This year’s Super Bowl is likely to turn into one of those Progressive Insurance commercials about saving new homeowners from becoming their parents.
If you ever had a MySpace page, you’re the starting quarterback from the NFC. If you don’t know what a landline is, you’re from the AFC.
The big game may turn out to be a clash for the ages. It’s nearly guaranteed to be a clash of the ages, with the NFL’s marked quarterback age-gap nicely split between the conferences that represent each side of the bracket.
In the AFC, it’s a new-school, schoolyard brawl featuring Kansas City (Patrick Mahomes, 25 years old) against Cleveland (Baker Mayfield, 25) while Buffalo (Josh Allen, 24) takes on Baltimore (Lamar Jackson, 24). The winners meet for a Super Bowl appearance.
In the NFC, it’s an old folks fight between Tampa Bay (Tom Brady, 43) and New Orleans (Drew Brees, 41) while Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers, 37) hosts the Los Angeles Rams, whose 26-year-old QB, Jared Goff, could upend the entire script.
Mayfield and Allen already dispatched two aging veterans: Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, 38, and Indianapolis' Philip Rivers, 39, respectively.
The differences between the conferences couldn’t be more pronounced. The youthful four from the AFC have a combined seven playoff victories. The veteran three from the NFC have 50, not to mention eight Super Bowl titles.
This is somewhat of a dream scenario for the NFL, which is likely to have a familiar face against a rising star playing for the championship.
It will be a nod to the league’s recent past, with the understanding that there is plenty more talent to come. A passing of the baton helps establish credibility, especially among the casual fans who tune in for the Super Bowl. It is good for business.
There have been times when leagues flail about looking for another superstar to come along and capture the imagination of fans. The post-Michael Jordan NBA, for example. That isn’t happening with the NFL.
This also highlights a relative decade of drought at the position that sits between these two generations. When it comes to NFL quarterbacks right now, there is, essentially, the over-36 crowd and the under-25 group.
Exceptions exist, namely 32-year-old Russell Wilson, but not many. Some of the others have won some games or maybe put up some huge stats. They failed to establish themselves as long-term stars that the league can bank on the way Rodgers, Brady and Brees on one end or Mahomes, et. al have begun to on the other.
Some have burned brightly, notably Cam Newton (35), Joe Flacco (35) and Andrew Luck (31), but for various reasons couldn’t sustain it.
It’s currently the generation of Matt Ryan (35), Matthew Stafford (32), Kirk Cousins (32), Ryan Tannehill (32), Derek Carr (29), Carson Wentz (28) and others. Good players, most of them.
But they have just one Super Bowl appearance between them, and that was Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons’ infamous loss to New England. Additionally, none have shown the kind of personality capable of anchoring major advertising campaigns. Guys such as Stafford have sought a relatively low-key life, even.
Something happened to quarterbacking for a stretch there. From the NFL draft classes of 2006-2011, only Ryan, Stafford and Newton were starters this year (and Newton is probably done).
Some years were almost complete misses, especially in the first round – 2007 (JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn), 2010 (Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow), 2013 (E.J. Manual), and 2014 (Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel).
From that desert has come an outrageous collection of young talent who have flashed, at the very least, tremendous potential. It’s not just the guys still playing, but Deshaun Watson (25), Joe Burrow (24), Kyler Murray (23) and Justin Herbert (22) as well.
They aren’t just good, they are fun to watch, easily marketed and, for the most part, comfortable in the spotlight.
And that’s before a draft class arrives with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and BYU’s Zach Wilson, all expected to go in the top 10, if not top five overall. Lawrence alone is considered by scouts the best quarterback prospect since Luck in 2012.
The way for nearly two decades was you could flip on a game and find a Ben or a Brady or a Brees and know what you were in for. Now the 25-and-under set is ready to take over. Perhaps they already have.
Mahomes has already won a Super Bowl last season. Some of the others will join him.
It’s just this year, they’ll likely have to go through one of the old guys from the NFC to do it.
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