For much of the 2000s, the Colts vs. Patriots rivalry was among the best in the NFL (I mean, it's got it's own wikipedia page!). That rivalry featured Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
They had some great games, most notably the Colts 18-point comeback in a game-for-the-ages in the 2007 AFC Championship (the second AFC Championship game of the rivalry), and the Colts won 38-34 on their way to winning the Super Bowl. In fact, the Colts and the Patriots have met 3 previous times in the playoffs, and each time the winner of the game went on to win the Super Bowl that season. On January 18, 2004, the Patriots beat the Colts 24-14 in Foxboro to advance to the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning was intercepted 4 times and sacked 4 times, and Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked 5 field goals as the Patriots won the AFC Championship and went on to win the Super Bowl. The following year, on January 16, 2005, the Patriots beat the Colts in Foxboro in the divisional round of the playoffs by the score of 20-3 - and they would again go on to win the Super Bowl, their third in four years. Then two years after that, the Patriots came to Indianapolis for the AFC Championship game and the Colts beat them in an instant-classic behind a terrific comeback by Manning, by the final score of 38-34. The Colts went on to win the Super Bowl that year, too.
There have been other great games, too. The Colts and Patriots actually have played each other 76 times, as they used to be in the same division, but they played 12 games between Manning and Brady and those were what made the rivalry truly one of the league's best. Tom Brady's first career start came against the Colts in 2001 (he won). In 2003, Manning led a massive comeback but the Colts were stopped four times from the 2 yard line at the end of the game and lost 38-34. Peyton Manning's first win in Foxboro (previously being 0-7) came in 2005 against a 7-0 Patriots team on the year. In 2007, both teams were undefeated (the Patriots 8-0 and the Colts 7-0) and played a great close game, with the Patriots winning on their way to an undefeated 16-0 regular season. In 2009 came the infamous 4th and 2 decision from Bill Belichick, where he choose to go for it on 4th and 2 deep in his own territory with a lead at the end of the game out of fear of Peyton Manning, and after a stop by the defense on the play Manning made Belichick pay, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass with 13 seconds left.
Once Manning was released from the Colts following the 2011 season, however, the Colts and Patriots rivalry lost a lot of it's luster. In fact, it's hardly a rivalry anymore.
The new-era Colts have played the Patriots only once, when the Colts traveled to Foxboro last season. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck led the Colts to two long scoring drives in the first quarter and the Colts held a 14-7 lead at the end of the first and only trailed 21-17 at halftime. In the second half, however, the Patriots showed how far ahead of the Colts they were and won handily by a final score of 59-24. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano didn't even coach that game, as interim head coach and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians had taken over for Pagano, who was battling leukemia.
On Tuesday, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was asked about the rivalry and if it still is one nowadays:
"It really isn't, to be honest with you. I think obviously we know them, they know us from an organizational standpoint. They've got what they've seen on tape from this year. There's been so much turnover. In today's NFL, that's kind of how it is. I don't see how much effect it's going to have on this ball game."
Colts tight end Coby Fleener gave his thoughts on the rivalry, too (like Pagano, he missed last year's game):
People love to talk about the history of Colts/Patriots, but there's been so much turnover here, how much of that even matters to you guys?
"It matters very little. This game specifically, I think you can kind of, in any playoff game, you throw out the records, you throw out the history. I've never played the Patriots before, personally. So to me, I'm excited for the opportunity. We'll see what happens on Saturday."
I assume you grew up watching Brady vs. Manning and all that, but it's history now, right?
"Yeah, impressive history, but it won't have an impact on how we game plan for this game and how we play it ultimately on Saturday."
Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman was asked if the rivalry even matters:
"I don't know. This is a whole different team. Not the same atmosphere, but winning atmosphere with both teams. It's two great organizations going against each other, so from that standpoint I guess it's the same."
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was also asked about it, and he said:
"I think that's fun for fans. It's a fun storyline, but for us in the locker room it's just a chance to go up to New England and play a very good football team in the playoffs. It's more one of those external factors that people get excited about, but I'm sure not in their locker room and I'm sure not in ours."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about the rivalry, too:
"We've seen a lot of the Colts through the years. They were formerly a division team but it seems like they've never really left the division. One way or another we've kind of gotten them every year. We're playing them again next year. It's been a good rivalry. There have been a lot of real competitive games. But none of that really matters, it's all in the past. Right now it's just the game Saturday night. We both have a good football team. They've played well all year. They're tough. They're resilient. Strong in all three phases of the game. So we know it will be a big challenge for us."
This game could become a rivalry once again, and it could happen as soon as this weekend, but it's not right now. If the two teams play a great football game and it is a great duel between Brady and Luck, then the game between the Colts and the Patriots next season will be especially highlighted. But right now? The most rivalry-centered attitude is with the fans. Colts fans still don't like the Patriots and they still don't like Tom Brady, and that's because of the rivalry these teams had. Me? I always recognized that it was more of a Manning vs. Brady rivalry anyway, and so I'm holding off on calling this just another chapter in the rivalry. That already happened this year in the great 34-31 Patriots overtime win against Peyton Manning's Broncos. Because, as I said, it's more Manning vs. Brady than Colts vs. Patriots.
This weekend, the Colts will travel to Foxboro to play the Patriots. And while there are a handful of players (Tom Brady, Robert Mathis, Adam Vinatieri, Reggie Wayne, Antoine Bethea, etc.) who remember the rivalry, it will be mainly Colts vs. Patriots this Sunday - and the rivalry that once was great will be beginning to make new ground as the new-era Colts look to make a name for themselves (and not just living off the old-era Colts's legacy) against one of the NFL's elite.