Rivalries are a driving force in the NFL. The league, as we all know it, revolves around the intense hatred and disdain between rival fan bases. The players on the field feed off of that energy. The drama, the emotion, and the passion that surrounds one game is unparalleled.
Facing the same players and coaches twice a year drives the game beyond the theatrics, though. Athletes that know one another well, and coaches that turn the game into a true chess match provide added elements of excitement.
Over the last decade, no two teams have known one another better than the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. Everything, from Bill Belichick dumping the Jets after serving as their coach for one day to Eric Mangini’s attack on New England’s integrity, contributes to the thickness in the air when these two teams face off.
But what happens when there are so many new faces from around the league on one team?
It can be argued that the Jets have an advantage, as the Patriots have more to prepare for than they have in recent years. It’s not the same New York Jets team of the last five years, marred by injury, and poisoned with inconsistency. It’s a team with new players—great new players, that New England has never even seen in the division.
Kris Jenkins from the Carolina Panthers, Calvin Pace from the Arizona Cardinals, and the rookie Dwight Lowery from San Jose State are all integral pieces to a new defense. Gone are the days with out-of-place defenders that Tom Brady could manipulate, and the offensive line could manhandle.
On the offensive side, Brett Favre, Alan Faneca, Damien Woody, Tony Richardson, Bubba Franks, and rookie Dustin Keller combine to move an offense that New England has never prepared for, either.
Can this mean a loss in intensity for the New York Jets?
The new faces know that the Patriots are a division rival, and they can read the history between the franchises just like the fans could. But the addition of so many veterans that played their careers in other divisions with rivalries of their own may not allow for that added intensity.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden reportedly hugged Eric Mangini this offseason for taking Kris Jenkins out of the NFC South. Those fits that Jenkins caused Tampa Bay are what Jets’ fans are hoping he can replicate against New England. But at this stage in his career, after so many years on one team, can Jenkins truly appreciate how badly the fans want to see New England manhandled?
Brett Favre played 16 years in a division where there was nothing more intense than the Minnesota Vikings in Lambeau, or the Packers handing the Bears a defeat at home.
Both coaches have taught their teams to prepare for games one week at a time, to ignore press clippings, and to handle all opponents in a non-partisan fashion. But with new players at key positions, those feelings of vengeance are non-existent.
Aside from some new faces on the defensive side of the ball, the New England Patriots still have most of their team over the last few seasons intact. With Matt Cassel starting at quarterback in his fourth season as a professional, he’s not new to the environment, either. He’s had the opportunity to observe the Patriots’ condescending nature when facing the Jets, so his familiarity with the rivalry is pure.
However, since it is the New York Jets’ home opener, the advantage has to go to the men in green. Feeding off the crowd’s excitement and wanting to put out great performances for the hometown fans should catapult the team.
Surely, Jets veterans like Kerry Rhodes, Darrelle Revis, David Harris, Thomas Jones, Nick Mangold, and Leon Washington haven’t forgotten 2007′s home opener against the Patriots, either. Hopefully, their intensity will be absorbed by the men unfamiliar with the general dislike.