Analysis Opinion

The AFC competition is bright with Mahomes, Watson, and Jackson poised to shine again this season

In a post Tom Brady AFC landscape, some thought the competition would suffer, however there are 3 big QBs stepping up (and in the case of Mahomes, even surpassing “Touchdown Tommy”) to fill the void. These competitions between these “AFC Big 3, version 2.0” could even give us a better show than Brady vs. Manning/Roethlisberger managed to do, and this is not a knock on them by any means. These younger, more mobile quarterbacks are reshaping the league and even the way football is played, and the benefit goes straight to us as fans.

Thursday night the 2020 NFL season kicks off with a familiar battle taking place: Houston vs. Kansas City, Texans vs. Chiefs, and Deshaun Watson vs. Patrick Mahomes. The 2 QBs split the series 1-1 last year, with the Texans besting the Chiefs in the regular season, and the Chiefs coming back from a 24-0 deficit to end Houston’s season in the divisional round of the playoffs. This loss broke the hearts of Houston fans and ultimately set the Chiefs on an incredible run of comebacks that culminated with a Super Bowl victory in February. And while the loss may have broken the hearts of fans of Houston, it should excite them for the future and the amazing football that is yet to come. Watson, Mahomes, and Jackson are 24, 24, and 23 years old respectively, telling us that their brightest years in the league are yet to come, especially in an era where quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Tom Brady playing and doing it well into their 40’s. 

The torch was passed in the AFC last year with Brady and his then led Patriots being somewhat of a non-factor in the 2020 playoff picture after losing 20-13 to the Titans in the divisional round and his departure for “Tom”pa Bay and the Buccaneers. But the torch had already been passed earlier that year with Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes all getting wins last season against Tom and the Pats, with Lamar doing it first, then Deshaun throwing a touchdown pass after literally getting kicked in the face, and then Patrick Mahomes completing the next generation’s QB sweep with a 23-16 victory in Foxboro. The Patriots finished last season with only 4 losses, 3 of which came at the hands of the young QB trio, effectively ending Tom Brady’s reign of quarterbacking supremacy over the AFC.

The new “Big 3” in the AFC come into this season looking to pick up where they left off. The Chiefs remain favorites (+650) to win the 2021 Super Bowl according to sportsinsider.com, with the Ravens and Lamar Jackson narrowly behind them at +700, and according to sportingnews.com, the Texans are the best “longshot” bet to win it all in 2020/21, probably dropping due to a few questionable offseason moves by their head coach turned GM Bill O’Brien. The Chiefs start the season with a matchup this Thursday against Watson and the Texans, and then don’t have to wait long for a week 3 Monday night matchup against Jackson and the Ravens. It’s clear the NFL recognizes that the fate of intense and league defining matchups now rests in the hands of Mahomes, Jackson, and Watson, and they aren’t making the fans wait long to see these season defining games. The fact is that the Chiefs should come away with a win, with them sitting at a sizeable 9 point favorite for Thursday’s matchup. With the Texans shipping off Watson’s favorite target to Arizona in De’andre Hopkins for an aging, injury prone RB in David Johnson, this may hurt Watson’s numbers going forward. But you never know what he might pull off, and if anyone can compete with Patrick Mahomes by putting an entire team on their back, it is Deshaun Watson. He’s certainly done it before, and if he can stay healthy, doesn’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon. 

Neither does the “youngster” of the group, Lamar Jackson. There is a reason the Ravens are only 50 points shy of the Chiefs on being the Super Bowl victors this year. They are returning their core players, even adding defensive lineman Calais Campbell to the mix, while maximizing their locker room chemistry by cutting clubhouse cancer Earl Thomas. Their offense will be led once again by a strong rushing attack behind the legs of Jackson and veteran RB Mark Ingram III. Add a Super Bowl winning coach in John Harbaugh to the mix, and the week 3 Monday night battle (and the inevitable one in the playoffs) figures to be legendary. The Chiefs (and Mahomes) can’t rest on their laurels, they have Jackson (and Watson to a lesser degree) nipping at their heels. All I know is, man am I glad to have football back! Say it with me, ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?!? With the “Big 3” leading the way, the AFC quarterback scene looks to be competitive for a long time to come.

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