The difference in playoff quarterbacks between the AFC and NFC is obvious.
There are great quarterbacks still alive in the postseason in both conferences. There are multiple quarterbacks in the field who will be in the Hall of Fame someday. It’s just that one group has more experience. A lot more experience.
The average age of the NFC starting quarterbacks for the divisional round is a little less than 37 years old, and that’s with Jared Goff bringing the average way down. A game between Tom Brady and Drew Brees will be the first time two 40-year-old quarterbacks square off in the playoffs.
The AFC’s average age among its four remaining quarterbacks is 24.5 years old. All four were first-round draft picks, two have won MVP awards, one has a Super Bowl championship already, and each of them has led at least one playoff win. The NFL’s future is in good hands.
It’s hard to pick among the eight quarterbacks remaining in the postseason. They’re all accomplished. But we’ll try to put them in order, based on which quarterback you’d choose for the rest of the playoffs:
8. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Goff’s thumb injury assured him of the final spot among the eight starting quarterbacks still playing. Goff downplayed the injury after last week’s game but he looked like he was less than 100 percent. That’s understandable after he had surgery on a broken thumb after Week 16. Even when healthy, Goff has been up and down. He’s the biggest question among the eight quarterbacks, by far.
7. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
Mayfield has been on a roll. Mayfield has thrown one interception since Oct. 25. He has 19 touchdowns and two interceptions over his past 11 games, including the wild-card playoff win over the Steelers. Mayfield had a good rookie season, poor second season and has answered a lot of questions with a strong third season. He doesn’t have the track record of success of some other quarterbacks ahead of him on this list, but his recent play has been very good.
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Brees missed time with 11 broken ribs, and looked bad in his first game back. Since then he has mostly been the same efficient Brees we’re used to seeing. Over the past three games he is completing more than 70 percent of his passes. He has five touchdowns and no interceptions over the past two games, including the wild-card win over the Bears. This could be Brees’ final season, and he’s finishing it pretty well.
5. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
It will always be hard to rank Jackson. He’s great, but different than most other quarterbacks. Jackson was fantastic in a wild-card win over the Titans, rushing for 136 yards with several big plays. He also threw for just 179 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a 74.8 passer rating. He can take over a game, but a dip in passing efficiency this season pushed him down a bit.
4. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brady wasn’t perfect this season, but his faults were overstated. He had 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns this regular season with his highest passer rating since 2017. Brady followed that up with 381 yards and two touchdowns against a good Washington defense in the wild-card round. More than anything, there aren’t many quarterbacks in NFL history you’d trust in a clutch spot more than Brady, even at age 43. What a story it would be if Brady wins a championship with Tampa Bay after 20 years with the Patriots.
3. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Imagine a year or more ago seeing Allen on a list of playoff quarterbacks at No. 3, ahead of guys like Brady, Jackson and Brees ... and wondering if he might be too low. Allen’s breakout has been remarkable. He has harnessed all of his physical skills, and the inclusion of Stefon Diggs in the offense has unlocked a new level not just for Allen but the Bills as a whole. Allen’s fine game against the Colts in the wild-card round should answer questions about whether he can do it in the playoffs, too. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if Allen keeps his hot streak going through a Super Bowl title.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Rodgers will win MVP and he deserves it. If you want him in the No. 1 spot, that’s justified. It seems like more of a 1A and 1B ranking (and we can probably include Allen as a 1C). Rodgers has been shredding defenses lately and doing so in an effortless manner. He has waited a long time for a playoff path like this, with the NFC going through Green Bay. We’re going to see the best of Rodgers this month as he chases a second Super Bowl that has eluded him for a decade.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Rodgers had a better individual season, passing Mahomes in the MVP race with a scorching hot December. It’s even fair to argue Allen had a better season than Mahomes. But if you were picking one quarterback for the rest of the playoffs, wouldn’t Mahomes be the pick? He has been the most consistently great quarterback in the NFL since taking the starting job in 2018, and his playoff comebacks en route to a Super Bowl last season proves he is just as great in the clutch. Rodgers and Allen were great this season. Brees and Brady have had all-time great careers. Jackson has unique skills that no other quarterback in the NFL can match. You can make a great argument for any of them topping this list. But anyone picking Mahomes probably won’t regret it. No quarterback has ever had a start to an NFL career like Mahomes, and he’s the biggest reason the Chiefs are the favorites to take home another title.
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