This Sunday’s AFC and NFC title games were absolutely incredible. The Chiefs, Rams, Saints, and Patriots put on an incredible show for us all, with two instant classic games that each needed overtime to determine the winner. It was the first time in NFL history that both conference title games both went to the extra period, according to the NFL’s internal research department.
What also made the two conference title games unique was the age of the quarterbacks involved. Patrick Mahomes is still only 23 years old. Jared Goff is 24. Tom Brady is 41 and Drew Brees just turned 40 earlier this week. That means we had an age difference of 18 years between starting quarterbacks in the AFC title game, and 16 years in the NFC title game — the two largest age differentials in any conference title game, ever.
Championship weekend in 2019 not only marked just the third time that two different teams started a quarterback who was younger than 25 years old, following 2005 (Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick) and 1997 (Kerry Collins and Drew Bledsoe), it also marked the third and fourth games ever started on championship weekend by quarterbacks who are 40 or older. The aforementioned 40-plus-year-old starters were Brady himself just last year, and Brett Favre with the Minnesota Vikings back in 2010. Brady won, while Favre lost. Brady was excellent, while Favre was not so great.
This weekend, Brady won again, while Brees lost. So in the four conference title games started by quarterbacks aged 40 or older, Tom Brady is 2-0 and Not Tom Brady is 0-2.
Brady and Brees put together some interesting stat lines on championship weekend. Against the Chiefs, Brady completed 30 of 46 passes for 348 yards and a touchdown, while he was intercepted twice. That gave him a 77.1 passer rating that was nearly 40 points worse than his opponent’s quarterback, and his team still won because he made big plays at the right time and the Chiefs couldn’t stop the run all night. Brees, meanwhile completed 26 of 40 passes for 249 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick. His passer rating of 88.4 was a few points better than that of Jared Goff, but his team still lost.
Unlike the championship weekend history of older quarterbacks, we actually had a decent-sized sample to draw from when looking at younger starters heading into Sunday’s games. Prior to this weekend, there had been 21 times where a quarterback younger than 25 had started a conference title game. And the history of sub-25-year-old quarterbacks playing in conference title games was … well, not great.
Both Goff and Mahomes acquitted themselves far better than expected, given the previous history of under-25 quarterbacks in conference title games. Goff went 25 of 40 for 297 yards while throwing one touchdown and one interception. His passer rating of 83.0 was perfectly respectable, and he hit on several big throws in bringing the Rams back from an early 13-point deficit to win the NFC and go to the Super Bowl.
Mahomes, meanwhile, had an absolutely dreadful start to the game and his accuracy was scattershot as he was under pressure for much of the evening, but he ended up with monster numbers: 16 of 31 for 295 yards, three touchdowns, and zero picks. That’s a 117.0 passer rating, the third-best for any under 25 quarterback in the 23 games such players have no started on championship weekend. He ultimately came up short, but he put together a heck of a performance.
But with Brady (41) and Goff (24) winning their respective games, we’re going to have another old vs. young matchup in Super Bowl LIII. The 17-year age difference is almost surely the largest of any Super Bowl in history. After all, there’s only been one 40-plus-year-old quarterback to start a Super Bowl. It was Brady, last year. He lost to the Eagles. Meanwhile, there have only been five previous under-25 quarterbacks that started a Super Bowl, one of which was Brady himself. Those players’ teams went 2-3, and the best passer rating any of them had was Brady’s 86.2 all the way back in Super Bowl XXXVI against … the Rams.