COMMENTARY | The New England Patriots went 12-4 in the regular season, and came within one win of making the Super Bowl in 2013-losing in the AFC Championship game. Nevertheless, it was still a successful season, as the team overcame a rash of serious injuries and provided fans with some entertaining games against some of their top rivals.
However, as New England's offseason starts and they start looking towards the 2014 season, who is their biggest rival? Here are some of the candidates:
Denver Broncos: This is probably the easiest pick of the bunch. As long as star quarterback Peyton Manning is suiting up for Denver, he and his team are the perfect foil for the Patriots and their veteran signal caller, Tom Brady.
Manning entered the NFL in 1998, two years before Brady. Over the years, they have faced off 15 times with Brady claiming 10 victories to Manning's five.
Most recently in 2013, the Patriots came back from a 24-0 half-time deficit to beat the Broncos 34-31 in overtime during the regular season. However, the Broncos had the last laugh by eliminating the team in the AFC Championship game.
The 36-year-old Brady and the 37-year-old Manning may be nearing the end of their careers but as long as they continue to lead their respective teams, this will remain a fierce rivalry.
Indianapolis Colts: Manning spent the first 14 years of his career with the Colts, lighting the fire for this ongoing rivalry. Even though he left the team following the 2011 season, the competitive tradition has remained in the matchup, largely because of Indianapolis' new star quarterback, Andrew Luck.
The first overall pick in the 2012 draft, Luck has already passed for 8,196 yards, 46 touchdowns, won 22 games and made two Pro Bowls in his first two seasons. He has faced and lost to the Patriots twice, including getting knocked out of the playoffs by them this season in the divisional round.
Arguably the best young quarterback in the AFC, Luck will keep the Colts near the top of New England's rival list as long as he is taking snaps. If the start of his career is any indication, he will be a force to be reckoned with, and his team will be a probable obstacle the Patriots will need to get by each year to succeed in the playoffs.
New York Jets: The New York-Boston rivalry has permeated sports for decades. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox might be baseball's marquee matchup but the Patriots and Jets have been gaining steam.
Playing in the AFC East, they have been each other's primary competition recently in their division. The Jets have finished second to the first-place Patriots in four of the past five seasons, but New York knocked them out of the playoffs in 2011, the last time they faced off in the postseason.
In addition to their competition on the field, there has also been controversy off it. Current New York head coach Rex Ryan, who has a larger than life personality, has also fueled the rivalry at times by openly talking about his desire to take his opponent down.
The jostling in the press has sometimes gone both ways, with former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker even getting benched at the start of the 2011 divisional round playoff game after making public joking comments about Ryan.
The last time the two teams played was Week 7 of this past season. The Jets earned the win in overtime on a game-ending field goal coming after a penalty that subsequently drew considerable attention and conversation.
Although New York ultimately missed this year's playoffs, there is no indication there is any let-up in this rivalry.
Conclusion: The Patriots have won at least 10 games for 11 consecutive seasons, and appeared in five Super Bowls since 2001 (winning three). In addition to the previously mentioned teams, the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins have also proven to be tough competition in recent years-making the success all the more impressive.
Top teams always develop great rivalries, and New England is no exception. Although there are always at least several teams they have to keep an eye on each season, that group is consistently shifting and expanding as each year goes by-making for some exciting football.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
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