The NFL's Arms Race
Rivalries are one of the greatest aspects of sports. While traditional rivalries will never fade such as the Red Sox-Yankees, Steelers-Ravens or the Lakers-Celtics, recent years have brought sports fans new rivalries. Today, we have the Heat-Pacers, Reds-Cardinals and, in the NFL, the 49ers-Seahawks.
There are very noticeable similarities, however, with some of today's biggest rivalries in the NFL and in the NBA: mainly, the “Super Team.” In the NBA, there are the Thunder, Heat, Spurs, Pacers and, now, even the Nets and Rockets. Recently, these teams all have been tactically designed for one goal: defeat Team X in the playoffs and then Team Y in the Finals.
The NFL has become very similar. The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks not only have to face off twice a year to win the division, but have to be ready to face each other in the playoffs. These teams are so good that it's not a matter of if they make the playoffs, it's preparing to beat one another in order to move onto the Super Bowl, where they will have to beat yet another juggernaut. Back in 2012, both teams began their bitter rivalry, as they both had two coaches who hated each other back from their days coaching at the college level and two young teams that played a very similar style of football.
The following offseason, the Seahawks knew they were good enough to make a deep playoff run but needed a few more pieces to move past the 49ers. They added Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in an effort to bolster their pass rush to make Colin Kaepernick more uncomfortable passing, as well as trading for Percy Harvin to add a speedy, versatile chess piece to the offense that the 49ers defense couldn't account for on every play.
The 49ers added Anquan Boldin in hopes of giving Kaepernick more weapons and forcing the Seahawks defense to defend both sides of the field. They also traded up in the draft to get safety help in Eric Reid in an effort to keep Russell Wilson in check. These two teams met in an epic NFC Championship game, and we all know how the story ends from there. This offseason, the 49ers are looking to add even more weapons on offense in order to force the immovable object that is the Seahawks defense to budge.
In the AFC, there's a new wrinkle to an old rivalry. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have been rivals for the past decade, as the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts often faced one another in the playoffs. Now, Manning is in Denver, and is backed by an executive in John Elway who is determined to win a Super Bowl. Elway knows that he'll have to get past the Patriots in the playoffs, and he brought in Manning to do so.
The Baltimore Ravens helped out the Patriots by knocking out the Broncos out of the playoffs. In 2013, Elway still was determined to vault Peyton to a Super Bowl. He gave him even more help by stealing a motivated Wes Welker from the Patriots and signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Terrance Knighton. Manning's offense went on to be the best in NFL history, beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship, only to get dominated in the Super Bowl by the Seahawks. While the offense was a problem in the Super Bowl, the defense was a glaring issue for the majority of the season. Looking to get ready for another bout with Bill Belichick and the Patriots and, most likely, the 49ers or Seahawks in the Super Bowl, Elway loaded up on defense, signing DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib — away from the Patriots — and T.J. Ward. In an effort to keep the offense from missing a beat, he also signed Emmanuel Sanders.
Meanwhile, in Foxborough, Bill Belichick has been plotting on how to contain Manning and the Broncos’ offense. He joined forces with Darrelle Revis, signed Brandon Browner from the Seahawks and brought back Patrick Chung, all in an effort to solidify the secondary. Revis not only shuts receivers down on Revis island, but will give the Bronco wideouts the same trouble they experienced in the Super Bowl.
The NFL has become an arms race among the elite teams, with each team somehow getting better year after year in an effort to take out the other top dogs in the playoffs. Whether it has been through sophisticated cap maneuvering (Belichick and Elway), or schematically adding players perfect for schemes (Carroll and Harbaugh), these teams have created rivalries that make playoff football more exciting to watch than ever before.
Just like the NBA, where fans eagerly await the conference finals and championship finals, teams are now planning to outwit and outlast specific teams, not just the entire league. The chess matches between organizations have created fascinating rivalries that transcend the games we see on the field or on the court. In the NFL, where any team can win on any given Sunday, it's bold to think that these teams are specifically being built in an effort to take one another out. It also will be interesting to see that as new budding dynasties are formed, how they continue to build and plan to beat all of these teams in the playoffs.