A good rivalry just seems to turn up the electricity in sports. Just think of Ali-Frazier. Yankees-Red Sox. Lakers-Celtics. Djokovic-Federer-Nadal.
The Tom Brady-Peyton Manning quarterback rivalry was fun for a long time, and it produced some incredible fantasy seasons, the pair trading the all-time lead in touchdown passes from 2004-13. Their personal one-upmanship was great for the NFL, and they left a healthy trail of fantasy points in their wake.
Don’t look now, but there might be another quarterback rivalry brewing, this time in the AFC South. The second of what hopefully will be many battles pitting C.J. Stroud and Trevor Lawrence took place in Week 12, and if this is just the beginning, get ready to pull up a chair at least two times a year for the foreseeable future.
In one corner is Trevor Lawrence, whose hair reminds people of Fabio on a football field. The No. 1 pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the comps on him veered to all-time great quarterback prospects like John Elway and Andrew Luck. It was a mixed bag for him for his first couple years in the NFL, but he has been surging of late.
In the other corner is the upstart C.J. Stroud, who has been so otherworldly good his rookie season that some media pundits have wondered openly that, if teams were starting an NFL franchise today, if they’d prefer Stroud over Lawrence. Not bad for the Ohio State product who was so overanalyzed that some questioned whether the Texans had overstepped in taking him second overall.
Early returns say he was a bargain.
These two young quarterbacks staged their second meeting of the year in Week 12. Back in Week 3, Stroud announced his presence with authority, passing for 280 yards and a pair of scores in a 37-17 demolition of the Jaguars in Duval. Lawrence passed for 279 yards and a touchdown, but a lot of what he did was in garbage time after the Texans built a 17-0 halftime lead.
— NFL (@NFL) November 26, 2023
With first place in the division and a playoff postioning very much up for grabs on Sunday, these two showed greatness that led to plenty of fantasy fun. Lawrence got the Jaguars on the board first by taking to the ground on a one-yard run. This has been a part of his game that has really come on of late, as Lawrence has three rushing scores in the past two games. Coincidentally, Lawrence didn’t have 20 fantasy points in a game through Week 10, now he has two straight.
— NFL (@NFL) November 26, 2023
Stroud was running for his life much of the afternoon, as the Jacksonville pass rush sacked him four times and hurried/hit him several others. Stroud, though, was able to hang in and find one of his favorite targets on the season in Tank Dell for a seven-yard touchdown pass that got the Texans within three.
The Stroud-Dell combination has been bountiful for fantasy, as the pair had their first big game together in Week 3 against the Jaguars with a 5-145-1 line for Dell. Since then he’s had two more 100-yard games, and Dell posted 5-50-1 in Week 12. He was the WR15 going into this week. Not a bad return on a player who was largely left alone in fantasy drafts last summer.
Aside from showing some escapability in the pocket, Stroud used his legs more than any other game this season. Being flushed from the pocket on several occasions, Stroud evaded a pass rusher and ran around end for a one-yard touchdown that showed mobility that could serve him well for fantasy in the future. Both quarterbacks look sneaky in the running game, similar to Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow.
What Lawrence has done well at various points this season is to reintroduce Calvin Ridley to the NFL. On Sunday, Ridley took six targets and caught five of them for 89 yards and a one-yard third-quarter touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion that put the Jaguars ahead 21-14. That’s 192 receiving yards and three touchdowns for Ridley the past two games.
What was great about Lawrence’s outing is that Christian Kirk added 89 receiving yards of his own, which, if this continues, would be welcomed by fantasy managers everywhere. So often during recent weeks, it has been a regular debate as to which one of the two receivers would go off, if any. For this week, the answer to the Ridley or Kirk question was thankfully, “Yes.”
After the Jaguars added a field goal for a 10-point lead, Stroud led a five-play, 55-yard drive that resulted in a 17-yard touchdown. This is where the Houston rookie has already separated himself from other first-year signal-callers and had our own Matt Harmon call him a “talent elevator.” Stroud is even entering the NFL MVP chatter, and it’s because the Texans are not out of games as long as No. 7 is on the field. Already he has a pair of fourth-quarter comeback victories, and he’s feeding his main targets. Leading the way for Houston were Collins with nine targets and Dell right behind at eight. Collins finished the WR5 on Sunday with 7-104-1.
Stroud did everything he could to add to the Texans’ fantastic finishes. With plenty of pressure on him, enduring a pair of sacks while dropping back on 10 straight plays, Stroud drove the Texans to the Jaguars’ 39 with :34 remaining in the game. Unfortunately, the missed field goal kept fans from overtime and more opportunities for Lawrence and Stroud to put up even more numbers.
Stroud went into Sunday Night Football as the QB4 after passing for 304 yards and a pair of scores to go with the 47-1 on the ground. Lawrence got the W, passing for 364-1-1 and adding that score on the ground to be the QB6.
For fantasy managers feeling cheated that they didn’t get overtime and more fantasy goodness from Lawrence and Stroud, take heart. These two future (present?) stars will lock horns twice a season for years to come, likely with AFC South supremacy on the line.
Unfortunately, the next time they’re assured of meeting is in 2024, but this is a rivalry that is just getting started.