Brewing NFL Rivalries to Watch During the 2013 Season
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Rivalries are a beautiful thing in the NFL.
Some last for decades. Some are reborn with the acquisition of a single player. Some begin by starting a similar trend in the league. Some aren't even necessarily between two teams.
The 2012 season was highlighted by the phenomenal comebacks of Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning, the excellent play of the rookie quarterbacks and the questionable officiating of the replacement refs.
Rivalries won't take a backseat in 2013. These are the battles that will headline next season.
49ers vs. Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers split the regular season series in 2012.
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
These are two of the hottest teams in the NFL.
Not only do the 49ers and Seahawks have two of the best overall defenses, they have two of the most dynamic offenses.
The 2012 season began with two offenses that were supposed to line up in the I-formation and play power football. It ended with two balanced offenses that can run the read-option and spread you out with speed and blocking in space.
Then there are the quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. Both of the young stars received a lot of attention in the media at the end of the season, but did they actually get enough credit?
Alongside Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton, we just witnessed a second-year quarterback that didn't start until Week 11, and a third-round rookie execute a whole new concept at the highest level of football. That fact alone makes the front page of stories from 2012.
What makes this fun is that the two brilliant minds of Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll haven't exactly gotten along in the past. As Kyle Bonagura of CBS Sports points out, going back to the days when Harbaugh was the head coach of Stanford and Carroll at USC, these two have exchanged a few words.
With two similar teams that were arguably playing the best football in the NFL at the end of the season, this is going to be a brutal rivalry of two winners in the years to come.
Packers vs. Bears
Chicago's Lance Briggs watches Aaron Rodgers under center for Green Bay.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
For whatever reason, the winner of the longest rivalry in the NFL seems to go in waves.
Since 2009, the Green Bay Packers have won eight of nine. From 2004-08, the Chicago Bears won seven of 10. This has been a trend throughout a series that currently sits in Chicago's favor 92-88-6.
In a division that has been won by one of these two teams in 10 of the last 12 years, being on the hot streak of the rivalry is key in positioning itself for a Super Bowl run.
Furthermore, this game has had a history of lasting more than 60 minutes.
When the Packers defeated the Bears 23-10 on a Thursday night in Week 2 last season, the outcome wasn't the subject leading into the weekend games. It was Jay Cutler getting into the face of offensive lineman J'Marcus Webb (via Darin Gantt of NBC Sports).
The 2011 NFC Championship featured a close battle between the two NFC North rivals, but Super Bowl XLV wasn't the hot topic come Monday morning. As David Grotz of NESN points out, it was the questionable toughness of Jay Cutler by Chicago fans when he was sidelined with his knee injury.
In the great career of Brett Favre, wasn't it fitting that Chicago handed the former NFL star his first shutout ever at Lambeau Field in Week 1 of 2006? While the Bears went on to the Super Bowl, the Packers went 8-8 and Favre lasted one more season in Green Bay before the Aaron Rodgers era began.
With the first ever ejection in an NFL game coming from this rivalry back in Chicago's 3-0 win in 1924 (per Demzel Kiev of Windy City Banter), this game always seems to have a strong impact on the direction of each team.
Steelers vs. Ravens
The Pittsburgh defense pursues Baltimore's Vonta Leach down the sideline.
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
As far as competitive balance goes, this is as good as it gets.
In the last 13 seasons, the Steelers and Ravens have combined for nine appearances in the AFC Championship and four Super Bowl titles.
Head to head, Pittsburgh leads the series 21-15, but Baltimore has won three of the last four. Furthermore, 11 of the last 13 duels have been decided by one score.
In 2012, how annoying do you think it must be for Steelers fans to see the Ravens win the Super Bowl after Baltimore winning in Pittsburgh without scoring an offensive touchdown?
On the flip side, how stunning was it for Ravens fans to see Pittsburgh win in Baltimore with Charlie Batch under center a week after the Steelers lost to the Cleveland Browns?
This hard-hitting affair is always filled with game-winning plays in the final moments, playoff implications and substantial bragging rights.
Concerned that the absence of Ray Lewis will diminish the impact of the game going forward? Perhaps, but Lewis did not play in either contest in 2012 with his torn triceps, and both games still came right down to the wire.
James Harrison has already stirred the pot for 2013.
Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens...... Thanks for keeping us(The Pittsburgh Steelers) the only team with 6 rings.
— James Harrison (@jharrison9292) February 4, 2013
Saints vs. Falcons
Chris Ivory of New Orleans tried to avoid a Falcons defender in the open field.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Points, points and more points.
This game has been close to becoming one of the best rivalries in the NFL, but has never quite developed into its potential.
There was competitive balance between the two teams in the early 2000s, but neither team was a consistent winner.
When the New Orleans Saints found their answer with Drew Brees, the Michael Vick situation set the Atlanta Falcons back.
Last season the Falcons found their identity through the air, but the Saints were in the middle of a media frenzy bounty scandal.
Now that both teams are fully functional and have high-powered passing attacks, Madden-like games could break out in each dome on a regular basis.
Matt Ryan is entering the prime of his career. Drew Brees has shown no declining signals.
Roddy White, Marques Colston and Lance Moore all went for over 1,000 yards in 2012 in the peak of their careers. Julio Jones and Jimmy Graham have emerged as some of the toughest targets to defend.
This is a rivalry ready to take off.
Brady vs. Manning 2.0
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning shake hands after New England's 31-21 win.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
The debate goes on as who is the better quarterback.
I'll never use the phrase, "What have you done for me lately?"
However, I will say, "Who will get over the hump for one last ring?"
Tom Brady has three Super Bowl titles, but his last one came during the 2004 season and has lost in his last two Super Bowl appearances.
Peyton Manning earned his one Super Bowl championship in the 2006 season, but threw an interception for a touchdown to give the New Orleans Saints the Super Bowl for the year of 2009.
Both quarterbacks are obvious selections in the future for the Hall of Fame, but neither veteran has stood victorious in February in over half of a decade.
For Brady, if he can get it done, he will join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with four Super Bowl rings. For Manning, a second title will make him one of 12 quarterbacks to win multiple Super Bowls, including his brother Eli.
While the Baltimore Ravens just won Super Bowl XLVII, according to VegasInsider.com, the New England Patriots (6-1) and the Denver Broncos (8-1) are the two favorites from the AFC to win the Super Bowl.
With Brady and Manning on two strong football teams and their careers drawing closer to an end, it's likely these two will have to meet in the playoffs if one of them will hoist the Lombardi Trophy one last time.
Buccaneers vs. the Quarterback Kneel
Tom Coughlin wasn't pleased with Greg Schiano's tactics toward the end of the game.
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports
Whether you support head coach Greg Schiano's philosophy or not, this is just the beginning.
Whenever the the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were down one score and on defense last season, they tried multiple times to jump the snap and strip the football when the opposition was in victory formation.
While it didn't work for Schiano, there is no reason to believe he will stop. If the center knows the defense is going to dive at his legs ahead of time, there could be a greater chance of him making a poor snap and the ball hitting the ground.
Schiano has been a proponent of eliminating kickoffs in the NFL (via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com), but if he continues this, the head coach might force another rule change and end the quarterback kneel for good.
As reported by Josh Alper of NBC Sports, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones thinks the quarterback kneel should be eliminated completely.
Understandably, Schiano is trying to win the game. However, while we live in an era where football is driven by star quarterbacks and injuries are trying to be limited, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell might end this before someone sprains an ankle or tears an ACL.
For now though, no signs point to any rule change in the near future.
Only time will tell how this whole scenario will play out. Will Tampa Bay force a fumble and win an extra football game? Will a nasty brawl break out before the clock expires? Will a star player face a significant injury?
Let the rivalry begin.
Flacco vs. Expectations from Potential Contract
Joe Flacco was MVP of Super Bowl XLVII in Baltimore's 34-31 victory over San Francisco.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Flacco got his Super Bowl ring and the dollar signs are flying everywhere.
With Flacco expected to meet with the Baltimore Ravens this week (per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com), there is a great chance he will land a long-term deal with the Ravens if he avoids the franchise tag.
Assuming Flacco does land a contract close to the $10 million range each year, will he live up to the standard?
Excluding the regular-season finale against Cincinnati, during the 2012 season, Flacco failed to break a 55 quarterback rating in eight different contests and didn't throw for over 200 yards in five games.
The 9-4 playoff record Flacco has established is certainly impressive, but if Rahim Moore doesn't embarrassingly blow the coverage at the end of regulation in the AFC Divisional Game, what kind of conversation is the sports world having about him?
Looking at the Baltimore defense going forward, Ray Lewis has retired and the clock is ticking on Ed Reed. This is defense that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL last season against the run and pass.
There's no doubt the Super Bowl MVP can win the big game. However, with Flacco moving into the position of the Ravens being his team, can he put Baltimore on his back when the running game isn't going well and get it done?
Bottom line, Flacco deserves a solid payday, but not the one that his agent suggests for him to be the highest paid quarterback in the NFL (via Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun).
The "elite" conversation is over, but it's not dead to me. The consistency and sample size that Flacco has provided in his five years isn't enough to warrant the figures of Peyton Manning or Drew Brees.
This will be an ongoing rivalry between the Flacco believers and the Flacco critics.