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Eisenberg: What the Budding Lamar Jackson-Patrick Mahomes Rivalry Needs

QB Lamar Jackson & Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes shake hands after 2019 season game
QB Lamar Jackson & Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes shake hands after 2019 season game

Even though Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes are still relatively early in their careers, it isn't a stretch to suggest they might constitute the NFL's next great quarterback rivalry.

They're different players, Mahomes the ultimate arm, Jackson a unique and dynamic playmaker. But each has won a league MVP award and plays for a sound, forward-thinking organization that knows how to build a winner around a top quarterback. Mahomes has already won a Super Bowl.

Nope, not in the least is it a stretch to suggest we might be seeing the start of something very special, perhaps even the heir to the rivalry between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning that dominated the NFL for so long.

But before you anoint any competition as a rivalry, it has to be, well, a rivalry. And by definition, that means both sides experience a measure of success, ratcheting up the heat.

Brady and Manning opposed each other in 17 games throughout their long careers. Brady won 11, but each scored signature triumphs over the other, and that give-and-take is what made their rivalry so compelling.

Jackson and Mahomes are still so new to the NFL that they haven't opposed each other much – just twice in the regular season, with both games in Kansas City. The Chiefs won in overtime in Week 14 of the 2018 season. They won again, by five points, in Week 3 last season. (The teams would have met in the 2019 AFC title game except the Ravens lost in the divisional-round playoffs.)

In other words, as yet there's no give-and-take in this quarterback rivalry, at least in terms of final results. Incredibly, Jackson is 21-1 in the regular season as a starter against every team other than the Chiefs. But he is 0-2 against the Chiefs.

"Those two losses definitely make me mad, but it is what it is. Move on. We've got them again this year," Jackson told my colleague Ryan Mink in an interview last month.

Now another game between them is at hand, set for Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium. The fates of the teams, both undefeated, is the far bigger story, but a Baltimore victory would give Jackson his first taste of success against Mahomes, injecting a measure of that give-and-take into their developing rivalry.

To be clear, and not surprisingly, Jackson balks at viewing any game with the Chiefs as a competition between himself and Mahomes.

"I don't really care for rivalries or thinking about another quarterback," he told Mink. "I play offense, he plays offense. We've got to worry about each other's defenses."

Their rivalry really is just a narrative for media and fans to dissect. But it's a rich narrative. And the fact that they're quarterbacks on top teams in the same conference inevitably pits them against each other. They both have the same goal, i.e., winning Super Bowls, so they have to go through the other to get where they want to go. Yup, just like Brady and Manning for all those years.

It probably helps Jackson and the Ravens Monday night that they're playing the Chiefs in Baltimore for the first time with Jackson as the starter – yes, even with the stadium empty. And it surely helps that the Ravens have a better team than the ones that lost to Kansas City in 2018 and early last season. The defense has been significantly upgraded with Calais Campbell, Marcus Peters, Patrick Queen and others. The offense has more playmakers. Jackson himself has taken major strides forward in his development.

Nothing is assured, of course. To reach this game with a 2-0 record, the Ravens battered the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans, with Jackson looking like a possible repeat MVP. Meanwhile, the Chiefs reached 2-0 when Mahomes rallied them to an overtime win on the road Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers. They're the toughest of outs.

The NFL hype machine already is screaming in advance of what might be the matchup of the year in the league. Two dominant teams. Two unstoppable quarterbacks. A rivalry for the ages that, yes, is only going to get better.

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