The Seattle Seahawks will host the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday with both teams looking to take advantage of a second shot at clinching: the Seahawks a playoff spot and the Chiefs the AFC West title, although both need other teams to lose even if they win.
Both teams are coming off difficult losses last weekend.
Unable to overcome a franchise-record 148 penalty yards, the Seahawks dropped a disappointing 26-23 overtime game to the 49ers, prolonging their playoff hunt for at least one more week.
The Chiefs suffered similar heartbreak, squandering a 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter and losing to the Chargers on a game-winning two-point conversion.
At the center of this much-anticipated Week 16 clash are two of the league's premier quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes, who will face off for the first time with plenty at stake for their respective teams.
Referencing their baseball backgrounds as former infielders and innate abilities to improvise, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll sees plenty of parallels between the two star quarterbacks.
"There's nobody that's had a better year off the spot than Patrick (Mahomes) has," Carroll said. "Russ has always been noted for that and so there's similarities in that regard."
In his first season as an NFL starter, Mahomes has excelled in head coach Andy Reid's offense, leading the league with 45 touchdown passes and 4,543 passing yards through 14 games. Showing off his versatility, he's also rushed for 238 yards and scored two touchdowns as a runner.
He has been named the starting quarterback for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, although he would rather be preparing for a Super Bowl that week.
"Listen, he's done a nice job. He's worked extremely hard," Reid said. "He had a good mentor there with Alex (Smith) and he listened and learned. He loves playing the game.
"Those are all good qualities to have, very similar to the guy you have up there (with Wilson). Same kind of attitude in that way."
When Carroll was asked about Mahomes' swift ascension to the top of the league's quarterback hierarchy, he quickly credited Reid and his coaching staff for constructing an offense that best fit their quarterback's strengths.
"I think it's a fantastic job by their staff and Andy putting together an offense that could make sense to him so that he could execute this well," Carroll said. "To bring the quarterback along that quickly in a sophisticated attack, that's a big accomplishment by their coaching staff, and Patrick has made full use of all of it and he's had a great season."
Mahomes started out hot, throwing 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions during Kansas City's first four games, including a six-touchdown performance against Pittsburgh in Week 2. Carroll acknowledged a talented receiving corps headlined by Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce has made life easier for the second-year quarterback, but a perfectly-designed offensive scheme has been most influential in his success.
Carroll knows all too well the value of a dual-threat quarterback in today's NFL, as Wilson continues to post gaudy numbers of his own for the Seahawks despite playing in a run-first offense that limits his pass attempts substantially.
Though his numbers pale in comparison to Mahomes' in many aspects, Wilson still ranks third in the NFL in passing touchdowns, second in touchdown percentage, and fourth in passer rating. And after a slow start to the season as a ball carrier, he has quietly rushed for 321 yards and a healthy 5.6 yards-per-carry average.
Having coached in the NFL for 25 years, Carroll believes preparing to face a quarterback like Mahomes or Wilson who can create in non-scripted plays is "as tough as it gets." That is because defending against players like them can make it feel as if the opposing team is running more than one play each snap.
Carroll said containing Mahomes' effectiveness on improvised plays will come down to discipline and execution by Seattle's secondary and pass rushers.
"You just have to work at it and keep the explosive plays from happening and keep him somewhat corralled the best you can," Carroll said. "Just like any quarterback, if you can rush him, you have a chance to slow down their effectiveness, so we have to do that too. We have to take some chances at the right time - it just takes every aspect of every part of your game."
Reid said he is well aware that defenses are scheming trying to put pressure on Mahomes from the edges to minimize his mobility.
"I mean, it depends on if it's from pressure or whatever it's from that might cause him to move and throw, but normally if it's on time he does the right thing," Reid said. "He's got good eyes and good timing so that's important. If there's pressure though, he has that ability to move around and do what he has to do there. He's got a good feel for that."
Reid's former quarterback at Philadelphia, the mobile and strong-armed Michael Vick, recently had a conversation with Mahomes.
"I think just the process of being mobile and working within the structure of this offense. Michael had to go through that," Reid said. "It was a bit later in his career, but he still had to go through that and did it well. He was able to share a couple of those thoughts, I'm sure."