We are at the All-Star break for Major League Baseball and that only means one thing: We're getting closer to football season.
I can't wait.
Excitement's building. Training camp and preseason games are right around the corner. Something is missing, though. And I think I know what it is ...
I miss the pure loathing.
OK, truth be told, I miss Jim Harbaugh and the venom he brought to a matchup that became football's best rivalry in recent years: 49ers vs. Seahawks, a blood feud fueled by sheer disdain. I yearn for some Harbaugh-vs.-Pete Carroll offseason shenanigans, setting up two (or three) incredible gridiron clashes. But this offseason, the 49ers foolishly said goodbye to one of the best coaches (and most unique personalities) in football. And that was just the beginning of an astounding offseason of attrition in San Francisco. Consequently, the juice is gone from Niners-'Hawks. With Harbaugh now off in Ann Arbor, the rivalry's rancor recedes.
So I find myself spanning the NFL globe, seeking bad blood to appease the dark part of my heart. Fortunately, it appears strife does exist elsewhere.
Heading into the 2015 season, here are nine feuds I will look to love, based upon the hate:
1) DeSean Jackson vs. NFC East
I think there's a very realistic chance all four teams in the NFC East fall in the range of 7-to-10 wins. Divisional bouts are going to be intense and fun. And when it comes to players who can breed contempt among rival teams, DeSean Jackson's a man worth watching.
Last season, DJax did indeed kill Philly, the team that released him in the 2014 offseason and, according to Jackson, "tried to blow me up." In his first two games against the organization that drafted him, Jackson piled up 243 yards on just nine catches. He had his way with the Cowboys, too, on Monday Night Football last October, helping fuel a Redskins win at Jerryworld with six catches for 136 yards. And while Jackson didn't do much in either game against the Giants last season, something tells me that fan base hasn't quite forgotten about this play.
Speaking of NFC East beef ...
2) DeMarco Murray vs. Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo had the most efficient year of his career -- see: his NFL-leading 113.2 passer rating -- thanks in large part to the offensive balance provided by a prolific ground game. Dallas got over the 8-8 hump, won the NFC East, won a playoff game ... and then haphazardly let Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray leave via free agency.
Oh, and Murray didn't just go anywhere -- he went to the rival Eagles. You can make the case that Murray is suddenly the single most important player in the division, a case that will be strengthened if the running back wins back-to-back NFC East titles on two different teams.
I think Murray is going to dazzle this year in Chip Kelly's offense, and the Cowboys, even with the best offensive line in football, will miss him greatly.
3) LeSean McCoy vs. Chip Kelly
As I've written previously, McCoy's vague charge against his former coach of racism was irresponsible and just plain wrong. By trading McCoy, Kelly upgraded his defense with the addition of Kiko Alonso and saved money (... which allowed him to acquire valuable free agents, like cornerback Byron Maxwell and the aforementioned Murray). Not to mention, McCoy's shifty running style wasn't the best fit in Kelly's north-south scheme.
Still, it's pretty clear McCoy does not like Kelly, is angry the coach shipped him to Buffalo and can't wait to play against him in Week 14.
4) Rex Ryan vs. New York Jets
Rex can't help himself. Never could.
Fired by the Jets and hired to coach the Bills this offseason, the fiery coach didn't take long to start a war with his old tight end (Jace Amaro) and share his true feelings on the end of his run with Gang Green (in a fascinating Sports Illustrated cover story by Jenny Vrentas).
In Buffalo, Rex's swagger is back, once again captivating the football-watching world. Just like it did early on in New York ... before everything flamed out in dumpster-fire fashion.
5) Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots
This has been a nice rivalry, based upon animosity -- and, actually, mutual respect -- for quite some time. The matchup originally gave us the Peyton Manning-vs.-Tom Brady series. So many epic battles over the years -- in the regular season and the playoffs -- so many living legends and future Hall of Famers facing off. In the new millennium, Colts-Pats has always had a little extra spice and sizzle. And when Peyton's Colts tenure came to an end, Indy brought another transcendent competitor into the fight: Andrew Luck.
Now, in the wake of last season's AFC Championship Game blowout -- and the ensuing Deflategate drama -- this rivalry's already-piping-hot flames just got doused with gasoline.
Safe to say the Week 6 showdown in Indy won't lack hype. Depending on the outcome of his suspension appeal, this could be Tom Brady's first game of the season. Brady and the Pats will be looking to take out months of anger on the Colts, driven to prove last January's result had absolutely nothing to do with football air pressure. And Luck -- who's 0-4 against Bill Belichick's Patriots, having lost each game by 21-plus points -- will aim to prove he can indeed beat the AFC's best.
6) Bruce Arians vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
No matter how you spin it, Mike Tomlin and the Steelers let Arians go. And now, Arians is a two-time Coach of the Year and arguably a better head coach than Tomlin. In fact, personally, I'd take Arians over Tomlin.
7) J.J. Watt vs. Zach Mettenberger
Can a rivalry be partially built by a backup?
Sure, why not?
Given that the Titans franchise moved from Houston to Nashville, there's always been some added intrigue -- and aversion -- in duels between the Titans and Texans. But Watt and Mettenberger's odd back-and-forth on the dos and don'ts of social media and letterman jackets infuses this rivalry with some true millennial-style heat.
Don't think Dick Butkus was ever concerned with selfie etiquette. It's a new world. Embrace it.
I do feel bad for eventual starting quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is going to feel the wrath of Watt's frustration.
8) Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
9) Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
I think Hines Ward put it best to USA TODAY Sports: "It's just pure hatred -- just like two old-fashioned bullies meeting in an alley."
Sign me up!