Rematches are big, Monday night is biggest

As NFL teams jostle down the stretch with the finish line fast approaching, several division grudge matches loom large in Week 13, games that will help shape the playoff picture.

OK, guys, once more with feeling.

The San Diego Chargers play host to the Oakland Raiders, who beat them in Week 5. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play host to the Atlanta Falcons, who beat them in Week 9. Pittsburgh plays at Baltimore, looking to avenge a Week 4 loss to the Ravens.

And, on Monday night, the teams who share the NFL’s best record at 9-2 (with Atlanta) — New England and the New York Jets — meet in Foxborough to decide who gets the upper hand in the AFC East. The Jets beat the Patriots in Week 2.


According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s only the fourth time in the history of “Monday Night Football” that two teams with 9-2 records or better will meet head to head. It has not happened since 1990.

For now, the only salvos between the Patriots and Jets have been cotton balls, but things have a way of heating up between the bitter rivals.

“Rex has done a really good job of putting that team together,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said of Jets Coach Rex Ryan. “They’re obviously well-coached. They’re solid in every phase of the game and in the games where they have had to make plays at the end of the game, whether it’s to get the ball back or score or whatever they’ve had to do, they’ve done it.”

Ryan told reporters: “I admire Bill Belichick. The reason I do is because I think he’s the No. 1 coach in this league and that’s indisputable. He’s smart. Every single year he gets his team going, he’s a great evaluator of talent, he’s the son of a coach, all that kind of stuff.

“Do I want to be like him? I want to be like myself, but I want to have the kind of success he’s had over the years. You like to compete against the best, and that’s why I like going against him. I know it’s a huge challenge. I try to give my best shot every time and I know he gives his best shot.”

Friends kept close. Enemies kept closer.