New York Jets/New England Patriots:
At least on the field, this is a rivalry that has heated up only in the last two years, but it has gotten hot.
New York and Boston already hate each other to begin with.
Off the field, the Jets and Patriots have had a number of developments and situations that have stirred bad blood since the 1990s.
Bill Parcells guided the Patriots from the worst in the league to the Super Bowl, but bitterly left after the 1996 season, joining the Jets. A season later, a poison pill-filled contract that the Patriots could not match saw Curtis Martin, the eventual No. 4 rusher in NFL history, join Parcells in New York.
While Parcells did not succeed in reaching the Super Bowl with the Jets as he did the Patriots, they did reach the AFC Championship and held a 10-point lead in the third quarter before the Broncos rallied.
After the 1999 season, Parcells stepped down and all signs pointed to the promotion of his assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick to take over. Belichick even agreed to become the head coach, then in a bizarre move, on the day he was to be officially announced as coach, he wrote his resignation on a napkin and three days later, became the head coach of the Patriots.
The Jets' protest was heard by the NFL and the Patriots had to surrender their 2000 1st round pick.
In an ironic twist of fate, it was the Jets that set in motion the Patriots dynasty in a Week 2 game in 2001 when Mo Lewis' hit on Drew Bledsoe injured him and forced Tom Brady into the starting lineup.
Perhaps it was inevitable anyway—Belichick already once pulled a popular franchise QB in Cleveland, even cutting him despite no other viable option. It's impossible to know if Brady would have ever gotten his opportunity, but the Jets hit ensured it, and the Patriots won three of the next four Super Bowls.
The next clash came in 2006, when long-time Patriots assistant Eric Mangini became head coach of the Jets and led them to the playoffs, a match up against the Patriots in which the Jets lost. Early the following season, Mangini revealed the Patriots' practice of illegal taping of signals, igniting the Spygate Controversy and further intensifying the bad blood between the two franchises.
But the on-the-field rivalry did not equate its off the field transactions until 2009, when Rex Ryan became the Jets head coach. In only his second game, he utilized the media to rally his team and fanbase in a Week 2 matchup vs. New England. The trash talking had begun, and the Jets victory only planted the seed of what was to come.
The season series was split, and while the Patriots won the AFC East, it was the Jets that reached the AFC Championship and held a halftime lead before losing to the Colts. The Jets brashness only increased through more Super Bowl guarantees by Ryan and exposure on Hard Knocks.
The 2010 season saw a repeat in a Week 2 Jets victory over the Patriots and the race was on. Both teams were on a roll going into a Monday Night Game with both teams at 9-2. However, the Patriots gave the cocky Jets the football lesson of their life, whipping them 45-3. The Patriots were on fire and ran the table en route to the NFL's best record. The Jets staggered a little, performing just well enough to win 11 games and reach the post season.
After the Jets won their Wild Card game, avenging their defeat at the hands of the Colts, the Divisional game was round 3 vs. the Patriots, and the trash talking reached levels it had not attained before. Cromartie's profanity against Brady and Welker's personal remarks on Ryan were the highlights of a highly anticipated contest.
The Patriots were supposed to win and cruise to the Super Bowl, but the Jets were the team that took away Brady's passing game with phenomenal coverage all day. The last two minutes were a wild finish. A Patriots field goal and onside kick fielded by the Jets led to a TD, and a Pats TD with 20 seconds left was too little, too late. The Jets would go on to the AFC championship game, again only to fall short, but have established themselves as a legitimate contender.
With 2011 looming, this rivalry looks to go to another level. The Jets defense is uniquely suited to match-up against the precision passing of Brady, and both teams are looking to make a serious run at the Super Bowl, leading to two vicious games and perhaps a third.
Pittsburgh Steelers/Baltimore Ravens
Old school football, vicious violent defenses, a throw back to your father's NFL—that is the Steelers and the Ravens. These teams do not win by playing with high-scoring offense with lots of passing. They win by beating you up and hitting you hard.
On paper, this has been a closer rivalry for a longer period of time than Jets/Patriots. The Ravens are arguably simply the extension of the Steelers' historic greatest rival: the Cleveland Browns, only relocated. With the numbers, the Steelers hold a 12-10 lead in regular-season games (3-0 in playoffs), six division titles to two, and two Super Bowl victories to one. But the games have been very close and don't even tell the entire story.
The seeds of the rivalry were born in 2000, when the Steelers were the final team to defeat the Ravens en route to their Super Bowl victory. The following season, the improved Steelers sought to match the Ravens' success, and in a head-to-head match for first place, the Ravens won, 13-10, and talked smack, despite being completely outplayed and Kris Brown missing 4 field goals for Pittsburgh.
As the season progressed, it led to a game in Baltimore late in the season with the AFC Central in the balance. Shannon Sharpe labeled Steelers WR Plaxico Burress "Plexiglass" just to top it off, but the Steelers were the outright victorious team on that night, winning both the game and the division. The two teams met again in the playoffs with the Steelers winning again, but they failed to match the Ravens' Super Bowl success, losing the AFC championship.
A Ravens swoon in 2002 saw the Steelers sweep, and 2003 looked to be more of the same after a week 1 Steeler victory, but the season played out differently and by the final game of the season, the Ravens clinched the AFC North.
However, both teams played for tremendous pride in the final game. Jamal Lewis was seeking to break both the 2,000-yard mark and even the single-season rushing record. He accomplished the first objective in the Ravens' OT victory, but not the second.
In fact, it was arguably the most costly Ravens victory. The loss positioned the Steelers to draft Ben Roethlisberger, who would not have been there if the Steelers had dropped in the draft order. And in a bizarre coincidence, it was a week 2 game when the Ravens knocked out Steelers starter Tommy Maddox and Roethlisberger was inserted before planned.
Ben would not lose a game again in the regular season, and would lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl the following year, matching the Ravens for the decade, while the Ravens struggled.
The 2006 season was a reversal of fortunes, as the resurgent Ravens beat the Steelers brutally in both games. In 2007, the Steelers returned the favor on a Monday night while celebrating the 75th anniversary of the team. Roethlisberger threw five TDs in one half, and James Harrison had his breakout game.
But the rivalry found a new level beginning in 2008. Over the last three years, both teams have had winning records each season. The Ravens have reached the playoffs each year and won playoff games. The Steelers have won two AFC North titles and reached the Super Bowl twice, winning once.
The head-to-head games have been razor close, with the two teams meeting in a December game (in Baltimore) twice with the winner of the game to be the winner of the division. The Steelers won both times, but did so with extremely late fourth-quarter scores in games they were losing most of the way.
They also have met in the playoffs. In 2008, the AFC championship game was a two-point game when Baltimore got the ball with plenty of time to win, but shot itself in the foot with a personal foul costing field position, then a Troy Polamalu interception return for a game-winning TD.
In 2010, the Ravens jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead, capitalizing on Steelers mistakes. But the Ravens made the same mistakes in the second half and the Steelers rallied to tie, 24-24. The Ravens were poised to take the ball back for a potential game-winning FG as the Steelers were in a 3rd-and-19, but a 58-yard pass by Roethlisberger broke the hearts of the city of Baltimore and set up the Steelers' game-winning TD.
The two teams have built a genuine dislike for each other. The Ravens' claim that the 2000 defense was the best ever does not sit well with Steeler fans and their defensive-rich history.
Hines Ward and Ray Lewis are Super Bowl MVPs, both future Hall of Famers and regarded as the toughest players at their position while facing off for over a decade.
Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu spark endless debates over who the better safety is, while both of the winners of the Defensive Player of the Year have re-defined the position and are locks for Canton.
Roethlisberger and Flacco are big, strong-armed QBs that have experienced significant success early in their careers.
As 2011 approaches, the AFC North will come down to one of these two teams—and perhaps the AFC championship as well.
Which begs the question, which rivalry is currently the better one?
Given the history, right now it is still Steelers/Ravens. From Joey Porter bashing Todd Heap to Hines Ward laying out Ed Reed, Bart Scott crushing Ben Roethlisberger, the bounty rumors on Hines Ward and Rashard Mendenhall combined with the longevity of the competitive nature and the similiar level of talent, they get the edge.
They also both have rings. Jets/Patriots is growing, and will mean something if the Jets can win that Lombardi.