Boston sports has made a name for itself through the rivalries its member teams have forged within their respective sports leagues.
For the Red Sox, it's the Yankees. For the Celtics, it's any combination of Lakers, Pistons, Sixers, Cavs, Heat and/or Magic. (Some of these may depend on your age or knowledge of sports history. For the Bruins, it's some icy combination of the Canadiens, Flyers, and maybe the Maple Leafs, though don't quote me on this; I don't watch much hockey.)
When it comes to the New England Patriots, they are perhaps best known for their rivalries with the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Jets. While the Pats-Colts rivalry has given fans of both organizations some great games, some of the rivalry has been media-fueled thanks to both teams each laying claim to quarterbacks who are both bound for Canton and have been discussed as two of the greatest of all time.
When it comes to the Patriots and the Jets, however, the two come across as more natural rivals based on geographic location, and therefore divisional alignment. The last time the Patriots and the Colts were in the same division was 2001, and this was a few years before the height of the Manning vs. Brady era.
The Colts now reside in the AFC South, and despite the two quarterbacks' continued superstardom, the two teams have not met in the playoffs since January of 2007, and in the regular season, the Pats hold sway in the Manning-Brady era with a record of 6-4 against Indy.
In contrast, the Patriots and the Jets have been in the same division since their AFL days and have resided in the AFC East since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970.
With the rise of the Jets as a competitive force in the East to challenge the decade-long dominance of New England, as well as the abundance of personality paradoxes and the decline of other Boston rivalries, the Patriots-Jets rivalry is quite possibly the most talked-about topic in the realm of Boston sports since "Beat L.A.," 1980s or the 2004 AL pennant.
Consider the personality contrasts I mentioned. We see the Patriots: an efficient, powerful, star-studded team led by the league's reigning MVP and quite possibly best quarterback in the form of Tom Brady and a no-nonsense, few-words-as-possible head coach in the form of Bill Belichick.
They've been successful for a decade, with three Super Bowl victories, four AFC Championships, and nine of the past 10 seasons have ended with at least 10 regular season wins. They've developed a successful focus on teamwork and shared success rather than individual ego known as "the Patriot Way." It's all about control, and the Patriots certainly have it.
The Jets could not be more of a polar opposite. They've never really gotten any respect in the New York sports market, where they've always sort of been seen as the little brother of the more widely reknowned and respected New York Giants, and they've never found lasting, perennial success.
That's all changed in recent years, as the Jets have found a niche as the loudmouth, trash-talking, cocky, and brash team that bucks the system, led by their head coach Rex Ryan.
Where Belichick is controlled, Ryan is impulsive. Where Belichick is emotionally level, Ryan lets his emotions run wild on the sidelines. Where Bill Belichick refuses to get involved with the media or in any sort of trash-talking, Rex Ryan handles the media with confidence and a sort of swagger and openly jabs his opponents with slights and hints of fighting words.
These sorts of opposites extend to players as well. The Patriots are seen as a team that keeps individual personalities in check, while the Jets seem to let them run wild. You'll likely never see a Patriot with more kids in more states and with more women than infamous Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, and you'll likely never hear a Patriot openly threaten to hurt anyone in the same way that Jets linebacker Bart Scott did in the wake of Wes Welker's thinly-veiled jabs at the Ryan family's infamous foot fetish video that surfaced around the time of last year's AFC Divisional matchup.
The emotions created by this matchup are like no other; when Tom Brady said that he hated the Jets, Pats fans knew it was war. And when the Jets were humiliated in a 45-3 blow out a Gillette Stadium, they responded with a 28-21 upset over New England in Foxborough in the AFC Divisional Round.
In an era where the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has lost its luster thanks to all of the regular season games played between these teams and the lack of a postseason faceoff since 2004, and during a time when both the Celtics and the Lakers are on the decline and will likely not see each other in the NBA Finals for a considerable amount of time, and despite a recent resurgence, a period in which the Bruins' dominance and rivalries have still not reached the level of intensity seen since the 1970's, the Patriots-Jets rivalry has all of the makings of one hot rivalry. It has the personalities, the competitiveness and the emotion from fans and players alike.
After the tumultuous 2010 season, the Patriots will look for playoff redemption, while the Jets are more hungry than ever to take the final step and play for the Lombardi Trophy. With two regular season matchups between these teams and a possible Playoff rematch, this season could be the best yet for the rivalry between the Patriots and the Jets.
Let the games begin.
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