The NFL hype machine can turn even the most mundane of games into seemingly can’t-miss affairs. But there’s no need for propaganda in order to generate interest in this weekend’s AFC semifinals.
Both games — the Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers today, January 15 and the New York Jets at the New England Patriots Sunday, January 16 — feature division rivals facing off in what have become the hottest and bitter rivalries in the league. Indeed, in these two cases, familiarity — division rivals oppose each other twice per season in the NFL — has bred contempt.
Ravens-Steelers games are known for their physical, low-scoring and competitive nature. Only one of the last seven games between the teams dating back to 2008 has been settled by more than four points and the winning team hasn’t scored more than 23 points in any contest. The rivalry was revved up in 2008, when the Steelers won three games — including the AFC Championship — over the Ravens by a combined 16 points on their way to winning the Super Bowl.
As of Friday, January 14, StubHub.com had just 277 tickets for the Ravens-Steelers game, the cheapest of which was a seat in the Row Z of Upper Level 526 listed for $139. The most inexpensive ticket at Ticketmaster.com earlier this month was $95.
The Jets and Patriots, meanwhile, have hated each other almost as long as the Ravens have existed (the Ravens were the Cleveland Browns prior to 1996, but part of the agreement that allowed the Browns to move to Baltimore decreed that the Browns’ history would remain in Cleveland and the Ravens would begin anew, a la an expansion franchise).
Bill Parcells bolted the Patriots for the Jets after the 1996 season and, a year later, signed Patriots running back Curtis Martin as a free agent. Parcells retired — for the second but not the final time &mdas; after the 1999 season, at which point his top assistant Bill Belichick was contractually obligated to replace Parcells. But Belichick resigned as “HC of the NYJ” in a hastily called press conference a day later and ended up as the head coach of the Patriots less than a month later. Then-Jets president Steve Gutman said Belichick was “…obviously in some turmoil,” a comment that Belichick has used to fuel his disdain for the Jets ever since.
The Patriots’ dynastic run began against the Jets in the second game of the 2001 season, when Drew Bledsoe was seriously injured on a hard but legal hit by Mo Lewis. A second-year quarterback named Tom Brady took over and led the Patriots to the first of their three Super Bowl titles.
The rivalry has grown even more heated since Rex Ryan took over as Jets head coach prior to last season. Upon joining the Jets, Ryan said he wasn’t “…here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.” This week, Ryan said the Jets-Patriots game is a battle between he and Belichick while Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie used profanity to describe how he feels about Brady.
There are 1,285 tickets available for the Jets-Patriots game at StubHub.com as of Friday, the cheapest of which is an upper corner 316 seat high above the Patriots sideline listed for $136. That seat’s face value is $89 during the regular season.