A quick roll call of the four quarterbacks in the AFC’s divisional round of the playoffs this weekend:
Patrick Mahomes for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Josh Allen for the Buffalo Bills.
Those two quarterbacks and teams will play Sunday evening in Kansas City.
On Saturday afternoon ….
Joe Burrow for the Cincinnati Bengals.
And Ryan Tannehill for the Tennessee Titans.
So Mahomes, Allen, Burrow and Tannehill.
Mahomes last week threw five TD passes in a playoff win over Pittsburgh. Allen last week threw five TD passes and had only four incompletions in a playoff win over New England. Burrow, meanwhile, became only the third passer in the last 30 years to complete at least 70 percent of his passes and post a QB rating of 100-or-higher in his first postseason start — joining Drew Brees and Kurt Warner.
Then there’s Tannehill. He has averaged 133.5 passing yards per game in four postseason starts
And this is where NFL social scientists would say the Titans have no chance because the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and these three AFC young guns aren’t taking their hands off the wheel for Tannehill.
It’s hard to disagree.
Despite the fact the Titans have arguably the AFC’s best team — and own the No. 1 postseason seed and homefield advantage to make the point — it’s difficult to see them matching the others touchdown pass for touchdown pass or big play for big play from the quarterback position.
That’s because Tannehill, worthy of praise for raising his game in Tennessee to heights he never attained with the Miami Dolphins, is simply not in the same orbit as those other guys.
Maybe something great happens and Tannehill delivers an unexpectedly awesome performance, or perhaps the Titans are so superior on defense and with their rushing attack as to not need a big game from their quarterback.
They did, after all, beat both the Chiefs and Bills earlier this season.
(Maybe the Bengals defense, beaten up after last week’s game, isn’t up to the task.)
But in a shootout where everyone plays to mean?
Against Allen or Mahomes in the AFC title game?
Or even against Burrow this weekend?
It’s hard to bet against one of the elite guys eventually getting to the Super Bowl.
No disrespect to the most senior quarterback of the AFC group. Tannehill’s solid and rested following a bye.
And he’s hoping to have a full complement of weapons that includes A.J. Brown, Julio Jones and, of course running back Derrick Henry, who hasn’t played since October following a foot injury that required surgery.
“I am excited to have our guys back,” Tannehill said this week. “It is a little bit different when you have guys back and guys you have played with a lot. It is definitely a positive thing, but at the end of the day, you have to go make the plays and execute. Just because you have guys back or maybe Derrick is coming back, just because he walks out there, doesn’t mean anything is going to happen. We still have to earn it and make the plays necessary to win the game.
“I feel like we have a good arsenal of weapons. The more we can spread the ball and make teams not focus on one or two guys, but cover the entire field and take what they give us, definitely plays to our advantage and we will be more efficient and effective.”
For the record, the Titans hope to have Henry on Saturday, but everyone is first holding their breath as he goes through the week of practice that there won’t be any type of setback because, to be clear, he didn’t miss nine games with a minor injury.
“I feel good,” Henry said Wednesday. “I mean, I have a big steel plate in my foot. That is the only difference from the left foot to the right. I feel good. I haven’t done anything in two and half months, so just getting back out there, getting acclimated to everything and getting back to being me.”
It would be superhuman for Henry to regain the form he had when he was leading the NFL in rushing eight games into the season. It would be otherworldly for him to be at his playoff best as he has in three of his six postseason games when he’s surpassed 150 rushing yards.
But that’s the point. The Titans need their stars to show up to carry Tannehill.
Burrow, Mahomes and Allen usually carry their teams.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero