of the talented bunch is chasing him.
Currently, the best NFC quarterbacks are Hurts, Dak Prescott, Goff, Love, Justin Fields, Kirk Cousins, Brock Purdy, Matthew Stafford, and Kyler Murray. I suppose you could throw Mayfield and Geno Smith in there as well.
Some of these guys are really good players, but I still feel pretty confident that there are six or seven AFC quarterbacks before you get to the best NFC quarterback. Among active quarterbacks with playoff wins, the top seven all reside in the AFC. Those seven are Mahomes, Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Wilson, Allen, Garoppolo, and Burrow—who all have five or more.
The Patriots spent many, many years dominating the AFC East, despite the AFC being loaded with top quarterbacks. The Chiefs’ former quarterback, Alex Smith said as much earlier this season when talking about the Patriots dynasty. The Chiefs and Mahomes hope to do the same. Having an easier division allows you to have an easier path to the Super Bowl if you take advantage of that part of your schedule.
While the Chiefs won their division, they did not dominate this year, falling behind the likes of Jackson and Allen in the AFC seeding. Now Mahomes will have to go into Buffalo and try to take them out on the road for the first time. All of this is to say that the Chiefs will never have an easy ride to the Super Bowl. Mahomes and the Chiefs will have to overcome a myriad of youthful AFC quarterbacks for years to come.
Mahomes has youth, experience and success on his side that is unparalleled to any quarterback that exists in the NFL. The only Super Bowl-winning AFC quarterback is Rodgers and while Allen and Burrow have had Mahomes number at times, they have nothing to show for it in the playoffs.
Nothing easy is worth doing, and as a Chiefs Kingdom, we might as well sit back, relax and watch greatness, knowing Mahomes already has two rings on his finger. Every year in Mahomes prime is a win-now season, but it is good fun to watch all the pressure be on Josh Allen.
Allen has never defeated Mahomes in the playoffs and if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. On Sunday we will see if Mahomes can stay on top of the mountain in this historically difficult era in the AFC.