The Broncos and Patriots play this week for the first time since last year's AFC championship game, but it’s not a rivalry game. It may seem like it is, but the rivalry between the Patriots and Broncos doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a mirage. The rivalry that you’re feeling when you see the Broncos isn’t about the Broncos, the rivalry you’re thinking of is Brady-Manning. But Brady-Manning is over, and it’s time to stop viewing the Broncos as a rival.
There was no rivalry against Denver before Peyton Manning got there, and there will be no rivalry after. If you want a perfect example of what Patriots-Broncos is going to become, just look at Indianapolis. Indianapolis isn’t on the schedule as often as they used to be. You know why? Because it’s not a rivalry anymore. We murdered them in the AFC championship game a few years ago. Similarly to how we murdered the Tim Tebow led Broncos in the AFC Divisional playoff game the year before Manning got there. That's not what rivalry games are supposed to look like. The Patriots vs Ravens is a rivalry. Those games are about the teams. It’s about Suggs, and Harbaugh, and Belichick, and Brady, and ownership, and even though Ray Lewis retired, the rivalry is still going. When Peyton Manning left Indy, he took the rivalry with him, and the same has happened with Denver.
Although the Broncos won the Super Bowl last season, it was anything but pretty. As the season rolled on, it became apparent to everyone that the once great Peyton Manning was falling from grace. After being pulled from a 5 for 20, 4 interception game against the 3-5 Kansas City Chiefs, it was clear. Peyton Manning was no longer the quarterback he once was. When Brock Osweiler took the ball from Manning to finish the rest of the Chiefs game, all of New England laughed as the man who was once their biggest rival, the man who won 197 NFL games was replaced by a quarterback who had never started one. The Peyton Manning that was our biggest competition in the AFC since 2001 was no more.
Despite Manning’s dramatic fall to mediocrity the 2015 Broncos still went on to win the Super Bowl, dragging the corpse of Peyton Manning with them. In the Super Bowl, we weren’t rooting against the Broncos because they beat us, we were rooting against them because we didn't want Peyton Manning to win another championship. We didn’t want anyone thinking that Peyton Manning was a better quarterback than Tom Brady. When people said Manning was better than Brady I got legitimately angry. When Brady and Manning faced off there was always the question of “Who’s the better quarterback?” When Brock Osweiler marched out onto the field against the Patriots just 2 weeks later, it just wasn’t the same.
It was always about Manning. The Colts and Broncos rivalries were never about the teams, it was never about the coaches, it wasn’t about the defensive matchups. It was always about Brady vs Manning. Half the time the game wasn’t even called by the title of Patriots vs Broncos or Patriots vs Colts. It was Brady vs Manning X, and Brady vs Manning XI, and Brady vs Manning XVII. It was always about the quarterbacks. The whole sport revolves around the quarterback, and so did those rivalries. Now the biggest storyline in the rivalry is Aqib Talib. If Aqib Talib is carrying a rivalry, it’s not a rivalry.
If Denver loses this week, they’re playoff dreams will be all but dead, and with it will go any remnants of a rivalry between the teams, and all will realize that it was never about Broncos vs Patriots, it was Brady vs Manning. Brady-Manning is over, and so are the rivalries they created. The NFL will never be the same, and neither will Denver-New England.