In Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season kicks off, the four teams in the AFC East will run out quarterbacks and accomplish a feat that hasn’t happened since 1973. When the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets take the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers, respectively, and the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins face each other, they will do so with the youngest group of QBs the league has seen in almost 50 years.
The AFC East will start four quarterbacks Week 1 who are all 25-years-old and under
Josh Allen, 25, led the Bills to the AFC Championship game last season and is one of the favorites for NFL MVP in 2021. His breakout 2020 season campaign earned him a massive six-year, $258 million contract extension this offseason.
Allen’s 23-year-old counterpart in Miami, Tua Tagovailoa, had an up and down rookie season with the Dolphins. However, he did enough that the organization was comfortable letting Ryan Fitzpatrick go and giving the Alabama product the reins in 2021.
The Jets and Patriots both drafted passers in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft who they hope the franchise’ quarterbacks of the future.
New York has penciled in Zach Wilson, 22, as its opening day starter since the team took him No. 2 overall. New England’s own 22-year-old first-rounder, Mac Jones, fought a tough training camp battle against former league MVP Cam Newton. The No. 11 overall pick eventually prevailed as the team cut Newton and installed Jones as their day one starter.
This last move by Bill Belichick and the Patriots gives the AFC four starting QBs that are 25-years-old and younger. An entire NFL division handing the keys over to a group of passers this young hasn’t happened in an exceedingly long time.
The last time this happened was in 1973
In 1973, the then-AFC Central started four QBs aged 25 and younger. Third-year quarterback Ken Anderson led his Cincinnati Bengals to a 10-4 record and won the division. Anderson went on to have a good, although not quite great, NFL career. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro during his 16 seasons in Cincy. Anderson also won the 1981 NFL MVP but fell just short of a Hall of Fame-level career.
Pittsburgh also finished that season 10-4 and made the playoffs with 25-year-old Terry Bradshaw at the helm. The team lost in the first round that season, but Bradshaw would go on to have a Hall of Fame career. Bradshaw won four Super Bowl trophies with the Steel Curtain and was named the QB of the NFL’s All-70s Team.
The other two AFC Central teams with young passers weren’t quite as fortunate as the Bengals and Steelers.
Third in the division that season were the Cleveland Browns and their 25-year-old (in Week 1) QB, Mike Phipps. The Purdue Boilermaker had a solid career with the Browns and Chicago Bears, starting 71 total games in 12 seasons.
Bringing up the rear in ’73 were the Houston Oilers. They started 24-year-old Dan Pastorini Week 1 on the way to a 1-13 record. The California native did make a Pro Bowl in Houston following the 1975 season. Still, he never led the team to the Promised Land. He eventually played on a Super Bowl team, but it was backing up Jim Plunkett with the Oakland Raiders in 1980.
All four AFC East fan bases are excited about their young signal-callers
History shows that one or more of these young AFC East quarterbacks could be on their way to Canton or Super Bowl glory. That said, chances are that is not in the cards for all four.
Despite the uncertain future, all four AFC fan bases are excited about their favorite franchise’s future. Bills fans are all-in on Allen, the best QB they’ve had since Jim Kelly in the 90s. He is the most proven of the bunch and looks like the most likely to become great.
Jets fans always seem to treat their players with healthy skepticism in the beginning. Still, lots of media support for Wilson has amped up the excitement in New Jersey to a significant level ahead of the new season.
In Foxborough, the uber-confident Boston sports fans are convinced that Belichick found the next Tom Brady in Jones. The shocking release of the expected started Newton only increased this confidence, and now Mac Mania is hitting a fever pitch.
The least confident group of fans are in South Florida. Some supporters still hope that a Deshaun Watson trade is in the works, but most believe in head coach Brian Flores and are cautiously optimistic about Tagovailoa getting a real chance as the unquestioned starter.
While we have no idea how each of these careers will play out, the thing that looks most certain is that there could be epic QB battles in the AFC East for years to come.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference