The League

Zach Leibowitz
Sideline Reporter

Zach Leibowitz

A former sideline reporter for ESPN

Pats Yes, Jets No

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The Belichick vs. Mangini rivalry is by far the most intriguing coaching rivalry in football. But that doesn't mean it's the hottest rivalry simply because the divisional foes share a 6-3 record heading into tonight's game. Maybe if Tom Brady were healthy, the Brady vs. Favre showdown would strengthen the case. But the Pats/Jets is no more of a hot rivalry than any two of the NFC East teams you choose to match together. Now if we're talking about the battle over Ty Law, that's a different story.

It's easy to take two divisional opponents and make the case for the most heated rivalry. They play at least twice a year guaranteed. Some years the teams are good, sometimes they're not. Just look at the AFC West. The rivalries are there given the long histories of each team. But they're never good at the same time anymore.

So who then makes up the strongest rivalry? I'll admit I think New England is one of the teams. The other is Indianapolis.

Former AFC East opponents until 2002, the Colts and Pats were never rivals for the simple fact that the last time the two franchises finished 1-2 in the standings was 1976. The Colts were in Baltimore then. So, it's ironic the Colts not only had to move cities, but also switch divisions to establish a heated rivalry with the Patriots.

In 2003 - A pair of 9-2 clubs faced off with the Pats surviving 38-34 on the road. The two teams would later battle with a Super Bowl berth at stake in the AFC Championship. The Pats won again 24-14 and went onto take the title.

In 2004 - The Pats took the season opener 27-24 at home. So much for revenge. Adding insult to injury, they would sweep Indy once more, eliminating them in the AFC Divisional Round and winning another Super Bowl.

In 2005 - The Colts held their ground by beating New England in a regular season game in Foxboro. However, the teams never faced off in the playoffs and neither club reached the AFC title game.

In 2006 - This was the year the rivalry turned Indy's way. Adam Vinatieri - a symbol of New England's success and consistency became the Colts' kicker. Peyton's squad improved to 8-0 with a road win in New England. In their second meeting of the season, the AFC Championship game, the Colts overcame a 21-6 halftime deficit to stun the Patriots. Finally, Indianapolis overcame the powerful Pats and went onto win the Super Bowl.

In 2007 - The Pats returned to the RCA Dome and sought some revenge. In pursuit of an undefeated season, Brady's bunch held off the Colts 24-20. They would in fact become 16-0 and future AFC champions.

That brings us to this year, with the Colts holding off a Brady-less Pats team two weekends ago. Both teams have lost some of their luster with injuries the primary factor. But these teams seem tied at the hip, not allowing the other way to stray too far. So don't be that surprised if they face off a second time this season.

For two non-divisional opponents to engage in so many significant games on an annual basis - both in the regular season and playoffs - makes it hard to dismiss the Pats/Colts as the most heated rivalry to date in the league. Because when they play, and you know they will, there's usually only a season at stake.

That's a rivalry. For the Jets to get to that point, they need to actually beat New England. One win since 2003 doesn't cut it - even if your coaches have a history and Brett Favre enters the mix. And this isn't baseball. You aren't automatically declared the best rivalry in the league because you represent New York and Boston. Enough of that stuff already.

By Zach Leibowitz  |  November 13, 2008; 12:30 PM ET  | Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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