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A little over two years ago, Patrick Mahomes was making his first NFL start as a wide-eyed rookie. In just over a week, he'll become the fifth-youngest quarterback to start in a Super Bowl.
When the Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 2, the 24-year-old Mahomes will be the 22nd quarterback in NFL history to start in the big game before his 27th birthday. He'll also join Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks to win an MVP and start in the Super Bowl before turning 25.
Those accolades clearly speak to Mahomes' excellence, but they could also signal trouble for the young quarterback.
Marino - the youngest QB to ever start in a Super Bowl - was shut down in his lone appearance, a 22-point loss to San Francisco. Two of the other three quarterbacks younger than Mahomes were also embarrassed in double-digit Super Bowl losses, and the lone winner (Ben Roethlisberger) posted a 22.6 passer rating, the worst by a winning quarterback in Super Bowl history.
Of the 21 pivots to make their first Super Bowl start before age 27, only eight pulled out a victory. Should bettors be concerned about backing the Chiefs and an inexperienced Mahomes? Or can the former MVP help reverse the trend?
Young quarterbacks have shown their mettle throughout history. In 1969, a 25-year-old Joe Namath helped the Jets pull off an all-time upset in Super Bowl III. In 1975, Terry Bradshaw launched the Steelers dynasty at age 26. Seven years later, Joe Montana did the same for the Niners at age 25.
More recently, though, the bright lights have burned young quarterbacks. Since Montana's win in 1982, quarterbacks under 27 have gone 5-10 straight up (5-8-1 against the spread) in their first Super Bowl start. And since Roethlisberger's ugly win in '06, starters in that spot have gone 1-4 SU/ATS, which was capped off by Jared Goff's stinker against New England last year.
Here's a breakdown of how every starting quarterback under 27 has fared in their first Super Bowl start:
|Year||Quarterback||Age (Y/M/D)||Result (SU/ATS)|
|1985||Dan Marino (MIA)||23/4/6||L/L|
|2006||Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)||23/11/4||W/W|
|1983||David Woodley (MIA)||24/3/6||L/L|
|2019||Jared Goff (LAR)||24/3/21||L/L|
|2020||Patrick Mahomes (KC)||24/4/17||???|
|2002||Tom Brady (NE)||24/6/1||W/W|
|1997||Drew Bledsoe (NE)||24/11/13||L/P|
|2014||Russell Wilson (SEA)||25/2/5||W/W|
|2013||Colin Kaepernick (SF)||25/3/1||L/L|
|1969||Joe Namath (NYJ)||25/7/13||W/W|
|1982||Joe Montana (SF)||25/7/14||W/W|
|1980||Vince Ferragamo (LAR)||25/8/28||L/L|
|1993||Troy Aikman (DAL)||26/2/11||W/W|
|1986||Tony Eason (NE)||26/3/19||L/L|
|1975||Terry Bradshaw (PIT)||26/4/11||W/W|
|1986||Jim McMahon (CHI)||26/5/6||W/W|
|2007||Rex Grossman (CHI)||26/5/13||L/L|
|1968||Daryle Lamonica (OAK)||26/5/29||L/L|
|1987||John Elway (DEN)||26/6/29||L/L|
|2016||Cam Newton (CAR)||26/8/28||L/L|
|1972||Bob Griese (MIA)||26/11/14||L/L|
|2000||Steve McNair (TEN)||26/11/17||L/P|
Just how bad has it been for young QBs? Of the 21 starters who made their Super Bowl debut before age 27, only four produced a passer rating higher than 100, and more than half of them posted a total below 80.
Nine players recorded passer ratings below 70, including all four quarterbacks who were younger than Mahomes will be on Super Bowl Sunday. For context, all 32 qualified NFL starters in 2019 owned a passer rating of at least 78.3 for the season.
Passer rating can be an imperfect mark to measure quarterback performance, especially from previous eras, but it helps highlight how poorly some of Mahomes' predecessors fared through the air in the biggest start of their career.
Mahomes will also carry a burden that many of those others didn't have. Of the eight winning quarterbacks on the list, at least five were aided by a historically stout defense or a dominant run game - neither of which exist on this year's Chiefs.
Only one of the listed quarterbacks in the last three decades (Cam Newton) carried his team in a similar fashion to Mahomes, who combined for at least 35 pass and rush attempts in seven of his last nine starts. In the Super Bowl, Newton's Panthers scored just 10 points in a 14-point loss to the Broncos.
All told, there's little precedent when it comes to a young quarterback like Mahomes carrying his team to a title. But a few signs of success could separate the Chiefs superstar from the pack.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, but the splits are worth emphasizing: The better a young quarterback's team is entering the Super Bowl, the better he plays during it.
Among the 21 quarterbacks on the list above, 13 of them made their first Super Bowl start as an underdog. Those quarterbacks went 3-10 straight up (3-8-2 ATS). Meanwhile, favorites went 5-3 with four double-digit wins. Five of the six best performances by passer rating came from favorites, and five of the seven highest-scoring teams were favored (those seven teams went 5-2).
It's a positive indicator for Mahomes, whose Chiefs (-1.5) are priced as the better team and whose complement of offensive weapons could help him continue his torrid playoff run.
Kansas City dropped 51 points on the Texans in the divisional round, averaging nearly one full point per play. The Chiefs followed that up with a 35-point showing against Tennessee, which had allowed that many points just once all season. The chief architect in both games was Mahomes, whose current postseason run grades out as the best - by far - in the PFF era (since 2006).
Mahomes is now 3-1 in the playoffs, and all three wins were convincing. He's 23-6 in his career as a favorite (16-12-1 ATS) with a seven-game winning streak, and he's 13-3 SU when coming off a double-digit win (10-4-2 ATS). Through his first two-plus seasons, no spot has seemed too big for the young phenom.
No opposing defense has been, either. Mahomes went 5-0 this season against top-12 defenses (per weighted DVOA) with 1,324 yards, nine touchdowns, and two interceptions while completing 72.9% of his throws. His passer rating in those games alone (112.4) would have ranked fourth among all QBs on a season-long basis.
Clearly, few quarterbacks in NFL history can match the pedigree of Mahomes at this age. One was Marino, who flopped in his lone Super Bowl appearance, and the young quarterbacks who came after him should make bettors at least consider the challenge that Mahomes is facing.
Still, Mahomes is proving to be a "one of one" player so far in his career. Perhaps he can be the one who rewrites the narrative and subverts inexperience on the biggest stage.
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.