Mahomes-Watson has potential to be like Magic-Bird rivalry

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A few months before the 2017 draft, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney delivered a warning for quarterback-needy NFL teams.

“If they pass on Deshaun Watson, they’re passing on Michael Jordan. I’m just telling you,” Swinney said.

Watson certainly looked Jordan-esque last week, when he spun away from two Bills defenders then completed a pass to lead the Texans to victory.

But the matchup of Watson and the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Divisional round Sunday brings to mind another basketball comparison.

This feels like Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird.

We may be seeing the beginning of a rivalry that could dominate the AFC playoffs for the next decade. If you want to throw a Jordan in to that mix, maybe that is Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Like Johnson and Bird, Mahomes and Watson entered the league in the same year. The Chiefs traded up to No. 10 to take Mahomes, and Houston moved up to 12 to take Watson. Now, we have a chance to get playoff matchups between these two that might remind us of those 1984, ’85 and ’87 NBA Finals.

Mahomes is more like Magic, all the way to the no-look passes. His play is dazzling and defies comparisons to other NFL quarterbacks. He had an MVP season in his first year as a starter in 2018 and led the Chiefs to the AFC title game, when he almost toppled Tom Brady.

Watson is tough like Bird and always seems to be willing his team to victories. From his time at Clemson through his first three years with Houston, Watson finds a way to win.

“If you’ve watched Deshaun Watson since college, and I’m sure even since high school, they’re never out of a game,” Mahomes said. “He’s someone that can make big plays happen no matter what the scenario is. He’s going to fight until the end. You know that going into the game, and you know that coming in as an offense and as a defense and as a team that you have to make sure you’re on top of it all game long. It’s going to be a 60-minute fight or even longer, whatever it takes. You have to make sure you come in with that mentality that you’re going to play your best football every single snap.”

Mahomes and Watson first met at a quarterback camp when they were in college. Then they went through the draft process together. They watched the Bears take Mitch Trubisky at No. 2 and saw teams like the Jets, Browns and Bengals all pass on them, even though they could have used an upgrade at quarterback.

The two squared off in October and delivered a highly entertaining game. Mahomes got the Chiefs out to a 14-point lead in the first quarter, but turned the ball over twice and gave Watson an opening. Watson picked apart a beat-up Chiefs defense and led Houston to a 31-24 win at Arrowhead Stadium.

Now, the two meet again with the stakes being much higher.

“It’s cool,” Watson said. “It’s cool to see a fellow friend of mine and a guy that’s playing the same position as me have so much success and see it in live action. So, it’s definitely dope. It’s going to be a good experience. Like you said, we played earlier this year. It was a good game, went back and forth. But yeah, it’s just two good teams going head-to-head, and we’re just trying to be the best we can for our team and help our team win.”

Both quarterbacks made the Pro Bowl this year and figure to be at the top of the AFC, along with Jackson, for years to come.

This is the first time since 2002 that the AFC Championship game won’t feature Brady, Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. Those three dominated the last decade-plus.

The page has now turned. It is time for Watson, Mahomes and Jackson to take over the AFC.

Sunday’s matchup could be the first chapter of a rivalry that dominates January for the next decade-plus. Unless you’re a Bears fan, that should bring a smile to your face.

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