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The Patriots don’t have a rival anymore

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Who will pick up where Peyton Manning left off?

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

SB Nation released our 2017 NFL Season Preview and I represented the New England Patriots section. We look at why the Patriots could win the Super Bowl (easy), what could ruin the Patriots season (also easy, unfortunately), and what the Patriots do better than anyone else (win).

I was also asked for a tailgate food that represented the Patriots, and they didn’t let me use a photo series of Vince Wilfork dancing while cooking meats, so here is my actual response in full:

But one question that gave me trouble was “Who is your biggest rival and why?”

I didn’t have an exact answer, but they cut my full response due to space constraints. Here was my original response:

In a really obnoxious way, do the Patriots really have a rival at this point in time? Peyton Manning’s Team was the clear team rival during his career, but no team has been able to step up into that vacuum against the Patriots.

It’s certainly not a team in the AFC East, against whom the Patriots have a 23-7 record over the past five seasons. The Patriots have dominated the Miami Dolphins (7-3), New York Jets (7-3), and Buffalo Bills (8-2), with both Bills wins coming against Patriots back-ups (2014 finale when Tom Brady sat early, 2016 against Jacoby Brissett and his broken throwing hand).

It’s definitely not the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are 0-4 against the Patriots over the past five years (including playoffs) and have been outscored by an average of 15.3 points per game.

It’s not the Indianapolis Colts or Houston Texans as they’ve gone a combined 0-11 against the Patriots over the past five years. The Patriots have defeated the Colts by an average of 24.6 points and the Texans by an average of 18.3 points.

The only team that would make sense would be the Denver Broncos. The Patriots have a 4-3 record against the Broncos over the past five years, with two of those losses coming in AFC Championship games. But are the Broncos a rival if they can’t even make the playoffs? Denver will have to prove themselves a contender in a post-Peyton Manning world if they are going to be the Patriots’ rival.

It’s a fair response, right? Peyton Manning was the Patriots chief rival and now that he’s gone, there hasn’t been a team or player to step up in his place. And even Manning was only 8-12 against the Bill Belichick-led Patriots, one of ten quarterbacks to win more than a third of their games against the Patriots since 2000 (min. 3 games).

Of those ten, four made their bread in the NFC (Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson) and simply couldn’t be rivals. There was Dolphins QB Jay Fielder, who went 4-5 against the Patriots from 2000-04. The was Jets QB Vinny Testaverde, who went 3-3 from 2000-03 (all three wins were before Tom Brady).

And that leaves three Broncos quarterbacks. Brian Griese went 2-1 from 2000-02. Jake Plummer went 3-0 from 2005-06. And technically Kyle Orton has gone 2-1 against the Patriots, but one of his wins came with the Bills in week 17 of the 2014 season when the Patriots rested their starters.

Poll

Who is the Patriots biggest rival?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Bills
    (11 votes)
  • 36%
    Broncos
    (519 votes)
  • 1%
    Colts
    (17 votes)
  • 2%
    Dolphins
    (35 votes)
  • 6%
    Jets
    (96 votes)
  • 29%
    None
    (418 votes)
  • 23%
    Other
    (336 votes)
1432 votes total Vote Now

So, sure, the Broncos are the only team in the NFL to regularly give the Belichick Patriots any problems; they hold a 9-9 record against the Patriots dating back to 2000. But rivalries are just as much about emotion as about results on the field and the Broncos were never a team to charge up the fanbase.

The Broncos were a rival in the same way the Ravens were a rival from 2009-12: simply a team able to stand up to the Patriots for a period of time and, when no longer able to compete, they slip from the collective consciousness of Patriots fans.

It was always about Peyton Manning and no player or team has been able to replace him at this point in time.

A rival has to be a team that faces the Patriots on a regular basis, so either a team in the AFC East or a regular division winner, and one that actually challenges the Patriots. The Texans, Colts, and Steelers are a combined 0-15 against the Patriots over the past five years. That’s not a rivalry.

Maybe a team will emerge in the coming years, but there isn’t a potential rivalry in the process. Whatever rivalry emerges will be starting from scratch.

On behalf of other teams, the Buffalo Bills say the Patriots are their biggest rivals, the New York Jets say the Patriots are their biggest rivals, and the Indianapolis Colts say the Patriots are their biggest rivals. The Miami Dolphins point to the New York Jets.