Power Ranking the 25 Most Heated NFL Rivalries Heading into 2012

Dan Van WieContributor IIIJuly 16, 2012

Power Ranking the 25 Most Heated NFL Rivalries Heading into 2012

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    When you think about NFL rivalries, you consider the teams that play against each other in the same division, or typically are located in the same geographical region. Sometimes, they play in the same city or are located in the same state.

    Some rivalries are very bitter by nature, while others are more friendly and based out of respect for a fellow competitor. As such, we will be presenting both kinds of rivalries in this presentation.

    Bleacher Report has written a number of articles about NFL rivalries from a historical perspective, but this version is intended to be somewhat different. Yes, we will include some of the legendary team rivalries that are especially intense, but we are also seeking to identify rivalries that are especially unique or should be grabbing headlines in the 2012 season.

    These rivalries could be one player versus another, one coach against another, a team against a coach or any combination of the above. There could be a few Roger Goodell slides as well, as his list of rivals continues to grow.

    Therefore, some of your traditional rivalries like Oakland Raiders versus San Diego Chargers and the Minnesota Vikings versus the Green Bay Packers won't be on here. Just wanted to clear that up first, before all the comments start rolling in, such as where is my team rivalry with...you get the picture, right?

    So, here are the 25 best rivalries for the 2012 season, ranked according to which ones I think will offer up the best scenarios for viewing an intense battle this season.

National Reality vs. Regional Perception

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    The NFL Network recently ran a poll on July 6, 2012, for their viewers as to what was the best rivalry in the NFL. The poll results came out as follows:

     

     

     

    1) Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (38 percent of the vote)

    2) Any NFC East Division matchup (26 percent of the vote)

    3) Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears (25 percent of the vote)

    4) New England Patriots vs. New York Jets (11 percent of the vote)

     

    While football fans on the East Coast perceive that the Jets versus the Patriots is a heated rivalry and a big deal, the national perception paints a much different picture.

    Clearly, the intensity of the Steelers versus the Ravens has captured the fancy from a national perspective. 

25) Greg Jennings (Packers) vs. Stephen Tulloch (Lions)

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    Historically, as far as rivalries go, the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions is one of the tamer scenarios, but it is possible that something more intense could come about in 2012. The Packers and Lions were two of the playoff teams from the 2011 season, making the NFC North a division that bears a closer look.

    ESPN Insider Tim Kavanagh cited in one of the ESPN Rumors updates that Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings was a recent guest on NFL Network and said: 

    The Detroit Lions biggest problem this season would be maintaining their composure --both on-field and off-field-- for another serious run into into the playoffs.

    They're a very talented team, but they have struggles on the field containing their composure, and definitely, the things we've heard of, them being in the media with off-the-field problems and off-the-field issues. Can they maintain their composure? Can they be a professional ball club for 16, 17, 18 solid weeks throughout the regular season?

    Detroit linebacker Stephen Tulloch responded in kind with this tweet:

    Who is Greg Jennings to talk about the Lions? The guy should worry about his own team.

    And so it begins. In the 2012 season, the NFC North rivals will have to wait for some time to pass before they square off this year. The first meeting is Week 11 in Detroit, and then, just a short three weeks later, they will meet again in Week 14 in Green Bay.

    As both teams figure to be in the playoff picture, this should be a very good test to see if the Lions have improved since last year.

24) Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos

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    Of course, this isn't one of those long-standing NFL rivalries dating back for decades. This rivalry really began last year when Tim Tebow led the Denver Broncos to a stunning overtime win at home in the playoffs over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Watching Denver advance and Pittsburgh being eliminated was just something that I didn't envision happening. Now that Tebow has left for the New York Jets, their rematch in the 2012 season takes on a new meaning.

    Instead of Tebow, the Broncos now feature Peyton Manning as their starting quarterback. For the Steelers this game affords them to extract a measure of revenge for their early playoffs departure from last year.

    For Denver, it's a chance to claim a win over a quality opponent and announce to the rest of the NFL that the league better be taking the Broncos and Manning seriously.

    This game, by the way, will be on the list of highlight games for Week 1 of the 2012 season, as the Steelers travel to Denver to seek revenge. This should be an interesting game to watch and to also see which team is committed to running more and which team is running the ball better.

23) Aaron Rodgers vs. Matt Flynn

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    Aaron Rodgers waited patiently for years for Brett Favre to move on and get his chance to become a starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. Well, the same thing could be said for Matt Flynn, and with the tables reversed, Rodgers probably knows that Flynn will want to play with a little something extra on the line when the Packers square off against the Seattle Seahawks in a Week 3 contest. 

    Of course, this rivalry on the surface is a friendly one, but I can assure you that Rodgers would like to beat Flynn to prove to him that he wasn't the better quarterback. Flynn, on the other hand, would probably like nothing better than to lead Seattle to an upset and make Green Bay wonder if they should have done more to keep him around.

    Obviously, this potential rivalry can only happen if Seattle does indeed name Flynn as the starting quarterback. If it's anybody but Flynn, then this entire rivalry just disappears like a puff of smoke.

    In case you weren't aware, this is going to be on Monday Night Football, so the national audience will help to bring about a little greater drama to the game. It's being played in Seattle, so you know that the crowd will be loud and fired up.

22) New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers

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    Leading up to the AFC and NFC championship games prior to Super Bowl XXV played in Tampa Bay, I still recall the New York Giants upset over the San Francisco 49ers in the 1990-1991 season. Backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler led the Giants to a 15-13 win over Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.

    While the rivalry had been dormant for many years, it was revived last year when the two teams met again in San Francisco for the NFC championship, and once again, the Giants emerged with an upset victory on the road.

    These two great franchises get a chance to meet in the 2012 NFL regular season in Week 6, when the Giants are asked to travel again out to the West Coast. You have to figure that this is one of those revenge games for Coach Harbaugh and the rest of his 49ers.

    For the Giants, this is probably just one more on their 16-game schedule, as they will already be aware that every NFL team has circled the Giants game on their schedule, as they're the team to beat in 2012.

21) Jamaal Charles vs. NFL Mascots

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    Over the many years of watching NFL games, I really can't recall any other situations where a star player went on to season-ending injured reserve due to running into a mascot before.

    Obviously, this slide is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but there is a certain element of truth built into this slide.

    Obviously, it's difficult enough to elude 11 defensive players who would like nothing better than to rip your head off like Spartacus.

    But then, you have to worry about running into the scores of people standing on the sidelines—the coaches, the chain gang crew, the officials, the cheerleaders, the assistant coaches, the injured players in their street clothes, the camera and the audio guys from the network and NFL Films, and then finally the mascots.

    With all of those extra people and equipment on the sidelines, it's really a wonder that more people don't get seriously hurt? As it was, Sean Payton got hurt pretty bad when he was taken out on the sidelines, but at least the Saints were able to deal with his loss OK.

    For the Chiefs, they weren't so lucky when they lost Charles for the vast majority of the 2011 season. The team went quickly downhill from there.

20) James Harrison vs. Roger Goodell

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    As per this article by Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com, it is pretty clear that the rivalry/feud that exists between Pittsburgh Steelers James Harrison and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hasn't exactly gone away.  Smith wrote:

    It should come as no surprise that Steelers linebacker James Harrison is pleased that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is suing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

    Harrison, who trashed Goodell in an interview last year only to apologize and say his comments were way out of line, seems to agree with Vilma’s contention that Goodell was way out of line in his public comments about the Saints’ bounty scandal. And Harrison thinks Vilma’s attempt to sue Goodell for defamation is a “win-win,” even if it is unsuccessful.

    If [Vilma] loses, it shows Goodell does have too much power, Harrison told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and if he wins, it opens up the floodgates.

    Harrison has been previously suspended by Goodell for a hit he made on Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. He has also been fined for hits he put on Ryan Fitzpatrick and other players.

    Of course, it's just not the fines and the suspension that get to Harrison. The feelings run very deep, as you can tell from his interview with Men's Journal (h/t ESPN):

    If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it. I hate him and will never respect him.

    That is one way to keep a rivalry alive and well.

19) Pittsburgh Steelers and Twitter vs. New England Patriots

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots have been annual playoff contenders for the past decade, so there's a natural rivalry between the two foes to try to have supremacy over one another.

    But certain Steelers players aren't content to just wait for a postseason matchup to let their feelings about New England be known. We turn to James Harrison, Chris Hoke and Ryan Clark and their Twitter accounts to get a better idea of what they think about New England.

    When New England lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, the Steelers players let the Patriots hear about it, as reported on this article from Steelers Depot. First up is the tweet from Ryan Clark:

    "0-2 post spy gate! Just saying!!"

    But the tweet that appears to be the worst of the three entries in bashing the Patriots came from Chris Hoke, who decided to retire during the 2012 offseason. His parting shot stated:

    "Well, I guess it is true....Brady and Belicheck can't win the big one without the videos of the other teams signals....Just sayin"

    Next, we have this article from Chris Chase at Shutdown Corner, talking about how quickly James Harrison chimed in with this tweet following the Patriots latest Super Bowl loss:

    "Told you, cheaters never win!!!!!!!!!" 

    I'm sure, if you asked Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, he could do without this stuff, as you typically don't want to provide your opponent with any bulletin board material. The two teams aren't scheduled to meet in the 2012 NFL regular season, but if they happen to see each other in the playoffs this year, tuck the above information into your tickler files.

18) Terrell Suggs vs. Tom Brady

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    The Achilles tendon injury to NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs during the 2012 offseason will undoubtedly wipe out the majority of his season. Still, Suggs swears that he will be back for some of the season, provided that the Ravens are willing to put him on the PUP list.

    Suggs isn't necessarily a big fan of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Suggs has been questioning Brady for some time now. Examples of former quotes detailing Suggs feelings for the New England quarterback can be found in this article.

    Suggs was hot because Brady was getting some charity roughing the passer calls, which were very questionable according to Suggs.

    The Ravens are playing the New England Patriots in Week 3 this year, so the only way that Suggs can face Brady is if he gets medical clearance to play and they wind up facing each other in the AFC playoffs, which could easily happen.

17) Darrelle Revis vs. Randy Moss

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    In Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers travel to the East Coast to play the New York Jets. Just like that, an old AFC East rivalry has the chance to be reborn, in that Darrelle Revis will have a chance to go up against Randy Moss again.

    When the two All-Pros were facing off in the AFC East, Revis felt that he won the one-on-one battles with Moss and did a good job of shutting him down. According to this article from ESPN's Rich Cimini, Revis needed to win not just the physical battle but the psychological battle as well. Revis felt he won on both counts because he was able to get inside of Moss' head.

    Revis called Moss "slouch" because he thought he could get Moss to give up during the game.

    Now that Moss has been out of the NFL for a year, we will see how clear his head is and how inspired he will be to face off against Revis, clearly one of the best corners in the NFL.

    We will see if Moss is still a slouch or not.

16) NFL Officials vs. Oakland Raiders

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    What is it about being a NFL official or referee and the Oakland Raiders team that makes the guys wearing the striped shirts want to reach in their back pocket for that yellow handkerchief so often?

    Now that there has been a change in ownership, a new general manager, a new head coach and new coordinators, can the Oakland Raiders find a way to coexist with NFL referees, or will they wind up leading the league in penalties again?

    It will be interesting to see if the Raiders have turned over a new leaf with respect to drawing flags or if they're still the Raiders of old, trying to intimidate the other team and getting flagged for everything under the sun.

    Over the last two seasons, the Raiders have been the most penalized team in the NFL by a wide margin, for both number of penalty flags accepted and for the number of penalty yards that the flags cost them. In 2011, it was a staggering 163 penalties for 1,358 yards. It's very difficult to overcome those setbacks every game, where you keep digging yourself into a hole.

    The Raiders have been anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3 for each of the last five NFL seasons in regards to being the most penalized team in the league. When will it all stop?

15) Carson Palmer vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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    On Sunday November 25, 2012, Week 12 of the NFL season finds Carson Palmer and his Oakland Raiders traveling into Cincinnati to face the Bengals.

    For Palmer, this marks his return to Cincinnati, the team that he turned his back on and said that he would rather retire than play for them again. I have the feeling that the Bengals fans are going to be ready to give Palmer a special welcome home.

    In a way, the Bengals fans should be happy that Palmer forced the issue, because now the team has A.J. Green and Andy Dalton as building blocks for the future. The Bengals have been able to add other pieces due to the trade with the Raiders, so it's not all a lost cause.

    Not many players are able to afford walking out on a team and seemingly want to retire the way that Palmer did. That's what makes this situation so unique and one that will bear watching in late November.

14) Stevie Johnson vs. Darrelle Revis

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    The rivalry between Stevie Johnson and Darrelle Revis hasn't got much national attention yet, but I believe you will be hearing and seeing more about this in the upcoming 2012 season.

    Revis, without question, is one of the best shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL. He's skilled at taking out the best receiver of any opponent and basically eliminating him from the game plan. That's not exactly the case when it comes to Revis against the Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson.

    Johnson is known as being a rather unpredictable wide receiver, because the Bills allow him the freedom to run unconventional pass routes. The basic premise to understand here is that the Bills allow Johnson to do whatever he wants to do to get from Point A to Point B but just make sure you get to Point B.

    The Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick knows Johnson well enough to know what he is trying to do and will anticipate that his throw will be on target to complete the pass.

    It's because of this unorthodox approach that gives Revis difficulty in figuring out how to shut Johnson down. Let's take a look at the last four games and recent results between the two rivals.

    2011 Week 9 in Buffalo: Johnson led the Bills team with three receptions for 84 yards, averaging 28 yards per catch. Johnson came up with a 52-yard catch against Revis, which just isn't supposed to happen.

    Fitzpatrick targeted Johnson six times in the game. It should be noted that Fitzpatrick took a huge lick the prior week from London Fletcher that cracked three of his ribs and injured his sternum.

    2011 Week 12 in New York: Johnson had eight receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown, averaging 9.4 yards per catch. Johnson was targeted 13 times by Fitzpatrick. When was the last time you heard a quarterback throwing 13 times at Revis? The longest completion was for just 16 yards.

    2010 Week 17 in New York: Johnson caught five passes for 72 yards, including one pass that went for 33 yards. The Bills quarterback that day was Brian Brohm, as Fitzpatrick was hurt and couldn't play.

    If you have watched Brian Brohm play quarterback (who's now out of the NFL), it's amazing that Johnson could have caught that many passes. He was targeted by Brohm 12 times.

    2010 Week 4 in Buffalo: Trent Edwards was released by the Bills, and Fitzpatrick was now in as the starter. Fitzpatrick hadn't taken many reps or had much of a chance to work on chemistry with Johnson at this point in time. Nonetheless, Johnson caught three passes for 31 yards and a touchdown, off seven targets for the day.

    That gives you a little more detail to be appreciative as to why this is going to be a strong rivalry going forward. It would help the rivalry if the Bills would defeat the Jets soon, as the Jets have won five straight against the Bills. In their past 11 meetings, New York has won seven times, while Buffalo has won four times. 

    Johnson has signed his contract extension in the offseason, so he isn't going anywhere. Revis wants a better deal and might be holding out. The Bills open up the 2012 season at the New York Jets. Maybe Revis wants to still be holding out from that game? Only kidding Jets fans, only kidding.

13) Rex Ryan vs. Norv Turner

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    One of the newer rivalries that looks like it could amount to something is the war of words that materialized last October between Rex Ryan and Norv Turner.

    In a story run by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, Ryan was talking about the San Diego Chargers decision to hire Turner over him to be the head coach back in 2007. Ryan looked like he was trying to start a fight when he came out with the following comments:

    Well, I think I would have had a couple rings, Ryan told San Diego reporters today when asked about how things would have unfolded if he were hired by GM A.J. Smith. I'm telling you, those teams were loaded. There's no question about it. But things happen for a reason.

    It would have been surprising if Turner had no response, so he did fire back at Ryan with his own little barb:

    I hadn't seen his quote and I was a little bit surprised by the call, Turner said. And then after I saw the quote, I didn't have a chance to ask him this, but I was wondering if he had those rings with the ones he's guaranteed the last couple of years.

    In 2012, the Chargers are traveling to play the Jets in Week 16. San Diego basically told Turner that unless he got results this year, he would be fired. So, you know that with the playoffs being on the line for both teams, this should be an especially interesting contest.

    The game will be held on December 23rd, but I am not convinced that either team will be in a festive mood.

12) Robert Griffin III vs. Andrew Luck

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    On the surface, you might not think that this is not much of a rivalry, but I believe if you examine this deeper, you will reach the conclusion that this will become a rivalry over the years. As we have the friendly rivalry of Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, the potential rivalry of Andrew Luck versus Robert Griffin III is just getting off the ground.

    It began when both quarterbacks were up for the Heisman Trophy last year. It continued when it was all but a given that Andrew Luck would be drafted No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts and RG3 went public with his announcement that he was the best player in the 2012 NFL draft and was going to prove it.

    That's the way that a friendly rivalry should be born—two competitors with a strong will, lots of talent and both players striving to be the best at their position. While Washington doesn't play Indianapolis this season, you can bet that both players will be keeping an eye out to see what the other one is doing.

    If either player winds up winning the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award or is named as the quarterback on the NFL All-Rookie team in 2012, that will be one more ax to grind for the other player.

11) Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones vs. Roger Goodell

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    The Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys were both furious with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when he decided to strip the Redskins and Cowboys of salary-cap space for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, due to their practice of dumping salaries into the uncapped year of 2010.

    Goodell had warned teams that there would be consequences if teams did this, but the Cowboys and Redskins put their headphones on and continued to ignore the warnings.

    Back in March of this year, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk wrote that: 

    The two primary violators were the Cowboys and Redskins, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Per Schefter, the league will punish the teams by removing millions in cap dollars.

    How many millions? Schefter reports that the Cowboys will lose more than $10 million — and that the Redskins will lose $36 million

    Goodell did allow the violating teams to split up the salary cap losses between this season and 2013. But still, even though the damage doesn't hit them all at once, you know that the loss of revenue hurt both teams offseason plans for this year. Not only that, but the salary cap funds stripped away went to the other 30 NFL teams and allows them to be stronger for this year and next.

    Don't think this action will soon be forgotten by either Jones or Snyder when the next vote comes around to renew Commissioner Goodell.

10) Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz

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    Week 2 of the NFL season has one game that I will be paying extra attention to. It's the rematch of the San Francisco 49ers versus Detroit Lions, otherwise known as The Handshake—Part 2. Of note is that this game is going to be on prime time on Sunday Night Football. The ratings should be huge.

    We are talking about the memorable confrontation the last time these teams met in the 2011 season, when Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz felt that he was disrespected by Jim Harbaugh at the conclusion of the game, as the old slap on the back approach didn't work very well for him.

    What brings some added tension to this game is that both teams had a strong 2011 regular season and qualified for the playoffs. The winner of this game will get a little morale boost for the early part of the regular season, while the loser will have to regroup and lick their wounds.

    I have the feeling that Schwartz circled this game on his calendar, and his players want to win this one for him.

    Can you imagine all the cameras rushing to the center of the field for the coaches' meeting, regardless of how this game turns out? They will be tripping all over themselves trying to get a good shot.

9) Tim Tebow vs. Mark Sanchez

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    Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez.

    Two quarterbacks wanting to be the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. Only one person can claim to be the starter.

    But, when the Denver Broncos gave Tebow the chance to pick which team he wanted to be traded to, the Jacksonville Jaguars or the New York Jets, Tebow chose the Jets. He later stated that he thought it would be an easier path to start in New York.

    Once Tebow made that decision, the rivalry (even though it's considered to be a friendly one to the outside world) was born. It will only be heightened by the early-season successes and failures of the Jets.

    Every Jets win led by Sanchez will temporarily satisfy the Jets faithful, and every loss will force the radio talk shows to get flooded with phone calls in support of Tebow starting the following week.

    A rivalry thrives when there are two very competitive sides by nature. That's why this relationship between Tebow and Sanchez has the chance to become a very interesting rivalry for 2012 and beyond as long as both quarterbacks remain together on the Jets.

8) Cortland Finnegan vs. NFL Wide Receivers

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    It isn't much of a secret that St. Louis Rams corner Cortland Finnegan revels at trying to take any wide receiver out of his game. If he thinks he can get underneath the skin of his opponent, he will do whatever he can to create enough distractions to redirect his focus.

    The game in the 2010 season against Andre Johnson and the Houston Texans is a prime example of the impact that Finnegan's actions can create. Johnson wound up resorting to some good old ground-and-pound and got himself ejected from the game.

    In the 2012 season, the Rams don't have the Houston Texans on their schedule, so we won't be seeing any repeats of the two players hooking horns again.

    But when you look at the Rams schedule for the upcoming season, Finnegan gets to play against Randy Moss and Larry Fitzpatrick twice, and then, has a single encounter with the likes of Wes Welker, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Stevie Johnson, Greg Jennings, Vincent Jackson and Santonio Holmes.

    You know that the young secondary members in St. Louis are going to be looking toward Finnegan for his leadership, knowledge and experience. He will undoubtedly be teaching them many tricks, and in the process, will probably be enhancing the chances for some rivalries to be born.

     

7) New Orleans Saints vs. Roger Goodell

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    The NFL Network ran a timeline video this past week that reflects some of the sound bites over the whole "bounty-hunting" situation.

    From head coach Sean Payton to assistant coach Joe Vitt to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to the four suspended NFL players, Goodell refused to reduce any of the original suspensions that he handed out and basically said my word is final. Case closed.

    While the dust is starting to settle and good news has finally landed in New Orleans with the announcement that Drew Brees has finally signed his new contract, the reality is that things will not be rosy with Goodell and the Saints for years to come.

    Any future ruling or judgement that comes out of the NFL headquarters that goes against the Saints will be covered in great detail by the media. From possible fines over questionable hits to suspensions that are handed out for violent collisions, the Saints are going to feel that Goodell has it out for them.

6) Rex Ryan vs. Bill Belichick

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    Rex Ryan is never one to duck the media, so creating stories and making headlines is part of his approach to the role of being a head coach. Bill Belichick is the type of coach who gives a post-game press conference, and you can't determine if his team won or lost the game. His expression seldom changes.

    Since Belichick isn't one to typically give an opposing team any kind of bulletin board material to work with, it sometimes has to trickle down to the Patriots players to stir the pot a little bit. We all recall the deal when Wes Welker was putting his foot in his mouth when he was getting on to Rex Ryan's case about being fond of his wife's feet.

    The head coaches know that the rivalry between their teams is intense, because the Jets have posed a threat to the Patriots recent run of dominating the AFC by appearing in two of the last three AFC championship games. But the Super Bowl continues to elude the Jets, who haven't appeared in the big game since Joe Namath made his famous guarantee.

    The rivalry is one that is fueled mainly by East Coast media, as was evidenced by the fans voting on The NFL Network poll we displayed on the opening slide. For the Jets to gain more national play, they need to deliver on some of Rex's former promises.

    As for Belichick, he stays with what he knows best. He hunkers down, prepares his team and gives the media the same song and dance every week at his press conferences. It can get old, but it's hard to complain about his results.

5) Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady

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    If you prefer, we could rename this slide New England Patriots versus the Indianapolis Colts, but I believe the true rivalry that existed was the one between the two star quarterbacks—Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

    With the Colts rebuilding their franchise and Manning no longer with the team, all the steam that was building up in this rivalry left in a big whoosh when Manning was released by team owner Jim Irsay.

    To see how things have changed (or not) between the two star quarterbacks, check out the game in Week 5 this year (Sunday, October 7), when the Denver Broncos, led by Peyton Manning, travel to New England to play the Patriots. If the rivalry is still on, and I believe it is, then there will be plenty of national media attention focused on this game.

    Of course, it would help greatly if Manning has been able to endure the physical punishment of the early season and come out healthy. If he's hurt or the neck is acting up after taking some big hits, then the rivalry between these two great quarterbacks could be fizzling out fast.

    As for the Colts versus Patriots rivalry, the Patriots were only able to defeat the Colts in 2011 (which was a bad Colts team without Peyton Manning) 31-24. Going back over the last seven meetings between the two teams, the final margins of victory were: seven, three, one, three, four, four and seven points. Now that's exactly what you want to see from a rivalry—good tight games that come down to the wire.

4) Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints

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    The NFC South division has seemingly been under the control of the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints since the 2009 season. The two teams are either battling it out for the right to win the division or to be in the hunt for a postseason berth.

    While Matt Ryan, in my opinion, isn't playing at a Drew Brees' level, the fact is that the Falcons have been gearing up their offense to load up as many weapons on the offense as Brees has at his disposal in New Orleans.

    The biggest factors in the 2012 version of their rivalry will be how do the Saints cope with the bounty-hunting-related suspensions that were handed down to Sean Payton, Joe Vitt, Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith?

    On the surface, the Falcons should be able to overtake the Saints and who could blame New Orleans if that were to happen, as the deck certainly looks to be stacked against them.

    But with the recent new contract signed by Drew Brees, who provides plenty of emotional leadership to the Saints, New Orleans is a team that nobody should count out.

3) Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears

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    The Green Bay Packers versus the Chicago Bears. Even though this is a historical rivalry, it has also been a relevant recent rivalry, thanks to these two teams meeting in the 2010 NFC Championship Game.

    While the Bears offense has been lagging behind the output and production coming out of the Green Bay Packers, Chicago has worked hard this offseason to do what they could to close the gap and add some more weapons.

    From bringing in Brandon Marshall by trade, signing a free-agent running back like Michael Bush, drafting Alshon Jeffery, and now, getting a long-term deal with Matt Forte signed prior to the deadline, the Bears offense has a suitable number of weapons and options that Jay Cutler can turn to in order to keep Chicago competitive.

    Will they be able to match the Packers scoring drive for scoring drive? Hard to say but their defense should be better than Green Bay's, so this promises to be an even more exciting rivalry in 2012.

2) NFC East Rivalries

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    As we sighted on the first slide of the presentation, the rivalries found in the NFC East are among the best in the NFL. You can single out any team from the division and look at the other three opponents and make a case for why that's a great rivalry.

    In 2012, you have the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants looking to return to the playoffs and prove that the 2011 team wasn't a fluke.

    You have the Philadelphia Eagles trying to win for Andy Reid, and Michael Vick committed to becoming a better and smarter quarterback by making better decisions with the ball.

    Then, we have Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys making the claim that the window of opportunity is closing on some of his key veteran players, so the time to step up and make something happen is now. Dallas reworked their secondary and are poised for a solid season.

    Finally, the Washington Redskins offer up their own franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III and demonstrate that they have a dynamic offense that the rest of the division will now have to worry about. The Redskins retooled their passing attack and should have an interesting array of weapons in 2012.

    It should be expected that the NFC East will have another crazy season, with several teams in the running for the playoffs coming down to the final weekend of the regular season.

1) Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    As we cited in the beginning of the presentation, the national view is that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have the most heated and best rivalry in the NFL right now.

    For intense, hard-hitting games between two teams that hate each other, this is the best rivalry coming into the 2012 season.

    You have two quality quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco. You have the dynamic Ray Rice running the ball for Baltimore (who was also able to land a new long-term contract just before the deadline) versus the Steelers passing attack.

    There's no such luck yet on a new deal for Mike Wallace, but at least, they didn't have any deadline today that they had to be concerned about.

    From the number of stars on both sides of defense, this rivalry usually sees lots of big hitting and physical play. The games are intense, close, and with Baltimore sweeping the series in 2011, the rivalry is back to being competitive again, where you don't know who will win each year.

    The 2012 season promises to have plenty of very good rivalries that will unfold throughout the year. Some new ones will still come about as a result of new developments in training camp, but it looks like it will be another exciting year for the NFL.