Tom Brady and Drew Brees go head-to-head while young guns Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield renew their rivalry as the NFL playoffs showcase two generations of quarterback talent on Sunday.
After a thrilling series of wild card games, eight teams head into the divisional round this weekend aiming to book a place in the AFC and NFC Championships where Super Bowl berths will be at stake.
In the AFC, the top seeds and reigning Super Bowl champion the Kansas City Chiefs make their postseason bow after a bye week with a home game against the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead Stadium.
It is only the second NFL meeting between Chiefs signal-caller Mahomes and Browns counterpart Mayfield, who head an exciting crop of young quarterbacks that have lit up the NFL in recent seasons.
Mahomes and Mayfield’s rivalry began before their respective NFL careers however. In 2016, the two tyros combined in a high-scoring college football classic, when Mayfield’s Oklahoma Sooners defeated Mahomes’s Texas Tech by an eye-popping 66-59 scoreline.
Mayfield, 25, threw for 545 yards and seven touchdowns in that epic win; Mahomes finished with a record 819 passing and rushing yards.
“We had to score every single drive in the second half to win that game,” Mayfield recalled this week.
“It was an unbelievable game and unbelievable atmosphere. Just the back and forth is something that I will not forget.”
While a similarly high-scoring encounter is unlikely on Sunday, the Chiefs and Browns do however possess two of the most potent offenses in the league.
– ‘Cool to play him’ –
Cleveland advanced to the divisional round by rattling up 48 points in an upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, while the Chiefs have averaged just under 30 points per game this season.
The 25-year-old Mahomes meanwhile is looking forward to locking horns with Mayfield once more.
“It’s cool to get to play against him in such a big game in the playoffs and everything like that,” Mahomes said.
“I’ve known him for a long time, since I was a senior in high school. He got the better of me in college. I’ll try to do my best to win in the NFL.”
The winner of Sunday’s clash in Kansas City will advance to an AFC Championship meeting against either the Buffalo Bills or the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens travel to Buffalo on Saturday in a game that pits two more members of the NFL’s new generation of quarterbacks against each other, with the Bills’ Josh Allen (24) facing the Ravens’ reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, also 24.
But if the AFC is no country for old men, the NFC side of the playoffs is, with the exception of the Los Angeles Rams’ 26-year-old Jared Goff, a veritable senior citizens outing.
When Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brady takes the field against New Orleans Saints opposite number and fellow forty-something Brees, a combined four decades worth of NFL experience will be on view.
Six-time Super Bowl champion Brady made light of the two quarterbacks’ advanced years this week, posting a mocked up graphic that suggested Sunday’s game at the Superdome would be better suited for television’s History Channel.
– Four-decade rivalry –
“Tom and I have a friendship and mutual respect. We were texting back and forth on Monday, chuckling at this whole scenario,” said Brees.
“He’s 43, I turn 42 on Friday, so that’s 85 years and a lot of football experience that’s gonna be on the field on Sunday.”
It is the latest instalment of a rivalry that has spanned four different decades — the two quarterbacks first met in 1999 as college players.
In seven regular season NFL games since, Brees leads the rivalry 5-2 — including two wins this season in the NFC South.
Sunday’s game may well turn out to be the last meeting between the two men, who are one and two on the NFL’s all-time passing yards and completions standings.
Brees is expected to head into retirement after this season, while Brady plans to play on for at least one more year with the Bucs.
The winner of the Bucs-Saints clash will advance to a meeting with either the Green Bay Packers or Los Angeles Rams, who meet at Lambeau Field on Saturday.
The top-seeded Packers will look to their own future Hall-of-Fame quarterback to shepherd them through to the NFC Championship game, the 37-year-old Aaron Rodgers, the front runner for this year’s MVP award.
Rodgers is chasing a second Super Bowl ring a decade after leading the packers to the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2011, and has been in scintillating form this season as the Packers have averaged more than 31 points per game.
Green Bay’s multi-faceted offense however will face a searching examination from the Rams, whose rampant defense helped deliver a 30-20 upset of the Seattle Seahawks last weekend.