The playoffs now belong to Josh Allen and Joe Burrow, to Patrick Mahomes and Trevor Lawrence, to Jalen Hurts and Dak Prescott and Daniel Jones and, yes, to Brock Purdy, too. The oldest starting quarterback who remains is 29 (Prescott). The players were drafted in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, two in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The baton has been passed. The next generation of NFL quarterbacks is here.
The reason to mention the whereabouts of the four aging — or flat-out old — quarterbacks is because their presence in this round of the playoffs has been darn near constant for the better part of two decades. Since 2003, one or more of Brady, Rodgers and the Mannings has appeared in the NFL’s second playoff weekend every single year. No breaks.
Indeed, of the 76 playoff games held in this round over those 19 seasons, 35 involved one or more of them. Twenty of the 38 conference championship games involved at least one, and seven times they beat each other at that stage. And a Super Bowl without Brady, Rodgers or a Manning in that span? Just four of 19.
The bottom line: If you turned on a divisional playoff game since 2003, there was a better chance you would have been watching Brady, Rodgers and/or a Manning than not. That’s a constant cast of characters with which the nation became intimately familiar. Their departure from the stage would seem a blow to the league. For television, the NFL is a ratings guarantee. But what’s “Seinfeld” without George or “Ted Lasso” without Ted?
Not a dud in the bunch. The NFL is sports Teflon. Stars seem unique and irreplaceable — until they’re replaced by the newest version of what once was. It doesn’t mean this group is different. It does mean it’s capable of sustaining and growing what the legends built before them.
And then you get to Allen and Burrow, the main attraction. Does it matter that Buffalo is the second-smallest market (ahead of only Green Bay) in the league? Does it matter that Cincinnati is only four spots higher? It does not. Allen and Burrow are national stars on a national stage. The cities they represent are of utmost importance to the fans who grew up there and live there still. To a sporting nation that wants football for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and all the snacks in between, these teams could represent Wichita and Waukesha and people would watch. That’s so different from, say, baseball, where the brand-name teams — Yankees and Dodgers, Cubs and Red Sox — matter so much more than whoever is wearing the uniform at the moment.
But all that star power from the former stars does not and will not overshadow what plays out on the field. The next generation of quarterbacks isn’t next. It’s now. Maybe in two decades, we will look back on a landscape and wonder when the last time a playoff weekend didn’t feature Mahomes or Lawrence or Burrow or Allen. We have them all right now — and more.
This content was originally published here.