Ranking the 12 Best Rivalries in the NFL Today
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Do rivalries actually exist in this day and age in the National Football League in which longtime opponents can become teammates in the blink of an eye?
You bet they do.
Face it—the game of football is a little more fun when you realize that teams and/or a few players really don’t like each other. The game is made even more interesting when the head coaches are not too fond of one another.
So here’s a look at a dozen rivalries, between both teams and individuals, that pique our interest, with an unusual twist or two along the way. As usual, we’re not afraid to bring up an unorthodox view. But lest you worry, there’s plenty of respect paid to tradition here.
From the historic to the current, we’ll touch on storied series and recent events in this piece. In any case, it’s a fun look at one of the aspects of the game that we enjoy so much.
12. New York Jets vs. New York Jets
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Let's be honest: In recent years, the New York Jets have been their own worst enemy.
After back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game in 2009 and 2010, head coach Rex Ryan has watched his club dip to average (8-8 in 2011) and below average (6-10 in 2012).
Problems range from Ryan’s Super Bowl bravado to quarterback Mark Sanchez’s consistency with turnovers (26 each of the last two seasons) to the failed experiment that brought quarterback Tim Tebow to New York a year ago (he’s no longer with the team).
If you want to take it one step further or backward, the move that brought quarterback Brett Favre to the Jets lasted just one season (2008) and, despite some promising moments, ended as well as expected.
Add in the mass exodus from the team this season (cornerback Darrelle Revis, tight end Dustin Keller and running back Shonn Greene, to name a few), and it looks like start-over time with the team.
But with changes comes potential promise. The youth movement with Ryan’s team includes 2013 draft choices like cornerback Dee Milliner, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and quarterback Geno Smith.
While the team hopes to make a little noise in the AFC East this season, let’s see if the Jets can quietly get back on the winning track.
11. Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson vs. St. Louis Rams CB Cortland Finnegan
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Why drum up the past?
In this instance, it’s somewhat notable.
Three seasons ago, you will recall that on-field confrontation between Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and then-Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
The fact is that both players are pretty good at what they do. Emotions got the best of them that November afternoon in 2010. But Finnegan is now a member of the St. Louis Rams—hence no more two meetings a year with Johnson.
However, the players will renew acquaintances this season in Week 6 at Reliant Stadium. After a year apart, it will be interesting to see if sparks will indeed fly.
10. NFL Defensive Coordinators vs. Read-Option Offense
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There’s no truth to the rumor that all 32 defensive coordinators in the National Football League spent the 2013 offseason together.
Because it’ll be interesting to see what defenses around the league come up with to solve last season’s latest offensive wrinkle.
The read-option offense confounded many opponents who tried and failed to figure it out. There may have been no more glaring example than the Green Bay Packers, who watched San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick run for 181 yards and two touchdowns in the divisional playoffs in January.
Be it Kaepernick and the Niners or the Washington Redskins or any other team this season, it will be intriguing to see what both sides of the ball come up with in this latest game of chess.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Darrelle Revis vs. Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman
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There are not a lot of words necessary here. That’s because former New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman have done all the work.
Thanks to Bleacher Report’s Michael Moraitis, we have a comprehensive record of the Twitter exchange between the two star defenders that took place three months ago.
As far as whether Revis, now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or Sherman is the best in the league at what they do, we’ve got that covered.
The Bucs make a stop in Seattle in Week 9.
8. Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. Minnesota Vikings DE Jared Allen
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For years, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre had Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp. The players met at least twice a year in the old NFC Central, and both had their good and bad moments in their own little rivalry.
These days, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. Like Favre and Sapp, each has gotten the best of the other on more than one occasion.
The numbers are amazing. Including last year’s wild-card meeting, Rodgers has started against Allen and the Vikings 11 times and won seven of those contests. The Green Bay quarterback has thrown an amazing 25 touchdown passes compared to just four interceptions in those meetings.
But Rodgers has been sacked a whopping 38 times in those 11 games, 16.5 of those sacks courtesy of Allen. Two of those sacks resulted in safeties.
It makes for a great matchup between two of the NFL’s shining stars.
7. New York Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Cowboys Stadium
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Talk about a signature moment.
As has been well documented, here by Mike Garafolo of The Star-Ledger, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning left his autograph at Cowboys Stadium when his team played the first game at the Pokes' new facility and won in 2009.
Apparently, he must have written a clause somewhere that stated that he would win every game in the Cowboys' current building.
It’s been so far so good for Manning and the Giants, who have posted four victories in as many tries in the house that Jerry Jones built.
In those games, Manning’s numbers haven’t been off the charts. He’s thrown for a combined 1,228 yards and eight touchdowns with five interceptions. But Manning has also been sacked only twice in those four games. Talk about a comfort zone.
Let’s see if new Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin can make the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback a little uneasy when the Giants visit Dallas on the opening Sunday of 2013.
6. Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints
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Very quietly, the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints have staged one of the league’s better rivalries for more than 40 years.
The Falcons entered the NFL in 1966 and the Saints in 1967. Since both were expansion clubs, they struggled for many years. But at least they had each other.
Atlanta didn’t reach the playoffs until 1978. New Orleans didn’t have its first winning season until 1987, which also resulted in the team’s first postseason appearance. And in 1991, the Falcons defeated the Saints in the Wild Card Round.
But fast-forward to today, when the teams have alternated winning NFC South titles each of the last four years. The Saints captured the division in 2009 and ’11, the Falcons in 2010 and ’12. And in all but 2011, the top seed in the NFC has gone to either New Orleans or Atlanta.
Last season, the Saints handed the Falcons their first loss of 2012 after an 8-0 start. Three weeks later, the Falcons halted quarterback Drew Brees’ NFL-record streak of 54 straight games with a touchdown pass by picking him off five times in a 23-13 win.
And when you consider no team has won the NFC South in consecutive years, is it once again the Saints’ turn to grab a division title? Of course, the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers may chime in on the matter as well.
5. Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins
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At times, the rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins has been a one-sided affair.
But in terms of sheer intensity, there are few series that evoke stronger emotions.
Last season, the Redskins got a rare sweep at the expense of their NFC East rivals. How rare? Dating back to 1961, when the teams first started meeting twice a year, Washington took a pair from the Pokes for only the fifth time, the first since 2005.
In contrast, the Cowboys have swept the Redskins 16 times. But even more significantly, the clubs have split their annual two-game set on 28 occasions.
As for more modern times, eight of the last 10 meetings between Dallas and Washington have been decided by seven points or less. And be it Tom Landry vs. George Allen, Jimmy Johnson vs. Joe Gibbs or today’s Jason Garrett vs. Mike Shanahan, the intensity of the rivalry never changes.
4. San Francisco 49ers HC Jim Harbaugh vs. Seattle Seahawks HC Pete Carroll
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It started in Stanford and Los Angeles and has been extended to San Francisco and Seattle.
And for Pete’s sake, it’s starting to become a little more interesting when it comes to the 49ers and Seahawks.
In three college meetings between Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, the former as the Cardinal head coach and the latter as the leader of the Southern Cal Trojans, Harbaugh got the best of Carroll twice.
In four meetings between Harbaugh’s 49ers and Carroll’s Seahawks the last two years, the Niners have won three of those games. But there’s a lot to be said for lasting impressions, and Seattle laid a 42-13 whupping on San Francisco in Week 16 at Seattle last season.
When the smoke cleared, the 11-4-1 49ers edged the 11-5 Seahawks for the NFC West title in 2012. This offseason, both teams added quality wide receivers to their rosters via trade, San Francisco in Anquan Boldin and Seattle in Percy Harvin. Both teams selected 11 players in April’s draft.
And the teams will stage the first of their two meetings in 2013 in Week 2 at Seattle.
This is gonna be good.
3. Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
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In terms of sheer tenure and intensity, this is arguably the most storied of all of the rivalries in the National Football League.
But in recent years, it’s been a bit lopsided in favor of the Green Bay Packers, who have now taken six straight meetings (including playoffs) from the Chicago Bears.
The franchises first met in 1921, and starting in 1925 the teams have met either twice or three times a year ever since (with the exception of 1982, when the players’ strike wiped out both meetings).
Back to the present and the aforementioned six straight wins by the Pack—that includes a 21-14 victory at Soldier Field in the 2010 NFC Championship Game. While this is a team game, the series has become an exercise in frustration for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
The strong-armed quarterback arrived in the Windy City in 2009, the same year Green Bay hired defensive coordinator Dom Capers. The results have been lopsided, to say the least.
In his eight meetings (including playoffs) with Capers and the Packers defense, Cutler has thrown eight touchdown passes and a whopping 17 interceptions while being picked off at least twice in five of those contests. Not surprisingly, the Bears are 1-7 in those contests.
There's no better example of Cutler’s frustration than last season in Week 2 on a Thursday night at Lambeau Field. In that game, the Pack sacked the Bears quarterback seven times and forced four interceptions.
So with the Packers’ recent domination of the series, is this still one of the best rivalries in the league? Find a seat at Lambeau Field and/or Soldier Field and you’ll get your answer.
2. Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning vs. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady
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Call it a healthy respect. And it involves two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever step on an NFL field.
Speaking of which, the Broncos and Patriots will square off in Week 12 at Foxborough. Brady will look to extend his winning record in this personal rivalry of sorts.
Including three playoff meetings (two won by the Pats), the New England signal-caller owns a 9-4 mark in his head-to-head matchups with Manning, throwing for 3,059 yards and nearly twice as many touchdown passes (23) as interceptions in those contests.
While Manning has totaled much more real estate through the air (3,821) and thrown for four more scores (27) in these encounters, he’s also served up 19 interceptions and been sacked an un-Manning-like 26 times.
Meeting No. 14 in November between No. 12 and No. 18 should be fun…as usual.
1. Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
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There have always been strong feelings between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Let’s not forget that the Ravens were originally the Cleveland Browns. And emotions have always run high when it comes to that rivalry.
It’s just that the stakes between the Ravens and Steelers have been raised in recent seasons.
Dating back to 2008 and head coach John Harbaugh’s arrival in Baltimore (one year after Pittsburgh hired head coach Mike Tomlin), the teams have faced each other a total of 12 times. The Steelers have prevailed in seven of those meetings, including playoff encounters in 2008 and 2010.
But it’s the Ravens that have been the better team the last two years, winning three of the last four encounters, including a memorable come-from-behind win on a Sunday night in Pittsburgh in 2011.
Baltimore has been to the playoffs each of the last five years and has been joined by the Steelers in three of those seasons. Speaking of three, that’s the number of times Pittsburgh (twice) and Baltimore (once) have been to the Super Bowl the last five years.
And eight of the 12 meetings between the clubs since 2008 have been decided by exactly three points.