The playoff campaigns of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers ended over the weekend, and now their futures are at a crossroads. Those decisions, paired with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, will drastically alter how QBs are regarded moving forward. The truth is that we could be seeing the rise of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. It all depends who you ask.
Nostalgia and remonstration will always lead to past generations thinking their era was “the best.” It’s been happening forever, and football is no exception. Nobody was going to be better than Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr, until Dan Marino, Brett Favre and John Elway came along. Then nobody was going to be better than those players, until Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees arrived. Then it was set in stone: Nobody was going to be better.
Now we have Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow — seemingly ready to ascend and throw their names in the conversation.
Sure, it’s very early for all three. Only Mahomes can really lay claim to future greatness because he’s achieved the most, but it’s coming. The AFC in particular will be the nexus of change, with Mahomes, Allen, Burrow and Justin Herbert all reasonably showing enough that they could be shattering records for the next decade. More quarterbacks are waiting in the wings, either needing to show they have it, or prove it more in order to reach their ranks. But, for now, we’re seeing the next four great NFL QBs before our eyes.
If Mahomes only plays another decade, which honestly seems too short, but let’s assume he does, he’ll be historic. If that happens he’s on pace for over 65,000 passing yards and 529 touchdowns, which would be 4th in league history in both categories, reaching the marks with fewer years played than those above him.
It’s silly to project out Joe Burrow this early, but for the sake of fun he’s tracking to have 55,000 passing yards and 350 TDs in a 15 year career. Josh Allen would have 53,000 yards and 386 TDs. Herbert, also silly to project, but he’s tracking for a comical 70,000 passing yards and 518 TDs.
The point here isn’t to say “these guys will be better than Brady, Manning, Favre, or Elway,” it’s more to appreciate that we’re seeing four potentially legendary quarterbacks all in their peak, all competing in the same conference, all at the same time.
That has never happened before. There was always an ebb and flow to QB play that saw the young take over from the old, but not in a huge block like this. The last time this happened was the legendary 2004 NFL Draft, which brought Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger into the league, but they were spread out, balanced, Aaron Rodgers joined them a year later to round out the quartet, but we have two in the NFC, two in the AFC — symmetry. This is something wholly new.
So much of this has to come from the AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Bills and Chiefs. So many people who aren’t die-hard football fans tune in only for the playoffs, or have merely a passing understanding of the stars of the league. The world got to witness the brilliance of Mahomes and Allen play out in the final two minutes of that game, cementing both of their ascents into greatness and making us completely forget that we wouldn’t see any more Brady and Rodgers.
That will continue in the AFC Conference Championship. I might be in the minority, but I think Chiefs vs. Bengals has the potential to be another all-time great game. This time a shootout between Mahomes and Burrow.
The NFC, on the other hand, is in for some major pains. Without some blind hope it’s kind of impossible to find a young promising QB in the caliber of the AFC quartet present in the opposing conference. Sure, Justin Fields or Trey Lance could become amazing — but there’s really only two guys who fit the bill: Kyler Murray and Dak Prescott. Neither of whom look quite as promising as the AFC four, only because of injury or organization behind them.
Still, it’s possible — and that’s what makes this all so fun. We could be seeing a collection of some of the best passers of all time, all playing in their primes, all playing against each other for the same prize for the next 10-15 years. That’s a hellscape when it comes to seeing talented teams leave the playoffs early, but it’s going to make for incredible television.
Embrace the future, even if you doubt it, because it’s here whether you like it or not.