Patrick Mahomes-Josh Allen Duel Important Reminder Of Patriots’ Mac Jones Stakes

The class of the AFC is quite clear after the divisional round

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If there was any doubt, it’s now clear after the NFL divisional round: The AFC is the league’s heavyweight decision.

Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen duked it out in one of the greatest NFL playoff games of all time with Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs getting the best of the Buffalo Bills in overtime Sunday night. If it weren’t for the NFL’s overtime rules, the two sides might still be playing with Allen and Mahomes trading haymakers at Arrowhead Stadium.

It’s easy to become prisoners of the moments following a masterpiece like that. But it’s increasingly difficult to argue there are two better quarterbacks in the NFL right now, especially with Tom Brady nearing the end and Aaron Rodgers further cementing himself as a regular-season savant and not much else.

For the New England Patriots, the duel in KC is the latest and likely unneeded reminder of just how important Mac Jones’ progression is to the next era of the franchise.

It’s truly difficult to project Jones’ progression after just one season in the NFL. However, it was fairly evident he’ll never be able to match Mahomes or Allen when it comes to pure physical talent, and his ceiling isn’t as high. That doesn’t seem like a hot take.

So it really underscores the importance of a few things for the Patriots if they want to truly compete for AFC titles. They certainly need Jones to reach his ceiling, whatever that actually is. Maybe that ceiling is somewhere between a rich man’s Kirk Cousins and a poor man’s Brady. Getting to whatever that is would help.

But elite quarterback play is still the No. 1 factor for success in the NFL, as evidenced by the teams that played this weekend.

The Patriots, for what it’s worth, did rank 11th in EPA per dropback this season, so maybe they’re closer to having that passing attack than what we’re giving them credit for.

But if you don’t have that, you absolutely have to be able to slow down the game’s top QBs. The Patriots proved in the wild-card round they aren’t capable of that. Bill Belichick must build a team with a roster that complements Jones — and his relative shortcomings — on both sides of the ball. There clearly is work to be done there.

And at some point, maybe the Patriots need to make a tough choice on Jones’ long-term viability. Maybe they can get back to what gave them so much success in the first half of Brady’s career. But that was almost 20 years ago. The game is constantly evolving, and unless Belichick can once again zig when everyone else is zagging, they’re playing catch-up. Let’s not forget: Coaching does matter, too.

If the playoffs are the truest indicator of a team’s talent and success level, the three best teams in the AFC are obvious: Kansas City, Buffalo and the Cincinnati Bengals. Mahomes is the old man at 26 years old. Allen 25 and Joe Burrow both are 25.

They all run the conference until further notice. Whether the Patriots can reenter the race and keep pace with Jones under center will be the single-most-important factor to their success — or lack thereof — moving forward.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady
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