from Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

The most random and unexpected rivalry in the NFL is now officially, categorically and … delightfully, a thing.

Take a bow, New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers, and accept the kudos for coming up with one of the strangest developments of the preseason.

Two days of scrimmage during joint practices this week was enough to take two teams with extremely limited history together and turn them into mortal enemies.

The Patriots were outraged when Panthers safety Kenny Robinson delivered a loud hit to New England tight end Kristian Wilkerson, then stood over him as he lay sprawled on the field.

The Panthers were enraged when their star Christian McCaffrey was on the wrong end of a big hit by Deatrich Wise Jr., then threw a ball at Wise, sparking the latest in a series of punches and scuffles.

Head coaches Bill Belichick and Matt Rhule were furious at the unprofessional nature of it all and expressed frustration at the lost preparation time due to the shortened sessions.

“I know a lot [the talk] it will be about what happened,” Rhule told reporters. “We don’t want to practice like that, do we?”

Everyone else has treated it with no small amount of glee, partly because of the absurdity and surprise factor and partly because it might be the best sign yet that football is – finally – just around the corner.

There is no fake anger – if you are deeply offended by any aggression on the training pitch, then football is probably not for you. Either way, it sparks some intrigue as to what other rivalries could spring up out of nowhere and end up with helmet-and-pad Tyson Fury impersonations.

What is expected next? Will the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears start to see who has the most desperate fan base in the league?

The NFL has some great rivalries, but this is one we really didn’t see coming because there was never a reason for the feud to erupt. Over the past 27 years, the respective positioning of the Patriots in the AFC East and the Panthers in the NFC South has meant that the teams have met just seven times in the regular season.

There was, of course, a highly competitive Super Bowl matchup between the two 18 years ago, capped by Adam Vinatieri’s game-winner, but even that didn’t go down particularly well.

The worst part of this week’s incidents was that the McCaffrey-Wise brawl spilled into a viewing area, with Wise tripping over a female fan and leaving her with a swollen leg. It could also be a punishment for Robinson, who is said to be in danger of breaking for his involvement.

Shared practices lead to divided opinions across the league. What happened between the Patriots and Panthers is actually a pretty good summary of the pros and cons of such structures.

“I’m not surprised,” Patriots veteran Matthew Slater said when asked about the fights. “You’ve seen these common practices throughout the league for years. I don’t know what we are waiting for.

“We were trying to go out there and compete, but since I’ve been in the league, you see collegial practices and there are fights. Our union and the league think it’s a good idea to continue, so we’re going to continue to you do them, but I’m not surprised when things like this happen.”

The reason coaches generally favor joint sessions, and why 22 teams will participate in them this preseason, is because of the added intensity and competition that inevitably occurs when you introduce an opposing group of players — and egos — in the mix.

On Friday, the two teams will get to square off for real in a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Don’t be shocked if, with everything that’s happened, it turns out to be a bit more spicier than most mid-August football affairs.

This is the way of things. We’re not in the business of promoting fights, but pro football is a tough sport populated by intense competitors. Handshakes, hugs, and pleasant encounters may be unrealistic expectations.

If more rivalries arise as a result of common practices, no one will complain. The more random they are, let’s be honest, the more interesting it gets.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Yyou can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.

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