There's always a Bengals connection, right?
For Sunday's AFC Divisional in Buffalo (3 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12), it is old Bengals backup Jordan Palmer, he of 11 NFL completions across seven seasons who has used a whip-like mind to become a sort of quarterback whisperer to the elite. He put Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow through his draft prep and still works with him occasionally during the spring and summer while Buffalo's Josh Allen bought a house down the road from him in Southern California in between working out with him.
"These guys are like trees. They're either going to keep growing or they're dead," Palmer says this week. "Some grow at a more rapid pace than others. These two guys have their own styles and have two different approaches to the game, but the one thing you can definitely say is both guys have evolved way ahead of the pace of everybody else … Those guys check every box and they're doing it a young age. They also have a history of being clutch."
Call them two Redwoods.
First, there is Burrow, a lithe 6-3, 215-pound rooftop sniper in the perch of the pocket who can also do damage on the move. A Biathlon champion. On Sunday, in the biggest game of his third season, Burrow can become the first quarterback drafted No. 1 overall to win five playoff games at age 26 or younger. Burrow and four-time Super Bowl champion Terry Bradshaw are the only ones to win four. With a win, Burrow can join Russell Wilson (six) and Ben Roethlisberger (five) as the only quarterbacks to win at least five playoff games in their first three seasons.
Plus, with his latest skein, Burrow is one of just seven quarterbacks who have won 12 straight starts in December and January in the Super Bowl era.
And every Cincinnati school kid knows that Burrow and Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino are the only quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 10 wins and 30 touchdown passes in two of their first three NFL seasons.
Then there is Allen, the 6-5, 247-pound 21st-century quarterback blueprint whose legs are as dangerous as his arm and that right wing is damn near nuclear. Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson, a Wyoming teammate, once saw him throw it 70 yards in the air standing still. A Bengals defensive coach says Allen is like Chiefs Hall of Fame tight end Travis Kelce who can throw.
Allen has led the Bills in both passing and rushing yards in four of seven career playoff games. Only Steve Young and Russell Wilson have done that more for their teams. Allen has averaged 354 offensive yards per game in the playoffs, most in NFL history by any player with at least five postseason games. He also has a 105 passer rating in the fourth quarter of playoff games, the third highest over the last three decades.
"Two guys at the top of the thing," Palmer says. "The best quarterbacks attack defenses and adjust and do it in different ways … Josh is one of those rare ones you can almost say does it in every way. Running. Pushing it down the field, getting rid of it quickly, identifying pressure and replacing it with the ball. Changing the pocket.
"Then you look at Joe. They're not the same size, speed. Different body types. Checks almost every single box as well because of his movement in the pocket. How efficient he is as a mover, keeping two hands on the ball. Not having wasted extra steps. And he's gotten better every year throwing. Stronger and more accurate. Ever year he's gotten better."
They're both getting better, Palmer says. Burrow, he believes, has shown the most improvement this season on his velocity and how quickly he is getting rid of it and seeing the field.
"How efficient he is as a mover and how connected he is," Palmer says. "When you become really connected to the ground and you become really effective moving around, it also helps him in terms of increasing velocity. He didn't miss in college, either. He's been playing well for a long time and yet continues to make big improvements. Across the board."
Palmer can't make it Sunday. He advises so many quarterbacks at the moment that he almost prefers to watch it on the couch so he can fast forward through the defense.
"I'm not going to rank them. I'm not going to pick winners," Palmer says. "It's got a different feel than a regular game. I'll be excited for both and bummed for one of them."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: The only meeting between the Zac Taylor Bengals and the Sean McDermott-Josh Allen Bills came pre-Burrow in the third game of the 2019 season. The Bills barely won in Buffalo, 21-17. The sophomore Allen was just lethal enough with 243 yards passing for a touchdown to go with 46 rush yards. In a showdown with Bay Area boyhood idol Frank Gore, Bengals running back Joe Mixon had 94 scrimmage yards with a receiving touchdown and Gore had a rushing touchdown while running for 76 yards …
With a win Sunday, many Bengals tie Anthony Munoz, Reggie Williams, Cris Collinsworth, Max Montoya and Jim Breech for playing in the most playoffs wins in franchise history with five …
This is the sixth playoff matchup since 1950 between opposing quarterbacks who come in with at least an eight-game winning streak that includes playoffs. The most recent was in the 2020 AFC title game with Allen (8) and the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes (11). For Burrow-Allen, this is the first ever such matchup in the Divisional. The others were in the conference title game or Super Bowl …