ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Had he not been traded to Buffalo two months ago, Bills running back Nyheim Hines knows exactly where he would have been on Monday night.
Hynes would be glued to his TV watching the first of what could be many-more-to-come duels between two of the NFL’s rising star quarterbacks in Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow.
“Absolutely,” Hines said. “Allen versus Burrow, two great quarterbacks, top five in my league and I could even say higher for either guy, it’s definitely something the world is watching and something that as a football fan like myself is excited to see."
Hynes will not only enjoy a ringside seat for a late-season showdown that will go far in determining who finishes first in the AFC, he also has some inside perspective on both quarterbacks.
“Probably how he was in high school is probably how he is now, very calm,” Hines said of Burrow, whom he played with in the All-American high school game in California in January 2015.
“He was kind of like my head coach, Frank Reich,” he added , referring to his former coach in Indianapolis, who was fired after Hines was dealt to Buffalo. “Very stoic. Cold-blooded. Never panics. I see Joe the same way.”
Hines’ respect for Allen has grown tremendously since joining the Bills.
“By any means necessary. If it’s third-and-10, he’s gonna jump in the air, put his body on the line to get that first down,” he said. “And then one thing that people don’t realize about him is how smart he is. ... I knew of his playmaking ability, but his playmaking ability overshadows his brain.”
Allen has the Bills (12-3) holding the inside track to finishing first in the conference, and having already clinched their third straight AFC East title — their best run since a four-year stretch spanning 1988-91. The fifth-year player ranks fourth in the league with 4,029 yards passing and third with 32 TDs passing entering Week 17.
Burrow has the Bengals (11-4) a win or tie away from clinching their second consecutive AFC North title — something they’ve not done since winning consecutive AFC Central titles in 1981 and ’82. And the third-year player ranks second in the NFL in both yards passing (4,260) and TDs passing (34) entering Week 17.
Together, since the start of the 2021 season, they’re tied for second with 68 touchdown passes, trailing only Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (’74) entering Week 17.
“I can’t wait to watch,” said Ryan Fitzpatrick, the ex-journeyman quarterback who played for both Buffalo and Cincinnati and now works as an analyst for Amazon Prime on “Thursday Night Football."
“What gets me excited about the Bills is they have found ways to win without solely relying on Josh,” Fitzpatrick said. “But Josh has proven time and again he has broad enough shoulders to carry this team on his back.”
As for Burrow, Fitzpatrick believes the Bengals quarterback could work his way into the NFL MVP conversation should Cincinnati vault both Buffalo and Kansas City (12-3) to win the AFC’s top seed.
No matter the outcome, Fitzpatrick said he foresees “matchups between Burrow, Allen and Mahomes will be deciding the top seed in the AFC for many years to come.”
What’s captivating about Monday night’s game is it being the first between Burrow and Allen. The teams haven’t met since 2019, a year before the Bengals selected Burrow with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Burrow, meantime, is 3-0 against Mahomes, including a win in the AFC championship game last season. Allen is 2-3 in meetings against Mahomes, including playoff losses in each of the past two years.
Both quarterbacks played down the hype focused on their individual matchup, while acknowledging they’re friends and have a healthy respect for one another.
“Everybody watches Josh. There’s no secrets about why he’s so good,” Burrow said. “He makes throws nobody else can make.”
Allen returned the compliment.
“The dude’s all ball. He loves football. Honestly, he’s a heckuva talent, a heckuva player,” Allen said. “It’s been super impressive to watch and see his whole story, too. Going to Ohio State, transferring out, spending two years at LSU and arguably having one of the greatest seasons in college history.”
Both hail from small towns, Burrow is from The Plains, Ohio, and Allen from Firebaugh, California. And their college trajectory is similar in the challenges they've had to overcome.
While Burrow was overlooked at Ohio State, leading to his move to LSU, Allen was ignored by most every Division I school before landing a scholarship at Wyoming.
“I think adversity hit them both,” said ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. “There’s humility there with both of these guys. And at the same time, there’s this uber confidence that is so infectious and contagious that your teammates are like, 'Let me just be around you.'"
To Hasselbeck, it’s similar to what he saw during his years backing up Brett Favre. Not only did Favre’s competitiveness provide the Packers confidence, his mere presence influenced opposing teams especially in how they approached the final minutes of a close game.
“There’s something about that style of competitiveness that opposing defenses and opposing coaches say, 'Ah, shoot, we left too much time on the clock,’” Hasselbeck said. “Both these guys have captured that, which is pretty special.”
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