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Bills’ Allen vs. Bengals’ Burrow: Are wins a QB stat?

A very specific shade grows wider over Josh Allen

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen has cemented himself as the heir apparent to Jim Kelly. Twenty-two years is all it took for the franchise to find a suitable succession plan. Allen is adored by all of Bills Mafia, for his on-field heroics, his humble nature, and his otherworldly athletic ability. He’s even caught the eye of movie stars.

But given the chance at a re-do, would the NFL see Allen in as esteemed a light as his adoring fans?

Sort of? Look, it’s for certain Patrick Mahomes’ world we’re all currently living in, and Travis Kelce is readily available to let anyone and everyone know it. But if an NFL team is building a team to win now, where would Josh Allen slot among those quarterbacks of last season? Draft Analyst Chad Reuter has some opinions on the matter. It’s the second year in a row the platform has used a mock draft concept “to re-imagine the entire NFL landscape.” At minimum, it’s an interesting offseason exercise to consider the most needy NFL teams’ best options to win now. At best, it’s a hype machine for the league’s biggest stars using years of professional success as a core measurement.

The NFL is often considered the pinnacle of team sports. And while that’s a debate for another day, it does bring into question the importance of each position on an NFL field. Quarterbacks are king. They’ve changed the way the game is played, called, and remembered in record books. But are quarterbacks solely responsible for a team’s success and/or failure?

Reuter may ascribe to that theory. Certainly, Mahomes goes first overall in Reuter’s re-do, but to the Chicago Bears — a team without Andy Reid. Things get really interesting with pick two, and Bills Mafia is certain to take notice. Quarterback Joe Burrow heads to the Houston Texans with the second-overall pick, and Reuter offers this anecdote:

Though Josh Allen is available, Houston chooses the QB with the more recent playoff success. Burrow has gone 5-2 over the past two postseasons, appearing in one Super Bowl and two AFC title matches, while Allen has gone 2-2 in that span, with two straight Divisional Round losses.

“Though Josh Allen is available,” immediately implies the selection might be fraught with controversy, or at least misguided judgement. While it’s impossible to deny the superior playoff record, it’s reasonable to question how much of that success and/or burden should be cast on Burrow or Allen.

Reuter sends Allen to the desert one pick later, stating:

Arizona is just fine selecting Allen, as his arm strength and mobility make him a dangerous offensive playmaker.

But let’s pause a moment and consider supporting cast. It’s not a stretch to say that Joe Burrow has operated with an overall superior group of offensive skill players. That’s especially true with the wide receiver trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd.

Josh Allen, conversely, has had a very reliable, productive, and dominant Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, and then a rotating lineup of complementary receivers who never seemed to seize the vacancy left by Cole Beasley.

Let’s compare some quarterback stats, for a more thorough look. We’ll look at the past two playoff seasons only, given that’s the measure Reuter used to choose Burrow over Allen in this installment of “win-now” football.

Joe Burrow — Seven playoff games, 5-2 record (2021-2022 NFL seasons)

  • Passing: 169-of-251 (67.3 %) for 1,826 yards (7.3 ypa, 10.3 ypc) / 9 TDs, 4 INTs (93.8 QBR) / sacked 29 times for a loss of 197 yards
  • Rushing: 26 attempts for 101 rushing yards, 1 TD

(Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference)

Josh Allen — Four playoff games, 2-2 record (2021-2022 NFL seasons)

  • Passing: 96-of-143 (67.1%) for 1,253 yards (8.8 ypa, 13.1 ypc) / 12 TDs, 3 INTs (113.77 QBR) / sacked 10 times for a loss of 55 yards
  • Rushing: 29 attempts for 180 yards, 1 TD (3 fumbles)

(Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference)

Looking only at those stats, Allen falls short of Burrow in two areas: turnovers (seven total vs. four for Burrow), and playoff appearances (four for Allen, seven for Burrow). So that further backs up the decision by Reuter to pick Burrow based only off playoff wins. Still, one must consider that Allen has been more productive while given less opportunity.

Without the need to remind anyone, Josh Allen is the superior athlete, and he has the stats to back it up. Allen has one of the best arms the NFL has ever seen. But he also is a bit more careless with the football thanks perhaps to his dual-threat ability and constant search to throw even as a runner. Burrow is a master technician who can quickly deliver the football to receivers. He doesn’t tend to make as many risky decisions, instead opting to live another down.

To me, this decision feels more about recency bias, additional piling-on following the Bills’ final game of the 2022 NFL season. Mind you, a very flat and uninspired performance against the Cincinnati Bengals where the entire team seemed gassed. Joe Burrow had all day to throw to whomever he wanted, and was rewarded with completion after completion. Whether due to Burrow’s decisions, the talent at receiver, coaching, or something else, Burrow took what the defense gave him. Allen struggled to outmaneuver the Bengals’ defense and his line folded at the worst time. Burrow was rewarded with stellar O-line play by a cast of “Who Deys” that showed everyone watching just what they were made of.

This isn’t to cast a more westward shade in the direction of Joe Burrow, but to at least consider the merits of Allen over him. Allen has accomplished more with less. Yes, Burrow’s been a part of more playoff wins — certainly. But it takes a whole lot more than an amazing quarterback to defeat any NFL team.

Would Joe Burrow be as successful with the talent-starved Houston Texans? To that end, would Josh Allen? I don’t believe many quarterbacks can go to another team and find similar success, especially in today’s NFL. Most quarterbacks aren’t Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Warren Moon, or Joe Montana. Time will tell if the enigmatic Aaron Rodgers joins that list.

Burrow was a No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick for a host of very good reasons. The Bills maneuvered up the board to select Josh Allen at No. 7 in his draft class to the surprise of many — thanks in large part to the doubt cast on his prospects as a pro QB. Both have proven their worth in the NFL, amid different types of stress. For Burrow, production and success was expected given his college career and being a No. 1 pick. With Allen, he had to prove everyone wrong — those who doubted his chances in the NFL after an up-and-down college career.

At the end of the day, both quarterbacks are phenomenal talents who help elevate those around them. As long as both Allen and Burrow are at the top of their games, there’ll be no shortage of comparisons and debates about who’s the better quarterback. For fans of both the Bills and Bengals, it’s great to be a part of such discussions after so many failed QB experiments.