It's that time again.
Rex Ryan is calling himself a Hall of Famer, Antonio Cromartie's lips are flapping, and the Patriots are keeping their collective mouths shut. It's Pats/Jets Week.
Now maybe it's just me - but I'm not getting the same vibe I usually get from the buildup to this game. I saw a press conference with Rex Ryan on TV this morning, and I wasn't overcome with an almost uncontrollable urge to slap him right in his big fat face. The Jets have looked absolutely godawful over the past two weeks, and word around the New York media is that the vibe in the New York locker room is less-than-groovy. In a lot of ways, Sunday feels like just another game to me.
Which leads me to ask the question: is Pats vs. Jets really a rivalry?
I've heard a lot of people, media and fans alike, assert that the Patriots and Jets aren't true rivals. And to a degree, I can see where they are coming from; after all, the Jets have only been relevant for 2 years, and last year marked the only time in team history when the Jets have beaten the Patriots in the playoffs. Meanwhile, if you were to ask most fans who New England's biggest rival is, the majority in this day and age would say the Indianapolis Colts - and they would be able to make a pretty good case.
Until 2001, The Colts were part of the AFC East and faced the Pats twice a year. Not only that, but since 1970 the only year where New England didn't play Indy at least once was 2002. In that time, especially in the 2000s, Pats/Colts have produced some of the greatest games the NFL has ever seen. They have each knocked the other out of the playoffs on their way to Superbowl Championships, and each team boasts a quarterback that will go down as among the best ever to play the position. While Pats/Jets has always been in the conversation, Indianapolis is definitely New England's biggest modern rival.
But this year? Not so much.
The Manningless Colts are currently stinking up the AFC South at 0-4, and all signs are pointing to their December 4th showdown at Foxboro being a fairly large nonevent. Even the Steelers look pretty lousy this year. So what team in 2011 is going to be the one that the Pats get most pumped up for? Will this be the year that Pats/Jets loses some of the momentum it has gained over the past two seasons and becomes just another game on the schedule?
I sure hope not.
In spite of the past ten years or so, the Patriots and Jets have had a remarkable history, and when you look at the big picture, this is one of the better rivalries in the National Football League. In the wake of their two September Superbowls and two epic, incomparable trips to that vaunted AFC Championship Game, the Jets seem to have the upper hand as of late. Before that though, and for a long time to boot, it's been all New England.
So what exactly is it that constitutes a rivalry?
I read somewhere, a long time ago, that you need to have 5 main factors in order for two teams to be considered rivals. Like all lists, it's open for debate, but overall I think there are some good points to be made here. Let’s break each one down and see whether or not they apply to Pats vs. Jets.
1. Hate. I’m told that back in the day, the hatred between the Patriots and the Jets was so thick that you could take a bite out of it and chew. I have a vague recollection of it watching games in the late 80s and early 90s, but at that time the Jets and Pats were so bad it was more like watching two teenie boppers fight over the last Justin Beiber cardboard cutout than a legitimate NFL rivalry. But as the Patriots rose to prominence and the Jets didn't , the hatred died down a bit, as New England simply had bigger fish to fry.
Well good news, folks: over the last few years, it appears that the hate is back. Tommy B is on record saying he hates the Jets. The Jets are on record, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, YouFace, FaceTube, TubeFace, TubeYou, and pretty much any other kind of
time waster social media you can think of talking about how much they hate New England. Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan always seem to speak respectfully about the other, but I think it’s safe to say that they each take this game a little more personally than others. It may be a little more masked than years past, but it isn’t hard to tell that these teams don’t like each other. Result: Check.
2. Familiarity. The Patriots play the Jets at least twice a season. Each team’s stadium is close enough for away fans to make a trip into enemy territory to root for their team live. The teams have swapped players and coaches back and forth more times than Michael Jackson has swapped noses. For better or worse, these two teams know each other intimately. And whether we like to admit it or not, Patriots fans and Jets fans have a whole lot in common. For every ten obnoxious, smug, dimwitted Jets fans, odds are you can find ten obnoxious, smug, dimwitted Patriots fans. We’re fortunate here at Pats Pulpit, and over at Gang Green Nation, to have found a community of level-headed, knowledgeable, and supportive fans who like to talk football and engage in realistic debate, but I’m sure we all know more than one fan who likely spent the bulk of their childhoods smashing pumpkins and peeing into gas tanks. I think one of the reasons why Pats and Jets fans dislike each other so much is because, a lot of the time, it’s like looking into an evil mirror in which only your most annoying qualities are drunkenly staring right back at you. Kind of like that mirror towards the end of The Neverending Story. Result: Check.
3. Star Power. I think that this is my weakest point, as it’s easy to think of some absolutely phenomenal rivalries which boast little to no discernable talent (here’s looking at you, Yankees/Red Sox in 1992). However, some of the greatest rivalries sports has ever seen have been not just a competition between two teams, but between two players as well. In terms of Pats/Jets, I don’t think that the individual matchup is really there right now. Tom Brady is obviously a superstar, and a case can be made for a Brady vs. Revis battle, but overall there just isn’t the same vibe we get from Brady vs. Manning, Federer vs. Nadal, or O’Donnel vs. Trump. Other than Tommy B (and possibly Darrelle Revis) are there really any legitimate, standout superstars on either roster (not yet, Wes. But your time is coming)? While it’s still fun to watch two teams with a history play each other, isn’t it always sweeter to watch two teams with a history AND two players with a history play each other? Because let’s face it - this is America, and if there’s one thing we love watching even more than seeing stars succeed, it’s watching them totally, utterly fail (see Peyton Manning in Superbowl XLIV, Lebron James in last year’s NBA Finals, and every episode of The Jersey Shore ever made). Kind of makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, doesn’t it? Result: Miss.
4. Trash talk: I’m tempted to give this category a miss as well. As awesome as it would be to watch Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan stand toe-to-toe trading yo’ momma jokes back and forth while a circle of players surround them yelling out "DAY-UMMM!" after each good diss, the trash talking has come almost exclusively out of the Jets camp as of late. And last time I checked, in order to have a legitimate verbal battle, there needs to be some type of exchange. Not only that, but New York’s recent struggles seem to have shut their respective traps during a week which they are usually talking so much that the training staff needs to double the supply of oxygen tanks. So far, all has been quiet.
Enter one Antonio Cromartie. Octopop has never been one to shut his
fly mouth and is always good for a soundbyte or two. Well this week has been no exception; he recently reaffirmed comments he made last season about Tom Brady, giving us all a nice reminder of exactly what we have come to expect from the Jets under Ryan’s regime. Plus, I’m sure that there will be plenty of jawing on the field come Sunday.
Good thing Ron Jaworski isn’t calling this one, or the FCC might have to shut it down midway through the second quarter. Result. Check.
5. Equality. No matter how deep the hate runs, no matter how many times teams face each other, and no matter how much smack a team talks, you can’t have a rivalry if one team consistently wins every time. It’s easy to forget how evenly matched the Pats and Jets have been over the years, as up until recently this rivalry has been about as even as Owen Wilson’s nose. Historically, however, the matchup is as level as it gets. Since their first meeting in September of 1960, The Jets hold a 52-51 game edge over the Patriots (51-49 in the regular season, with the Pats leading 2-1 in the postseason). In recent seasons, The Pats and Jets have traded knockouts, with New York coming out on top. In spite of their recent struggles, The Jets, are a team on the rise and have had New England’s number as of late. This promises to be a great game between two quality teams. A Jets victory would knock New England down to 3rd in the AFC East, and odds are the Patriots are going to have difficulty generating any pressure and Mark Sanchez will have plenty of time to throw. Tommy B has had trouble reading Rex Ryan's defensive schemes in the past, and so I see this one being a lot closer than most people are predicting. Result: Check.
Make no mistake about it: this rivalry is alive and well. Both teams have a lot to prove coming into Sunday, and both need a win to (re)gain some momentum and set the tone for the rest of the season. The team that comes out on top will have a solid mental edge going into the rematch on November 13th.
And if the Jets win, I'm sure we'll hear about it - in every single way humanly possible. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Rex Ryan hired a small army of homeless men to make announcements on the subway.
As for the Patriots - we'll keep doing our talking on the field.