With the 2010 Divisional Playoffs ready to kickoff this weekend, it’s hard to ignore that the top 4 teams remaining in the AFC are division rivals. The Ravens head to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers, while the Jets head to snowy New England to face Brady and the Pats. Four teams that can’t stand each other, whether it be quietly or to publicly, looking to advance to the AFC Championship game. To say this may be one of the most exciting playoff weekends in football would be well deserved. But this is more than just a playoff game to these 4 teams. Way more.
There is a different energy lurking between the 2 rivals, and for different reasons. The Ravens and Steelers have become one of the top rivalries over the past decade, while the Jets and Patriots have a renewed spark after the hiring of Rex Ryan. How these two rivalries operate are a bit different.. but not far off from each other. Allow me to break it down.
This rivalry is the new wave rivalry of the NFL, compared to Packers/Bears and Redskins/Cowboys. The Ravens have only been around 15 years, but many believe that Baltimore inherited the rivalry when the team moved from Cleveland (a longer, more known rivalry) after the 1995 season. While the Ravens weren’t too good the first few years of existence, they picked up the pace once they won Super Bowl XXXV. The Steelers have the slight advantage over the Ravens, with a 13-9 record since 2000 (including the playoffs). What makes this rivalry special are the similarities between the 2 teams. Both are known for their strong defense and good running game, along with a very good front office and ownership. Both cities are labeled, “blue collar” and carry inferiority complexes. Add the fact that the 2 cities have a history of being sports rivals (the Steelers-Baltimore Colts battles in the 70s as well as the Pirates beating the O’s in the World Series) and you have a recipe for a great rivalry. There was a point in time where this rivalry was downright ugly. Remember the Ray Lewis/Joey Porter feud?
Over the past couple of years, the Ravens and Steelers have quietly stopped their verbal attack and simply taken it on the field. They all say they hate each other, but some say it’s not as much hatred as you think. Coach Harbaugh and Tomlin talk during pregames, and Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu admitted once before that they text each other. The mantra as of late has been, “We hate each other, but we respect each other”. And while Hines Ward and Terrell Suggs and found ways to keep it funky with the little things they still do and say to the media, the trash talking has been put aside to actions speaking louder, with the blood bath they lay out on the field and even 3 times a year.
This rivalry, while an older one, has become a renewed rivalry thank to the likes of Rex Ryan. These two cities flat out cannot stand each other. Red Sox Nation can’t stand the Yankees and vice versa. People from New York don’t like people from New England. It’s a power struggle between the 2 cities that has been trickled down to sports. And from the day Rex Ryan stepped foot on the Jets podium as their head coach, he continued the trend.
The Jets and Patriots have a much closer rivalry record than the Steelers/Ravens (they are 51-51-1 overall), but there are those who still find the term laughable when discussing the 2 teams. The Patriots have dominated the past decade and has won 8 times in a row before the 2009 season. Rex Ryan has never met a microphone he didn’t like, and his blunt approach towards the Patriots has trickled down to his players. Darrelle Revis has made comments about Pats players in the past, and most recently Antonio Cromartie said Eff Tom Brady. Even Ryan took some shots at the Patriots star player. Nevertheless, Belichick and company respond to the Jets antics with predictable, robotic answers that are too boring to quote. They do, however, respond out on the football field. Case in point, the last time these 2 teams played, the Patriots dismantled the Jets in the 45-3 rout. While Belichick loves to hit you where it REALLY hurts, Rex is a sound byte genius when it comes to the pregame antics.
Four teams, 2 rivals, 1 weekend. The rivalries are different, but not by much. This is what we’ve been waiting for. And I, for one, cannot wait! Thank God for rivalries!