Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: Could Cam Newton and Jameis Winston form next great QB duel?

Immediately after Denver's upset of the Patriots in last week's AFC Championship Game, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning met with New England coach Bill Belichick at the 50-yard line.

"Hey, listen," Manning said in Belichick's ear, "this might be my last rodeo so it sure has been a pleasure."

With that, Manning appeared to hint that he will retire after this Sunday's Super Bowl 50 against the Panthers.

Manning won't confirm that he's riding off into the sunset, but if he does, he will do more than close out one of the greatest careers in NFL history. He also would put an end to one of the greatest rivalries in football history.

Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, better known as Manning vs. Brady, or Brady vs. Manning, if you wish.

Arguably the two best quarterbacks of this generation have waged an epic 17-game rivalry that dates to September 2001. That includes five postseason meetings, with four coming in the AFC title game.

If that's it, if that rivalry has, indeed, seen its final chapter, which quarterbacks take their place to form the next great quarterback duel?

Here's a nominee as good as any:

Carolina's Cam Newton vs. the Bucs' Jameis Winston.

Picture it now. Cam vs. Jameis. Twice a year. Maybe three times a year. For the next 10 years.

Come 2026, these two might have met 27 or 28 times. It's certainly possible if both stay healthy and in the same division.

And, if both lead teams successful enough to get to the postseason, the annual road to get to the Super Bowl might have to go through Charlotte or Tampa Bay a few times.

But being in the same division also presents a problem, especially in the short term for the Bucs.

The Panthers not only are really good, they are really young. What a combination. Already, the Bucs might have a pit in their stomach realizing they now have to deal with a quarterback who has a chance to become one of the all-time greats over the next few years, a quarterback who is just now entering his prime.

However, that's what makes this all so exciting. Cam and Jameis could make the Panthers and Bucs the next great rivalry in the NFL.

It would join a long list of rivalries that still resonate.

The 1970s had Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw vs. Oakland's Kenny Stabler, a rivalry that included five postseason meetings.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Miami's Dan Marino and Buffalo's Jim Kelly hooked up 21 times, including three in the postseason. That proves that two quarterbacks from the same division can meet in the playoffs.

How about the 49ers' Steve Young vs. the Cowboys' Troy Aikman? They met three straight years for the NFC title from 1992 to 1994.

And there's always old-school rivalries, such as the Colts' Johnny Unitas vs. the Jets' Joe Namath. And really old school, such as the 1940s with Sammy Baugh vs. Sid Luckman.

So what are the odds that Cam vs. Jameis becomes the stuff of NFL lore? Maybe pretty good.

Newton doesn't turn 27 until May. In his five seasons, you could argue that four have been above average, especially this season when he threw for 3,837 yards and a career-high 35 touchdowns and ran for 10 touchdowns on his way to a likely MVP award. Can he stay healthy playing a reckless style of running into linebackers and hard-charging safeties? That remains to be seen; however, he has missed only two of 80 regular-season games in his career.

Now what about Winston?

He just turned 22 last month. We have only one season for predicting success, but he's off to a good start. His first year's numbers are almost identical to those of Newton's rookie season.

Check it out:

Pass attempts: Newton 517, Winston 535.

Completions: Newton 310, Winston 312.

Passing yards: Newton 4,051, Winston 4,042.

Touchdowns/interceptions: Newton 21/17, Winston 22/15.

QB rating: Newton 84.5, Winston 84.2.

Eerie, right?

There's no guarantee that Winston's career will follow the same trajectory as Newton's, but it's a promising beginning.

Obviously, other factors could derail the two forging a great rivalry.

Both must stay healthy. Either leaving the division or conference could mean fewer one-on-one showdowns. Other teams in the conference or division could form a dynasty that snuffs out any title hopes for either Carolina or Tampa Bay.

The biggest obstacle of all is that one or both teams could be lousy more than good over the next decade. After all, the Cards' Neil Lomax and the Eagles' Ron Jaworski faced each other eight times between 1981 and 1986, but you would be hard-pressed to remember even one of those games because they had little to no consequences.

Newton already is one of the best quarterbacks in football. Winston appears on his way. Together, they could make up a rivalry for the ages.

It would make for one heck of a rodeo.

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