Deion Sanders, regarded as the top cornerback of his era, shifted the balance of power in the NFL in the mid-1990s, going from the Falcons to the 49ers to the Cowboys in a span of months. Sanders played on a one-year contract in 1994 for the ’Niners and enjoyed, arguably, his best season as a pro as he had six interceptions, returning them for a then-NFL record of 303 yards and three touchdowns. He was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year that season and San Francisco went on to win the Super Bowl. The future Hall of Famer then bolted the Bay Area and signed with the 49ers’ chief rival at the time in the Dallas Cowboys. Not so coincidentally, Dallas won the Super Bowl upon Sanders’ arrival.
The circumstances surrounding Darrelle Revis landing with the Patriots is different in terms of chronology. But this game of cornerback roulette involving Revis and Aqib Talib has made the Patriots and Broncos the 49ers and Cowboys of this generation in terms of tit-for-tat, everything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better scheming.
Yup, the Pats and Broncos will be the superpowers in the AFC in 2014 and likely 2015 as there is a heated space race to a Lombardi Trophy going on before our eyes.
Superpowers in sports can be scary, but history shows that when they’re present, their respective sport is at its best. The Celtics-Lakers rivalry in the 1980s saved the NBA. The NFL confirmed itself as “America’s game” during the ’90s with the Cowboys and ‘Niners feud. The NBA is currently raking in the cash with LeBron James’ Miami Heat and that league has never been more healthy. Baseball is at its best when the Yankees and Red Sox are both at peak levels.
So, if you weren’t sure last season, know now that the Patriots’ final great rival in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era will be the Denver Broncos. And, of course, they will be visiting Foxboro in the regular season this fall with a likely AFC Championship game rematch to follow.
The only question remaining for Patriots fans now is, “Will Revis be enough?” It seems as though Revis has been in the league forever, but he has faced Peyton Manning just three times in his career. In those three outings, Revis’ Jets went 2-1, with Manning’s numbers averaging out to this: 19-of-28 for 264 yards, 1.3 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt as they were from a time before Manning’s neck was considered more fragile than Talib’s hip or quad or whatever it is that causes him to miss three or four games each year.
The superpower Broncos have seemingly fixed their leaky hole (ewwww), by adding DeMarcus Ware and Talib. The superpower Patriots seem to be a move or two away from totally curing what ails them (another receiver, a pass rusher). Neither team was 100 percent healthy last season, so before anyone says that this conversation is all null and void anyway because the NFC will destroy either of them in a Super Bowl – remember that Denver was without corner Chris Harris in last year’s playoffs and the Patriots were without Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork. The Seahawks may be the reigning champs, but 2014 will be all about New England and Denver in the NFL. Revis and Talib have moved the NFL pendulum for sure and figuring out which way, exactly, it’s gonna swing will be even more entertaining and nerve-wracking than even this past week was.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS