During the 2000’s and into the 2010’s the Patriots-Colts rivalry may have been the biggest in football. Of course, that rivalry was really fueled by the teams’ superstar quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
There hasn’t been much to the rivalry without Brady and Manning squaring off. Prior to 2001, there are few if any notable games between the two teams despite the fact they both played in the AFC East until 2001 (the Colts moved to the newly-created AFC South during the league’s 2002 realignment).
When Manning left Indianapolis for Denver and the Colts began to backslide, the rivalry became one-sided. The Patriots have won all seven games since – including playoff games in 2013 and 2014 – mostly in blowout fashion.
With the series clinging to the title of ‘rivalry’ in the late 2010’s, suddenly new juice was introduced. It was the Colts that turned a football over to the NFL during the 2014 playoffs, an act that kicked off the nearly three-year DeflateGate saga.
Then, in February 2018, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels reportedly agreed to become the next head coach of the Colts, only to withdraw his name and return to New England after it was announced. At his following press conference, Colts GM Chris Ballard closed by declaring “the rivalry is back on.” Since that comment, the Patriots and Colts have played just once – a 38-24 Patriots win on Thursday night football in Foxborough early in 2018.
The rivalry may not have truly been ‘back’ that night, but this week’s game between the two teams feels it has a chance to return some of the hype to the matchup. There’s already been trash talk through the media, with Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke telling reporters earlier this week the Colts want to make the Patriots’ offense one-dimensional and “see what [Mac Jones] can do.” (Given a chance to respond, Jones took a predictably Patriots approach.)
It’s not just between the rosters either – there’s bad blood coming from media members themselves. Veteran Colts reporter Gregg Doyel tweeted to start the week, “Bill Belichick remains smug, Josh McDaniels remains a twerp, and DeflateGate remains fresh. When Patriots visit Colts on Saturday, I hope you boo their ass – and wouldn’t mind if the Colts beat their ass.”
Beyond the history though, these are two young teams that appear to be on the rise in the AFC, which could set up more meaningful matchups down the road. Both had been reeling from cornerstone QB departures in recent years, with Brady leaving the Patriots and Andrew Luck abruptly announcing an early retirement in 2019. In fact, this will be the first game between the two sides without Brady, Manning, or Luck since 1997, when the Pete Carroll/Drew Bledsoe Patriots won 20-17 over a Colts team coached by Lindy Infante and quarterbacked by Jim Harbaugh.
Coming out of some quarterback turmoil, both teams have settled their rosters by investing heavily in defense and a strong running game. Both teams have won this season by controlling the tempo and pace of games on offense, while forcing turnovers on defense. How will those mirroring styles play off each other on Saturday? Let’s take a look in this week’s key matchups…