There are very few quarterbacks who get the ball with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl with one good ankle and proceed to lead their team right down the field and leave little time remaining. Usually their team either scores with more than enough time left for the other team to score or they have to punt the football back to the opponent.
Unless you have Patrick Mahomes on your team.
He led the Kansas City Chiefs to the Philadelphia Eagles' nine yard line while using up all but eight seconds before Harrison Butker's go ahead field goal made it 38-35. Mahomes was already one of the league's most decorated players thanks to his tremendous arm strength, pocket awareness, and improvisation. With Tom Brady retiring, one can say it's Mahomes' league. Given he now has two MVPs and two Super Bowl MVPs (only the third player to accomplish this feat) it's safe to say he has set the bar for the next generation of young quarterbacks.
During this NFL season, a new wave of elite quarterbacks cemented themselves as the future of the league. With Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady finally showing signs of age, the spotlight fully turned to a number of other signal callers waiting to establish a new age: Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, and Trevor Lawrence. All of those guys have proved themselves as leaders who are capable of elevating their squads. With only Rodgers remaining from the previous era of great quarterbacks, it's now their time to shine. Yet despite their brilliance, they will all be looking up to Mahomes for a long time.
What Patrick Mahomes did this year was nothing short of spectacular. Despite winning the Super Bowl three years ago, some people thought the Chiefs might regress after they traded superstar receiver Tyreek Hill in the offseason. But by the end of the regular season, any talk of a down year was long gone. Mahomes established himself as the frontrunner for MVP right from the start and never looked back. He threw for a career high 5,250 yards and 41 touchdowns while leading the Chiefs to a 14-3 record. But it was in the playoffs where Mahomes showed how great he truly is.
For the majority of the playoffs, Mahomes played through an ankle sprain that made it difficult for him to walk at times. Yet he continued to add one chapter after another to his incredible career, while taking down the trio of Lawrence, Burrow, and Hurts. Every game saw Mahomes do something incredible. First it was playing the entire second half of the divisional round after injuring his ankle. Then it was defeating Burrow, his supposed kryptonite, in the championship game. He concluded his magical run in the Super Bowl by orchestrating a magnificent second half against one of the league's best defenses that saw Kansas City score on every possession.
Teams always look for a guy who can dramatically change their fortunes the moment he steps on the field. Only a few players can be seen as a franchise-changing pick, but Mahomes fits that category. Kansas City might have been a good team before Mahomes, but with him at the helm along with head coach Andy Reid and tight end Travis Kelce, they are the team to beat. Legendary NBA coach Pat Riley once said "The great ones will lift you above and beyond."
Mahomes has done just that.
Grading My AFC and NFC Predictions
Before the regular season, I decided to make three bold predictions for each conference. In a season filled with plenty of dramatic developments, I felt that it was only fitting to go back and evaluate each prediction. While a couple didn't age well, the majority were pretty respectable. Here are the final grades.
1. Von Miller will be the Final Piece Buffalo Needs: A-
Buffalo might have not made the Super Bowl, but that certainly didn't have anything to do with Von Miller's performance. The future Hall of Fame pass rusher was playing like the difference maker Buffalo paid him to be before tearing his ACL in week 12. While Buffalo's defense still played well without him, they clearly missed his presence in the playoffs as the Bengals' offense gashed them en route to a 27-10 victory. While it's not a guarantee Miller would've changed the outcome, it's a safe bet that the Bills would've been a much different team with him on the field.
2. The Raiders Won't Make the Playoffs: A+
This was one of my most accurate predictions as the Las Vegas Raiders would indeed finish with a disappointing 6-11 record. Even though wide receiver Davante Adams proved to be a terrific acquisition, it wasn't enough to overcome their inability to prevail in tight contests. It's worth noting that I stated teams who win a bunch of nail biters one year usually take a step back the following season, which is exactly what happened. The Raiders lost five games when leading at halftime, with four of those leads being by double digits.
3. Jets Will Have Two Rookie of the Year Winners: B
While the Jets did sweep the Rookie of the Year awards, I'm giving this a B because of who I predicted to win. On the defensive side, I correctly had Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner winning the award. He performed at an all-pro level and already has a legitimate case as the best cornerback in football. However, I had running back Breece Hall winning for offense, and while he was looking like the frontrunner in October, an ACL tear ended any hopes. The award instead went to fellow receiver Garrett Wilson who tallied over 80 receptions and 1,100 yards. Nonetheless this is a high honor given that the Jets became only the third team in NFL history to have two rookies win the award.
1. The Saints Will Have a Better Record Than the Buccaneers: D+
This prediction gets a D+ and rightfully so. I thought that the Saints will come back healthier and regain their status as division champions but I was certainly wrong. If anything, the Saints' championship window looks all but closed after having such a promising future. It's always difficult to replace a legend, and Dennis Allen got first hand experience after succeeding Sean Payton as head coach. The only reason why I'm not giving this an F is because I did mention that the Buccaneers will have a disappointing season, which was the case. They won their division despite finishing 8-9 and were later trounced by the Cowboys.
2. Justin Jefferson Will Win Offensive Player of the Year: A+
I believe this was my best prediction as Jefferson won an award that's difficult for receivers to win. From a statistical standpoint, Jefferson happened the exact way I said he could: by raising his numbers and leading the league in two out of three major receiving categories. Jefferson's touchdowns dropped slightly but his career highs in receptions and receiving yards were both good enough to lead the league. It also helped that Jefferson was the most important player on a Vikings team that won a bunch of close games on their way to a 13-4 record.
3. Trey Lance Will Outperform Jalen Hurts: F-
There is nothing whatsoever that was accurate about this prediction. Trey Lance was expected to be the future quarterback of the 49ers, but played poorly in the season opener before suffering a season ending ankle injury. To make matters worse, the 49ers looked a lot better whether it was Jimmy Garoppolo or Brock Purdy - the likely candidate to start next season - under center. In Philadelphia, Jalen Hurts had a terrific year showing dramatic improvement as a passer while maintaining his skills as a rusher. His play is major reason why the Eagles punched their ticket to the Super Bowl.