On Wednesday night, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen took part in the latest iteration of Capital One's The Match. He and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes took on fellow signal-callers Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers in a match play-style golf event to benefit charity.
It was a competition where Allen stood out in a couple of respects—neither of which had anything to do with his golf game. All three of the other players involved have been named the NFL's Most Valuable Player, with Rodgers winning the award four times (including each of the past two seasons). The other three competitors have all also lifted the Lombardi Trophy as champions of the NFL, with Brady accomplishing the feat a staggering seven times.
It was quite the metaphor for Allen's goals for the season to come. For what he needs to do on the playing field in 2022. For all that Allen has accomplished in his first four seasons, if he truly wants to be considered among the game's greats under center, he needs to do one of two things this year.
He needs to win the league's MVP or take the Bills to the Super Bowl.
For what it's worth, when asked in a pre-match chat who would be the next to win MVP honors, Mahomes singled out his golf partner:
It's not like he was going out on a limb with his statement. At DraftKings Sportsbook, Allen is +700 (bet $100 to win $700) to be named MVP in 2022. No player has better odds. Not Brady. Not Mahomes. Not the two-time reigning winner of the honor.
His numbers the past two years back up those odds. In 2020, Allen completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 4,544 yards with 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He added 421 rushing yards and eight scores on the ground, made his first Pro Bowl and finished as the runner-up to Rodgers in MVP voting.
Last year's passing numbers were down relative to 2020, but they were still outstanding. He completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 4,407 yards and 36 scores against 15 interceptions. However, he picked it up on the ground, setting a career high with 763 yards (while averaging a robust 6.3 yards per carry) with six touchdowns and 12 broken tackles.
When we last saw Allen on the playing field, he and Mahomes were engaged in one of the best duels we have ever seen. Allen's Bills came up short on the scoreboard, but it certainly wasn't his fault, as he threw for 300-plus yards in both of Buffalo's playoff games last year with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
Those last two seasons from Allen are the two best single-season passing years in the history of the Buffalo Bills—a history that includes a Hall of Fame quarterback in Jim Kelly. Per Nick Fierro of Bills Central, Allen is the only player in NFL history with 100 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns over his first four seasons. Only one quarterback had more total touchdowns over the first four seasons.
Fella named Marino. Played in Miami. Rumor has it he was good.
Edge-rusher Von Miller hasn't had the chance to play with Allen yet, but he has played with a Super Bowl champion in Matthew Stafford and an all-time great in Peyton Manning. As Mark Mulville of the Buffalo News reported, Miller said he believes Allen absolutely has what it takes to be the best in the game at what he does.
"All the great quarterbacks I've ever been around—from Peyton Manning to Matthew Stafford to all the guys I've been around—they all have this aura about them," Miller said. "Like no matter how high it gets, no matter how low it gets, no matter if it's OTAs or no matter if it's the day before the Super Bowl. And Josh Allen has this aura about him, for sure."
Of course, Allen can't do it all himself. No one can. It's half a dirty secret, but even the best quarterbacks can't win without talent around them. Yes, they can make those around them better, but they can't turn water into wine. Or perhaps more aptly in Buffalo, snow into beer.
Fortunately, Allen doesn't have to. As a matter of fact, he has as much talent surrounding him as anyone.
If there was any question about the wisdom of the trade for wide receiver Stefon Diggs, it has been answered—emphatically. In two years in Buffalo, he has caught 230 passes for 2,760 yards and 18 touchdowns.
It's not just Diggs, either. Third-year pro Gabriel Davis had a coming-out party in that shootout loss to the Chiefs in the playoffs, hauling in eight passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Dawson Knox set career highs in catches and receiving yards last year, hauling in nine scores. The Bills bid goodbye to a pair of veteran receivers in the offseason (Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley), but the team offset those losses with the addition of an experienced slot receiver in Jamison Crowder.
That's more passing-game weaponry than Rodgers has in 2022 and probably better weapons than Mahomes.
The Bills were a respectable sixth in the NFL in rushing last year, but a large chunk of that was Allen. Per Mulville, the Bills had the second-fewest rushing attempts and ranked 25th in the league in rushing yards at the position. To help bolster that ground game, they spent a second-round pick on Georgia's James Cook. Buffalo also added veteran guard Rodger Saffold to bolster the offensive front.
Even when Allen is on the sidelines, he's getting help. The Bills fielded the best defense in the NFL last year by yards allowed. They also paced the league in scoring defense, surrendering just 17 points per game.
Every piece of the supporting cast Allen needs to take the next step in his career is there, and so is the talent.
Now it's on him to get it done.
Granted, if Allen doesn't win MVP or the Super Bowl, it won't be the end of the world. Marino never won a Super Bowl. Drew Brees was never named MVP. Both were great players. But neither was considered the best in the game, at least not widely. Not while they were playing, and not after. Marino spent his career in the shadow of Joe Montana. So did Brees with the likes of Brady and Manning.
A quarterback doesn't reach the heights that Allen already has by wanting to be one of the best. He wants to be the best. To be the guy. The big cheese. King of the mountain.
Allen is a great player, absolutely capable of wearing the crown. But to stake a real claim to that title, he needs hardware.
Now is the time to start collecting it.