I love a good rivalry.
I’d head over to the YMCA to watch people less athletic than me (is that even possible?) if I suspected a long-standing rivalry between team “shirts” and team “skins.” I love Game 7, Spurs and Suns, when each team is missing starters, Steve Nash has bandages on his face, and Robert Horry is bump-checking people.
That’s a rivalry game I don’t want to miss.
And the NFL has more than its fair share of great rivalries. Let’s not revert back to standard rivalries, but instead consider the last few seasons; a rivalry that was great when my grandfather was watching sports is nice, but I can never truly experience it. I did, however, experience the excitement of the Bears-Packers rivalry, renewed for our viewing pleasure. So, yes, that one makes the list.
Which other rivalries are still relevant? Here is my list, in order of awesomeness.
A divisional rivalry. A rivalry between two cities, about a 3 ½ minute commute between the two that spans some 51 years. But never mind that, what makes this rivalry so fun to watch is the colorful characters involved: Tom Brady versus Mark Sanchez, Bill Belichick versus Rex Ryan, the Patriots amazing offense versus the Jets stellar defense, and so on.
And last season only intensified the rivalry, especially in the playoffs, as the Jets beat the Patriots in magnificent fashion by shutting out Tom Brady and the Patriot passing game. As good as the Jets defense is, I’m still shaking my head at how well the Jets covered the Patriot receivers; the Patriots seemed to be a lock for the Super Bowl heading into that game.
Love him or hate him, Rex Ryan is good for the NFL, great at stirring up controversy, and even better at dramatizing a showdown with his rivals.
Here is another historically great rivalry. I think many can agree that it doesn't get any better than the Packers and Bears meeting up in the playoffs, which is exactly what we football fans were blessed with last season.
The fact that both teams have “franchise quarterbacks,” both rely on great defense, and both teams are expected to make the playoffs each year keeps this rivalry new and exciting.
Last year’s NFC Championship game lived up to the hype with controversy about Jay Cutler “quitting,” B.J. Raji scoring on a pick-six, and third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie putting on an impressive and gritty performance, albeit in a losing cause.
Am I excited about watching these teams battling it out again next season? Absolutely.
3. Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots
Sure, this rivalry has lost some steam lately, but it's hard to imagine a time in the future when I wouldn’t want to watch Peyton versus Brady. These guys could sit down to a game of chess, and I’d probably...uh, no maybe that goes too far.
Still, this is a beauty of a match up.
"The coaches hate each other, the players hate each other... There's no calling each other after the game and inviting each other out to dinner. But the feeling's mutual: They don't like us, and we don't like them. There's no need to hide it, they know it, and we know it. It's going to be one of those black and blue games." — Steelers' WR Hines Ward
I hate to rely on a very tired sports cliche, but seriously, it’s a really apt comparison to say that these two teams battle like a pair of heavy-weight champs. You definitely have the blood, the bone-crushing hits, and the fantastic drama.
The thing I like most about these teams matching up is that you know the score is going to be close going into the 4th quarter. It always is. The Steelers and Ravens routinely rank among the best in defense.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles
Is there a better inter-state rivalry out there? When these two teams play I never go into the game choosing a favorite. Instead, I just enjoy the matchup between two similarly constructed teams: Both teams love to hit, and hit hard, and both teams love to run the ball down an opponent’s throat.
I know many analysts will note that there is a lot of bad blood between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers, but some of that fire and hatred left with Jay Cutler. The Broncos and the Raiders? Yeah, these two teams absolutely despise one another.
Last season the Broncos were dismantled in one of the worst losses in Denver history—a 59-14 blow-out at the hands of the Raiders. As a Broncos fan, it was nearly impossible to watch. Its not the rivalry it once was, not with Denver’s disastrous Josh McDaniels experiment, but it's not hard to imagine this rivalry picking up again.