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Respecting the Rivalry

Maybe I'm a little biased, but I don't think that television will ever get better than what we had in the 1990s. Back then, cartoons and sitcoms ruled the airwaves and the world was blissfully devoid of watching people suck at life on any number of nauseating reality TV channels. The 90s had so many great shows, in fact, that networks had to bunch them all together so that they wouldn't cancel each other out with their awesomeness. Whether it was TGIF on Fridays, SNick on Saturday nights, or The Disney Afternoon for weekdays after school, the 90s made it easier than ever for me to avoid the sunlight, become socially awkward, and get a head start on the impressive beer belly I so proudly sport today.

Once in while, though, the shows' executives would let their power go to their heads and try to pull a fast one on their loyal audience. Seemingly out of nowhere, the beloved, familiar faces we knew so well would suddenly be replaced by new actors as the rest of the cast went about their day like they didn't have a brand new mom or weren't completely missing a sibling. Characters would disappear entirely and without explanation or question (I still want to know where the Jessie Spano and Kelly Kapowski went for the first semester of their senior year at Bayside High. Tory just didn't cut it. If you don't know what I'm talking about - I feel bad for you). Crucial parts of these shows, anchors of the cast, characters we loved more than our own family members, suddenly ceased to be.

And in spite of it all, the show rolled on, and we rolled on with it. Because at the end of the day, it was still better than anything else out there.

And that's what's happened this year with the Indianapolis Colts. What was once a reliable hit and a staple of primetime television has pulled the ol' switcheroo and left us all sitting there scratching our heads, wondering where the hell the person we've been so used to watching every week has run off to. As much as we as Patriots fans are all obligated to have a respectful disdain for Peyton Manning, the bottom line is that things are more entertaining when that doofy, big-foreheaded galoot is around. And, like The Fresh Prince when they swapped out Vivian Bankses or Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers when all of a sudden Montery Jack had a new voice, things just aren't the same now. We're coming up on the NFL equivalent of the biggest episode of the year, the one where we find out who the father is or who shot JR or what Dr. Claw really looks like, and none of us care because of some lousy in-season changeover.

That doesn't stop us from watching, though, does it? No it doesn't. Because for better or for worse, it's still Pats/Colts week. Usually around this time every year, we are all in the middle of the final Brady vs. Manning debate of the regular season and have seen pretty much every "Best Pats vs. Colts Moments" video that the NFL Network can put together. Not this year, though. This year we're busy watching the Eagles collapse and wondering whether Bobby V is going to be able to turn around the mood in the Red Sox locker room.

Where is the loyalty?

I know what everyone is saying. "It just isn't the same this year. The Colts are 0-11, Peyton Manning is sidelined, and the Patriots are 21 point favorites. I just can't get into it the way I used to."

Well you know what I say to that?

I say, hey! What's all this laying around stuff? Why are you all still laying around here for? What the heck happened to the rivalry I used to know? Where's the spirit? Where's the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives - but you're gonna let it be the worst. "Ooh, we're afraid to go with you Alec, we might get in trouble." Well just kiss my patoot from now on! Not me! I'm not gonna take this. Wayne, he's a dead man! Clark, dead! Freeney...*

Well, Freeney still scares me, to be honest.

I've tried very hard all week to get pumped up for this game. I've spent a lot of time trying to come up with scenarios where the Colts could pull this one out and hand the Patriots a loss. But every time I think I have something, Indy will go ahead and fire their defensive coordinator or make a quarterback change or Tweet to the world that Peyton Manning has not, in fact, been secretly preparing an epic comeback to be unveiled this Sunday.

I know it's not the same. But there are a few still a few storylines that could make this game interesting, and nothing is ever certain in the NFL. Here are four fairly weak things to watch for that could make this game closer than any of us want it to be.

This game could very well be the Colts' Superbowl. I remember, during the Patriots 2007 undefeated season, when Tommy B had to engineer a last minute game winning drive against a fairly awful Baltimore Ravens team that played out of their minds in an attempt to be the team that ruined New England's perfect season. That game was fairly meaningless for both teams from a playoff seeding perspective, but you wouldn't have known that from the way the Ravens played. I can see something like that happening here. The Colts are out of playoff contention, they are several games ahead in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes, and they have a lot of motivation to avoid going winless on the year. Peyton Manning or no Peyton Manning, this rivalry has deep roots and a lot of the players on this Indianapolis team remember exactly what Pats/Colts week is supposed to feel like. If Indy could pull off an upset on Sunday and get their first win of the year while creating a stumbling block for New England's march to the postseason, it would be a serious morale booster for the team and the city as a whole. The Colts may not be overly motivated to give their all for the rest of the season, but you know that they will be all kinds of fired up on Sunday.

Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis vs. Tom Brady. Tommy B is on record this week talking about how much respect he has for Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. That pass rush duo have definitely given Brady problems over the years, and with the recent changeup to the offensive line, there could be an opportunity to create some pressure and force Brady off his game. If the Colts are going to have any chance of winning this one, they are going to need to force some turnovers, and the best way to do that is to get to Brady and make him throw before he wants to. With Sebastian Vollmer already ruled out for Sunday's game, that puts Freeney or Mathis up against rookie Nate Solder, which has potential for a mismatch if the Patriots don't enlist some extra tight end help. If I were Dwight Freeney, lining up across from a team that still has their Hall of Fame quarterback under center, looking all pretty and on his way to another postseason while I sat there still winless with no hope for the playoffs in sight, I know I'd want to unleash my inner Gary Busey on him and see if I could get my good buddy Peyton a hospital roomie. The last thing we need is Brady taking some unnecessary shots and entering the last few games of the season banged up.

Colts receivers vs. Patriots secondary. Yeah, yeah. Dan Orlovsky is going to be throwing them the ball, I know. But from a sheer talent standpoint, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Reggie Wayne have a massive leg up on...ummm... whoever it is the Patriots have playing in the secondary right now. Yards can come in chunks when you have speed guys like Garcon on the field, and unless the Patriots increase the pressure and disguise blitzes to try and get Orlovsky to run out of the end zone again, the Colts receivers will get open. It's tough to worry about receivers when they don't have a reliable quarterback to get them the ball, but talent is talent, and Indy's receivers have it in droves.

What does the new defensive coordinator have to lose? Dial up a 10 man blitz. Come out in a base 3-3-5 nickel package and send the Mike linebacker up the middle on every play. Motion Pat Angerer out as an extra safety and stunt Freeny across the line. Why not? The Colts are already giving up a league worst 29.7 points per game and can't seem to stop anyone with their previous defensive schemes. If ever there was a time to throw caution to the wind and pull out something crazy, this is the week to do it. There is some inexperience on New England's O Line right now due to various injuries, and if the Colts are willing to just go for broke with their pressures, they could potentially have some success.

I know it isn't the same. I know that there isn't a whole lot to get excited about. And I know that all signs point to New England running away with this one no matter how many "any given Sunday" speeches we hear coming out of the Patriots' locker room. But the bottom line is that this week's game still represents the another chapter in what is the greatest rivalry of the past decade. The 70s had the Steelers and Raiders, the 80s had the 49ers and Cowboys, the 90s had the Bayside Tigers and Valley Bulldogs, and the 00s have the Patriots and Colts. For better or worse, the rivalry rolls on this Sunday, and we have to give it our due respect. If anything, this game will help us all to really appreciate what we had back in when we could turn on our TVs and know exactly what we were getting.

Like 90s television, things probably won't ever be quite the way they used to be, but that shouldn't stop any of us from realizing that it still beats going outside and socializing.

*Bonus points for knowing what movie I completely ripped that little rant off from.