Deshaun Watson’s national perception hinges on performance vs. Bills

Houston Texans, NFL Playoffs

How we’ll feel about Deshaun Watson heading into the 2020s hinges heavily on his play vs. the Buffalo Bills on Wild Card Weekend. Is he good or is he great?

Deshaun Watson needs this.

Watson is only in his third year, but in the NFL, nobody waits for success. The statistics are there. The moments are not. Watson, who will be compared to Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson for years to come as the next wave of AFC star quarterbacks, is lagging a bit behind. Mahomes has an AFC Championship Game appearance and an MVP award. Jackson is about to have the latter.

Watson has a pair of division titles and zero playoff wins. That must change on Saturday.

How Watson plays on Saturday will decide if the Texans are good enough to face the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional round. Watson is the better quarterback than Buffalo’s Josh Allen. He has the best receiving option in the game in DeAndre Hopkins. Watson should propel Houston to victory or this will be a referendum of him as a franchise quarterback.

As the No. 4 seed in the AFC, Houston should be able to beat a defensive-minded Buffalo Bills team at home for the right to likely lose to either Jackson or Mahomes on the road next weekend. Still, with a win on Saturday, Watson can continue cementing himself in the same class of Jackson and Mahomes as the future drivers of the AFC. He’ll also be poised to cash in financially with a win, being able to sign an extension this offseason.

But should he and the Texans lose, Watson will be perceived by some as a second-class signal-caller in the AFC entering the 2020s. For example, you can win a lot of games with a Derek Carr, but you can’t feel great about winning in a do-or-die scenario with him either. We know both quarterbacks are good, but Carr isn’t great. The question is if Watson has what it takes.

This is Watson’s time to shine and beat a quarterback he should in Allen to get postseason victory No. 1 under his belt. Starting out his postseason career in an 0-2 hole will change the idea of who Watson is nationally.

At some point, Watson could overcome the stigma of not being good enough, but first impressions matter. Matt Ryan began his playoff career with three defeats for the Atlanta Falcons, and has never truly been embraced as elite.

And that’s about where Watson lands in the NFL quarterbacking hierarchy. He’s young enough to surpass a likely future Hall of Famer like  Ryan, but he’ll fall to a distant third in the AFC’s landscape of quarterback stars.

Ultimately, losing at home on Wild Card Weekend for the second consecutive year won’t be crushing long-term for Watson and the Texans. They can still win the AFC South next year, as the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars have quarterback issues and the Tennessee Titans are a guaranteed 9-7 if there ever was such a thing.

However, we won’t view Watson in the same light.

Should Watson and his team defeat the great Bills coaching staff of Sean McDermott on Saturday, we can respect Watson’s greatness as ascending.

Watson doesn’t have to win multiple playoff games to prove his worth, but he absolutely has to win one this year to do so.

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