The two quarterbacks and their respective teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, will meet Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS) in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. It’s their fourth meeting in two seasons and the stakes couldn’t be much bigger.
Mahomes’ Chiefs beat Allen’s Bills in the AFC Championship Game last year, so it isn’t as if these two haven’t shared the big stage before. If these types of meetings continue, Mahomes vs. Allen could quickly become this generation’s Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning (17 meetings between the legendary quarterbacks, including five in the playoffs).
Mahomes won two of the three previous meetings, but Allen’s victory came in Week 5 this season, 38-20, also at Arrowhead.
Their upcoming meeting could be the one fans are talking about for years, the one that truly ignites the rivalry between Mahomes and Allen. Those expectations seem to be reasonable. Both quarterbacks threw five touchdown passes in the wild-card round last weekend.
What the quarterbacks say
Mahomes said he’s gotten to know Allen, 25, off the field and called him “a great dude.” Mahomes noted that the Bills ask a lot of their quarterback and Allen delivers.
“What you see with Josh as he gets better and better every single year is he’s not satisfied with where he’s at,” Mahomes said. “He works through his throwing motion, he works on his feet, he does different types of stuff to give himself an edge and I think that’s what all the best quarterbacks do.
“You’ve seen that with Josh. They put a lot on him. They make a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage to make all the right decisions, throw the ball, run the ball, do all that different types of stuff. I think that’s what’s put them at this level where they’re a dominating team. He’s definitely gotten better and better each and every year and I’m sure we’ll have lots of battles as both of our careers go on.”
Mahomes, 26, has reached places in his career that Allen still aspires to, most notably a Super Bowl championship and an MVP award. The goal in Buffalo is to be in the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl in consecutive years, just like the Chiefs have done with Mahomes at quarterback.
“[Mahomes has] done all the major things that you want to accomplish in your career,” Allen said. “And obviously, he wants more, too. It’s cool because I know the type guy Pat is, we’ve talked to each other a few times. He’s an awesome dude and I know he’s got his foundation set up that helps a lot of people and that’s something I really admire about him as well, that he’s a real good person off the field.”
Last season, Allen was the runner-up for MVP to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, and Buffalo came just short of the Super Bowl with the loss in Kansas City in the AFC title game. On the back of Mahomes’ performance, the Chiefs have been in three straight championship games.
“That’s the type of level that we want to be; in order to be the best, you gotta beat the best,” Allen said. “And they’ve really been one of the, if not the best team in the last four years. … We’ve got a good opportunity here and we’re excited for it.”
What the numbers say
How did things play out between the quarterbacks in their first three meetings over the past two seasons? Mahomes has a slight advantage, but Allen had his best game in the rivalry in the Bills’ Week 5 win this season.
What the experts say
ESPN NFL analyst Jeff Saturday knows the Brady-Manning rivalry as well as anyone. Saturday played in it as the center for several years for Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. He also later in his career played with Rodgers in Green Bay.
He said that while both Mahomes and Allen are still in the early stages of their respective careers, he sees the same greatness in them that he did in the quarterbacks he played with.
“I love that Patrick Mahomes had some difficulty this year, that everything wasn’t so easy for him,” Saturday said. “When defenses started to adjust he had to alter his style of play and learn and develop patience and poise in moments when you can’t strike big. He had to take the checkdown. Sustaining drives has to be put on the forefront. It’s not always going to be big plays. I love that development in him.”
“Then flip it over to Josh Allen. His story is absolutely remarkable. People were thinking he wouldn’t be able to do it and then he makes a big jump last year and adds to it this year. How incredible is this that these guys are working on their craft and honing their skills and their abilities and still elevating their teams to victories and have opportunities to chase the ring.”
Rob Ninkovich says the Chiefs’ key to victory against the Bills will be going toe-to-toe with a top defense.
Part of what gives the rivalry such potential is how the position has changed, according to ESPN analyst Rob Ninkovich, who was also involved in those Brady-Manning rivalry games.
“I love the idea that there is kind of a modern Brady-Manning type rivalry, Ninkovich said. “I think the more exciting thing is … the chess match, so to speak, and how to play the game has evolved to what we know now — a mobile-quarterback-driven league where the pocket quarterback is sort of the dinosaur.
While Allen is the bigger (6-foot-5, 237 pounds) and more physical runner, ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky sees overlap in their playing styles.
There’s “not a single play that they don’t believe they can make on the field,” Orlovsky said. “Those guys have firmly planted themselves as two of the best players at that position in the NFL.”
Could these two even surpass the Brady-Manning rivalry?
“I’m not saying either one of those guys is going to have a Tom Brady career or a Peyton Manning career,” Saturday said. “But what I do know is that the level they are at in the year of their careers they are at, they are on a par where both of those guys were or maybe even better. That’s how I look at this. What made Peyton and Tom so special is longevity but [Mahomes and Allen] have presented it so far.”
Saturday said the Mahomes-Allen rivalry has all of the classic qualities to be one of the great ones, with the Chiefs and Bills facing one another for the second straight season in the playoffs while having realistic Super Bowl aspirations.
“You see what Kansas City has already done over the last three years and you’re watching what Buffalo is trying to accomplish,” he said. “The Bills beat the Chiefs in the regular season this year but for this to be a true rivalry they’ve got to beat them in the playoffs. It’s very similar to how we were with New England. They kind of had our number and then we finally figured out what we had to do to beat them and that’s really when the rivalry developed.”
But the rivalry’s future depends on more than the quarterbacks, according to Orlovsky.
“If you look at Peyton and Tom, there was similarities that were attached to those guys that weren’t just about themselves individually,” Orlovsky said. “Both of them were parts of really good organizations that were built the right way and had a track record of drafting well, and obviously long-term established, successful head coaches. …There’s a consistency that’s happening in Buffalo right now and that’s been the case for probably the last five, six years. Obviously, that’s happened in Kansas City for a while now.”
What would the outcome of Sunday’s game mean?
Will Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes have the better game to lead his team to the AFC Championship Game?
For the Chiefs: Mahomes would cement himself as the quarterback of a dynasty if the Chiefs advance to a third straight Super Bowl this season. Only three quarterbacks have started in three straight Super Bowls (Bob Griese, Jim Kelly and Brady).
By beating the Bills, Mahomes and the Chiefs would advance to next week’s AFC Championship Game. He would join a select group of quarterbacks who have started four straight conference title games (Ken Stabler, Kelly, Brady, Troy Aikman and Donovan McNabb).
On the other hand, a loss to Allen and the Bills signals that the Chiefs’ grip on the AFC is gone. Allen would have a second straight victory over Mahomes.
For the Bills: The Bills have been building up to this matchup since the loss in Kansas City last January. After watching Mahomes have his way against Buffalo’s defense in the AFC Championship Game and how the Buccaneers got to him in the Super Bowl, GM Brandon Beane used his first two picks in the 2021 NFL draft on pass-rushers Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham.
The goal was to fill the gaps needed to defeat the Chiefs.
“Tampa did a heck of a job against Kansas City in that game and really did a nice job of making Mahomes move off his spot,” Beane said after the draft.
The pressure is on Allen to beat the Chiefs in a big game and on the team to become the first to win at Arrowhead Stadium twice in a single season. Did the offseason work pay off?
A loss would send the Bills into the offseason with major questions yet again about what this team needs to do to get a first road playoff win under Sean McDermott and finally get over the hump.
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