The New England Patriots face the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams this year — their opponents in Super Bowls XLIX and LIII, respectively.
It’s not every year that a team gets to take on not one, but two, of their former Super Bowl adversaries during the same regular season.
That is, unless that team has set the record for the most Super Bowl appearances among NFL franchises (11).
The New England Patriots have faced off against the Chicago Bears (Super Bowl XX), Green Bay Packers (Super Bowl XXXI), St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams (Super Bowls XXXVI and LIII), Carolina Panthers (Super Bowl XXXVIII), Philadelphia Eagles (Super Bowls XXXIX and LII), New York Giants (Super Bowls XLII and XLVI), Seattle Seahawks (Super Bowl XLIX), and Atlanta Falcons (Super Bowl LI) during their 11 appearances in the big game.
Those eight opponents hail from all four NFC divisions: North (Bears and Packers), West (Rams and Seahawks), South (Panthers and Falcons), and East (Eagles and Giants).
Because the league’s schedule-makers have things set up in such a fashion that each of the four AFC divisions rotates through each of the four NFC divisions once every four years, the Patriots are regularly afforded the opportunity to play teams they’ve previously battled against with NFL championships on the line.
Still, not all interconference games are created equal when it comes to the Patriots and the NFC.
Clashes against the NFC North, for example, don’t mean quite as much to today’s New England fans as they might have meant back in the 80s and 90s.
There may have been a time when the Patriots and their fans wanted revenge on the Bears and Packers for defeating New England in Super Bowls XX and XXXI, respectively. But now that it’s been two-to-three decades since both of those championship games occurred, the “rematches” aren’t quite as lustrous as they used to be.
Arguably, the most exciting and enticing matchup for New England comes every four years when they play the NFC East — like last season, for example. Because the Patriots split their Super Bowls against the Eagles and lost both championships to the Giants (in heartbreaking fashion, no less), those interconference games will probably remain juicy for years to come.
When it comes to the NFC West and the NFC South, it sort of depends on your perspective as a Patriots fan.
New England is 5-0 against these Super Bowl combatants (Rams twice, Seahawks, Panthers, Falcons), so there’s not really a revenge angle for the Patriots or their fanbase. You could probably make a pretty compelling case that of all four of those teams, the Falcons hate the Pats the most — simply because that’s what happens when you end up on the wrong side of history (28-3, ahem).
Even so, the NFC West teams might offer more intrigue overall if you’re a Patriots fan and looking at the interconference play from a New England angle.
The Seahawks played several decades in the AFC before switching conferences, meaning these two teams (New England and Seattle) actually have quite a bit of history between them. And as shocking as the Patriots’ comeback win over the Falcons was in Super Bowl LI, many people actually believe Super Bowl XLIX between New England and Seattle was a better game overall — some have labeled it the best Super Bowl ever.
Furthermore, Seattle has been more consistently dominant than the Falcons or the Panthers since 2000. Just as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick built something special together in New England, so too have Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll established a winning culture in the Pacific Northwest.
The Pats and Seahawks have plenty of regular season bad blood between them too in recent years. There was the 24-23 Seattle home victory in Richard Sherman’s “U mad bro?” game against Tom Brady. There was also the 31-24 Seattle road victory in Foxborough during the 2016 season.
While the Rams and Patriots don’t have quite as many thrilling regular season clashes between them as the Seahawks and Pats do, there’s always going to be something special about St. Louis/Los Angeles when it comes to that franchise and its connections to New England.
After all, it was the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” team that fell to Belichick and Brady in the Super Bowl that launched the Patriots dynasty as we know it today. Similarly, Sean McVay’s high-powered offense fell to Belichick’s defense in what many called the greatest defensive performance in Super Bowl history just two years ago.
Because Brady then left New England a season later, it’s fair to say that the Patriots dynasty under Belichick and Brady was essentially bookended on both sides by victories over the Rams in the Super Bowl.
New England now faces both these teams — Seattle and Los Angeles — in Weeks 2 and 14 of this upcoming season. Both games are on the road and both are prime-time affairs, with the Seahawks game scheduled on NBC’s Sunday Night Football and the Rams game happening on FOX and the NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football.
Both games should prove to be difficult challenges for the Patriots. Especially when you add in the Super Bowl history, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both Seattle and Los Angeles come in extra-motivated to defeat New England.
Hopefully, the Brady-less Patriots will be up to the task.