Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield Show AFC Is a Young Man's Game

Rarely has a single weekend of football provided as accurate a snapshot of the NFL's evolving nature as the upcoming Divisional Round playoffs.

In the NFC, three of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history—Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers—lead their respective teams into the second week of the postseason with a combined age of 122 years.

By contrast, all four starting quarterbacks remaining in the AFC playoffs—Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills and Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns—are all yet to turn 26.

To put the age difference into perspective, at 26 years and three months of age, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff is older than his four AFC colleagues, while being simultaneously 11 years Rodgers' junior—the two-time MVP turned 37 last month, a relative upstart compared to Brady and Brees, who are 43 and 42 respectively.

The feeling of generational change is hard to ignore and it means the Divisional Round of the 2020 NFL playoffs will go down in history before a ball has even been kicked in anger.

According to NFL Research, this year marks the first time in NFL history that all four starting quarterbacks in one conference are yet to turn 26 before they take the field in the Divisional Round.

At 25 years and 278 days, Mayfield will be the senior figure in the quartet when he leads the Browns out against the Chiefs in Kansas City, while Mahomes will be 25 years and 122 days.

At 24 years and nine days on Saturday, Jackson will be the youngest of the four when the Ravens take on the Bills in Buffalo, while Allen will be 24 years and 240 days.

Last season, Mahomes became the second-youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl after leading the Chiefs to a 31-20 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. At 24 years and 138 days of age, Mahomes was also the fifth-youngest quarterback in Super Bowl history.

Having succeeded Mahomes as the regular season MVP in 2019, Jackson could surpass the Chiefs gunslinger as the second-youngest quarterback to ever lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy if the Ravens win Super Bowl LV this season.

Not even Jackson, however, has a shot at breaking Ben Roethlisberger's record of being the youngest ever quarterback to win the Super Bowl.

Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card Round on January 11 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Justin K. Aller/Getty

The Steelers veteran was just 23 years and 320 days when he led Pittsburgh to a 21-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL in his second season in the league.

Along with Philip Rivers of the Indianapolis Colts, Cam Newton of the New England Patriots, Ryan Tannehill of the Tennessee Titans and Derek Carr of the Las Vegas Raiders, Roethlisberger is one of just five AFC starting quarterbacks to have been entered the NFL prior to 2017.

The Chiefs drafted Mahomes in the same year, while Mayfield, Allen and Jackson turned professional 12 months later.

Like Mahomes, Deshaun Watson also entered the league in 2017 when he was drafted by the Houston Texans, while the New York Jets' Sam Darnold joined Mayfield, Allen and Jackson as one of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

The Denver Broncos drafted Drew Lock in 2019, while last year the AFC saw the arrival of three new starting quarterbacks with Joe Burrow selected by the Cincinnati Bengals, Tua Tagovailoa going to the Miami Dolphins and Justin Herbert drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, meanwhile, are widely expected to draft Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in this year's draft.

With the 38-year-old Roethlisberger and the 39-year-old Rivers in the winter of their careers, the AFC could have an ever more youthful look next season.

Respectively the first, seventh and 32nd overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, Mayfield, Allen and Jackson will also become only the second trio of NFL quarterbacks selected in the first-round of a draft to start in the Divisional Round in the same postseason.

The only other time that has happened was in 2008, when Eli Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger—the first, fourth and 11th overall pick of the 2004 NFL Draft—all started for their respective teams in the Divisional Round.

"I think it's great for the game, this influx of new guys at the position," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said this week. "It's great for viewers, fans, cities. It gives these different cities an opportunity to compete."

If the NFC is the domain of veterans, the AFC is unquestionably a young men's world.

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