The New England Patriots will always engender plenty of hatred in central Indiana.
But, in truth, the rivalry between the Pats and the Indianapolis Colts ended when Peyton Manning was released and took his talents to the Denver Broncos.
The Colts haven’t beaten New England since, and the games haven’t been particularly close.
Sure, “Deflategate” stoked the flames again following the 2014 regular season, and Josh McDaniels’ about-face last year after accepting the head coaching job in Indianapolis inflamed passions again on both sides.
But the teams haven’t played a compelling game on the field in years.
The Colts’ series against the Houston Texans is another story all together.
Every year, it seems, the teams are meeting with serious AFC South ramifications on the line. Houston won the division last year – in large part because of a 37-34 overtime victory at Lucas Oil Stadium after Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich’s (in)famous fourth-down call.
But the Colts won the next two meetings – including the AFC Wild Card game in January, the first postseason meeting between the franchises.
That’s the stuff rivalries are made of, and this one will resume Sunday at 1 p.m.
In an interesting twist, the teams have recently swapped identities.
Led by stars like quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and defensive end J.J. Watt, the Texans have become fantasy football darlings. They’re also attractive to the NFL’s television partners, with an offensive explosion possible each week.
The Colts, meanwhile, have been reshaped in a blue-collar image under Reich and general manager Chris Ballard. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, left guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard still provide plenty of star power, but Indianapolis wins games by imposing its will on opponents.
It was the opposite dynamic for years after the formation of the AFC South in 2002, when Manning’s star-studded Colts often took advantage of the blue-collar Texans.
The series has been more even since Houston won back-to-back division titles in 2011 and 2012 with Manning out of the picture.
The Texans essentially clinched the division title in December 2016 with their first win at Lucas Oil Stadium. Last year’s overtime win in September also proved to be the difference in the division race.
This time around, the winner will have control of the AFC South at the season’s midway point. That team also will have a 2-0 record in a division that remains tightly contested.
Still, the game might just be the setup for the prime-time rematch at Houston in November.
And these teams are well situated to continue playing meaningful games into the foreseeable future.
Watson is one of the league’s most electric young quarterbacks. He’s poised to repeat his collegiate success when he helped revive Clemson’s dormant program and make the Tigers national champions again.
With the Texans, he’s endeared himself to the community through countless charitable contributions and provided a new hope on the playing field.
Reich and Ballard provide the promise in Indianapolis. They’ve built a roster of fighters who have continually pushed aside adversity and found a way to compete against all comers.
It’s an interesting battle that is guaranteed to play out twice a year, and it’s more entertaining these days than chasing the Patriots’ juggernaut.
Colts fans won’t let go of their anger toward New England anytime soon, and no one is asking them to.
But there’s a bigger rival much closer to home.
And the Texans aren’t going away for quite awhile.