Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield: Which quarterback of the 2018 NFL draft class will advance to AFC title game?

A quick read on items of interest for the NFL’s divisional playoffs….

Lamar Jackson vs. Josh Allen. While the “History Channel Showdown” featuring Tom Brady and Drew Brees assures that at least one legendary quarterback will advance to the NFC Championship Game, the “Saturday Night Special” in Buffalo dictates that at least one of the young guns from the 2018 NFL draft class is headed to their first AFC title game, having broken through last weekend to win their first playoff games.

And if Baker Mayfield and Co. Can spring an upset, the Class of ’18 would have two of its members squaring off for a chance to advance to Super Bowl LV. Funny, though, that the winner on Saturday night could be determined by the legs of the quarterback as much or more so than by the arms. Sure, Allen’s improvement as a more accurate passer this season has been spectacular. Even though he’s running less than in the past, the win-or-go-home stakes of the playoffs dictates that the power-running threat from the physical quarterback (6-5, 237) is as real as ever. Perhaps he is most dangerous, though, when using his legs to extend plays that allows him to unleash his rocket arm. Jackson, meanwhile, on a hot streak since coming off the COVID-19 list in early December, has long proven how foolish the pre-draft comments were from Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian, who suggested that he switch to receiver because he didn’t project as a classic passer. Oops. Break out the videotape from crunch time of the Monday night dramatics in Cleveland for a reminder of just how lethal the league’s reigning MVP can be as a passer. Even though Jackson has passed for 200 yards just once during the Ravens’ six-game winning streak, he’s notched four games during that span with an efficiency rating above 100. He can throw dimes when needed. And with the Ravens style of power football, winning without huge passing stats from Jackson is a good thing for the flow of winning. Especially the constant threat that Jackson is just as likely to pop off a big play to juice the league’s top rushing attack, as the momentum-swinging 48-yard TD bolt last weekend against the Titans illustrated. There’s always a premium on running in the playoffs. Yet with Jackson and Allen poised to produce their own brand of history, even that concept is ever-evolving.

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Pressure’s on

Tom Brady. In 14 games against other opponents during the regular season, Brady was sacked just 14 times. In two games against the Saints, the Bucs quarterback was dumped six times. Not the ideal pattern as Tampa Bay tries to prevent a “three-sweep” by New Orleans. Protecting TB12 is always essential, but it has an added layer because he’s thrown more deep passes than any quarterback in the league while running Bruce Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” offense. Much heat during the first two matchups came from Trey Hendrickson, who led the Saints with 13 ½ sacks and collected three sacks in the two games against the Bucs by working over left tackle Donovan Smith. Hendrickson, though, is nursing effects from a stinger. Keep watch. Still, it’s a group thing that the Bucs are contending with, which includes the coverage on the back end. Brady was lured to Tampa to win the type of big games we’ll see on Sunday, but he can’t do that without airtight protection when it matters most.

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Key matchup

Marshon Lattimore vs. Mike Evans. In sweeping the Bucs the past two seasons, the Saints have used their aggressive, physical cornerback, Lattimore to almost exclusively lock down on the Bucs’ big-play receiver. And it has worked like a charm. Evans hasn’t scored a touchdown against New Orleans in the past four games, had just one catch in Week 1 and was shut out in one of the 2019 games. And he hasn’t had more than 69 yards in any of of the contests. Unless proven less effective, expect the Saints to employ more of the same on Sunday. This has to burn Evans, given the depth of their personal beef. In 2017, Evans drew a one-game suspension from the NFL for running across the field and blasting Lattimore as some form of retaliation. The feeling of bad blood has long seemed mutual between these two.

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PICKS: Do Tom Brady’s Buccaneers or Drew Brees’ Saints advance?

ROUNDTABLE: Which non-quarterback will make the biggest impact this weekend?

Next man up

T.J. Yeldon. With Zack Moss done for the rest of the playoffs due to a knee injury suffered in a wild-card round, the Bills will lean on the seldom-used Yeldon as the complimentary running back to Devin Singletary. Buffalo could use the backfield boost, considering that quarterback Josh Allen led the team in rushing last weekend against the Colts with 54 yards — more than Singletary and Moss combined to produce (42 yards). Allen is obviously capable of big runs, but that hasn’t happened by design as much this season as it did last season. Thus, Yeldon’s challenge to knock off the rust to provide some quality snaps is essential.

Rookie watch

Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Kansas City’s leading rusher practiced on a limited basis Wednesday for the first time since suffering hip and ankle injuries in Week 15, then was held out of team drills the rest of the week. He’s officially listed as questionable and it’s clearly wait-and-see when it comes to assessing his workload. When healthy enough, the rookie clearly packs more big-play potential than the other running backs — Le’Veon Bell and Darrel Williams — who figure to work in a rotation. This situation begs for the Chiefs to roll with the hot hand (or legs).

Stomach for an upset

Browns at Chiefs. Can they do it again? The Browns stung Pittsburgh to win the franchise’s first playoff game since the 1994 season and as a reward heads into Arrowhead Stadium as an even bigger underdog against the No. 1 seed. The Chiefs are favored by 10. Remember, Andy Reid is 8-3 when coming off a bye in the playoffs. KC had the NFL’s best regular-season mark, 14-2. And the Browns embrace the no-respect card. The tweet last weekend from Sammy Watkins that scoffed at the competition Cleveland could provide didn’t rise to the level of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s putdown of the Browns, but it is still clip-and-save material — especially when considering that Watkins won’t even play on Sunday, scratched because of a calf injury. So, maybe karma strikes again in what could be a shootout with the two worst defenses left in the playoffs on the same field.

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The Road to Super Bowl 55 goes through…Green Bay.

The Packers earned the right to stay put at Lambeau Field for the entire NFC playoffs largely because of the sizzling season from Aaron Rodgers that sparked the league’s top-scoring offense. It’s just their luck that they have to get the best of the NFL’s top-ranked defense in order to host the NFC title game. Sure, the Rams are battered and we’re talking about a team from sunny Southern Cali braving the wintry mix at Lambeau. But there’s still much reason for caution. Remember, defense wins championships. Or at least inspires upsets. The four times that the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense has faced the No. 1 scoring defense, the defense won three of the games, according to ESPN. The chances of it happening again start with Aaron Donald wrecking the Packers game plan from the inside-out to get in A-Rod’s face. And it involves arguably the NFL’s best cornerback, Jalen Ramsey, putting the clamps on Davante Adams. Not easy. But not impossible. And without another monster effort from a unit that squashed Russell Wilson last weekend, the Rams don’t stand a chance.

Stat’s the fact

Since 1970, teams seeking to defeat an opponent three times in a season — as the Saints hope to achieve against the Bucs — are 14-7. According to Chase Stuart of FootballPerspective.Com, the mark for home teams in such cases is 12-5. The last to pull it off? The Saints, who beat Carolina three times during the 2017 season.

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