When the Cincinnati Bengals upset the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in the AFC divisional round last Saturday, Joe Burrow became the first quarterback who was a former No. 1 overall draft pick to reach a conference title game in his first or second year. It's a playoff level Cincinnati hasn't seen since 1988.
In his short time with the organization, Burrow has exemplified a true leader, with confidence that makes him prepared and built for postseason pressure. He's recalibrated fans' expectations and set high goals, and former Bengals cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones wishes his playoff teams from the 2010s had someone like Burrow under center, rather than Andy Dalton.
"If you look at the teams that make runs in the postseason, it all starts with the quarterback. A lot of these teams have really good quarterbacks," Jones told The Zach Gelb Show on Wednesday night. "Really good guys who play hard, love football, don't worry about a lot of other things. If it was anything with the teams I was on, I would start with the quarterback. I don't want to make the conversation about me saying [Dalton] wasn't good enough.
"But if you go back and look at the film, it speaks for itself. You look at the numbers. The game that we should've won, I think A.J. [McCarron] played... [Burrow is] the real deal. He's used to the pressure, won a national title. He's ready for the big lights. He's what I would've loved to have as a quarterback... He's exciting to see. I love his hunger, the way he plays. Maybe we'd have two [Super Bowl rings with Burrow]."
Dalton, who served as the Chicago Bears' backup quarterback this season, was taken 35th overall by the Bengals in the 2011 draft, and spent nine total years as their starter. While there, he amassed 204 touchdowns and 31,594 passing yards in 133 games, and helped lead Cincinnati to five consecutive playoff appearances from 2011 to 2015. The Bengals' postseason runs were short-lived, though, as they failed to advance past the wild-card round.
Burrow has already accomplished more in Cincinnati. Despite being sacked nine times against Tennessee -- which tied a league playoff record -- he still managed to throw for 348 yards, and according to Stathead, that yardage is the fourth-most in NFL history by a quarterback sacked nine times in a game. NextGenStats also revealed that Burrow completed 25 of 31 passes for 325 yards when he didn't face pressure in the pocket.
Cincinnati will visit the reigning AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon, with kickoff scheduled for 3 p.m. ET. According to FiveThirtyEight projections, the Bengals currently have just a 19-percent chance to advance to Super Bowl 56 and a 7-percent chance to win their first Lombardi Trophy.
The entire NFL conversation between Jones and Gelb can be accessed in the audio player above.