by Evan Bruner
As the Kansas City Chiefs dispatched the Buffalo Bills 27-24 in the Divisional Round, the scene looked all too familiar. Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City walked out of the stadium smiling and celebrating while the Bills players were quiet, even shocked, entering the locker room.
The latest chapter in the series between the two AFC heavyweights was another thriller, a back-and-forth affair that came down to the final minutes. It was everything fans could’ve hoped for and more. However, as the series between the Chiefs and Bills becomes more one-sided by the year, a daunting question has emerged. Is this really the next great rivalry?
Many have been quick to call Mahomes vs. Josh Allen the next Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, but it’s a faulty comparison, at least for now. What made Brady vs. Manning so special was that both guys were after something the other had. Brady was the league’s greatest winner. He won three Super Bowls before Manning even reached one. Manning, on the other hand, was racking up individual accolades at an historic rate. Even though Brady’s teams were more successful, Manning, at least early on, was better statistically and was viewed by most as the best player at his position.
Manning wanted to beat Brady to prove that he, too, could lead winning teams. Brady not only wanted to beat Manning, but to outplay him to prove he wasn’t just on a better team and that he was a better player. This created a unique dynamic between the two that has yet to exist with Mahomes and Allen.
For a true rivalry to exist, there must be mutual disdain for one another. Right now, that hatred feels one-sided. Mahomes has everything over Allen. He has the team success (2-0 edge in Super Bowls), the individual success (2-0 edge in MVPs), and the head-to-head success (3-0 edge in the postseason). It’s understandable that Allen and the Bills vehemently hate the Chiefs, but is their reasoning any different from the rest of the league?
The relationship between Mahomes and his AFC contemporaries is close to becoming the NFL equivalent of LeBron James and the Eastern Conference during the 2010s. Although the conference as a whole grew to despise King James and his dominance, James himself never had a worthy adversary. He dispatched the conference with such ease that there was little reason for him to take exception with any of them. The hatred became one-sided, and any rivalry ceased to exist. Kansas City vs. Buffalo feels more like a big brother and little brother situation than two equals hashing it out on the field.
Allen is an undeniably gifted player, but the current tale of the Mahomes vs. Allen series is one great quarterback who has to co-exist with one who’s greater. It’s not a Grand Canyon-sized gap. In fact, it’s close enough that if you don’t look closely, you might trick yourself into thinking they’re on the same level. But they’re not. Football is a game of inches, even millimeters, and no matter how excellent Allen is at the game of football, Mahomes appears to be a little better. That’s the difference.
Allen and Buffalo are in danger of falling out of this discussion altogether. Lamar Jackson and the mighty Ravens host the Chiefs this weekend, and Jackson will try to become the second active quarterback to record a postseason win over Mahomes. Jackson already has one MVP with a second likely on the way. If he wins a Super Bowl next month, he ‘ll have the third-best resume of any quarterback behind Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers.
Joe Burrow is the only quarterback not named Tom Brady to beat Mahomes in the playoffs, and he’s 3-1 in his career against the Chiefs. Though Burrow isn’t as physically talented as many of his peers, it’s this contrast that adds to the rivalry.
No one is saying Allen has to be Mahomes or do exactly what Mahomes does, but to avoid being a mere footnote in NFL history, he has to start doing some of it. Folk tales aren’t written about perennial division round exits or MVP runner-ups; they’re dedicated to champions and conquerors. It’s up to Allen to change the narrative. It’s now or never for the 27-year-old and the Buffalo Bills.