Ranking the Top 15 Team Rivalries in the National Football League
Rivalries form a large part of the fabric of the NFL.
They help keep the interest for teams who may not make the playoffs. If you're not going to get to the knockout rounds, you can still look forward to punching your most hated rival in the mouth and destroying their chances, too, right?
This mutually assured destruction attitude carries itself across both conferences and through all divisions, and the nature of divisional rankings, in particular, makes inter-division rivalries ridiculously competitive, and often brutal.
Which team rivalries are particularly pertinent in 2011? Which vendettas should you keep track of? Who will you back?
Feel free to vent forth your ideas in the comments: Which vendettas, blood-feuds or rivalries get your blood boiling and give you a reason to tune in once, twice or three times a season?
#15: St Louis Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers
Regular season record: 61-61-2 tie
Postseason record: 1-0 to the 49ers
This is one of the older rivalries, going back as far as the 1950s. At that point the Rams were, of course, based in California, the impetus of shared geography fueled the rivalry.
The geographic proximity might have stoked what was one of the hottest competitions going, but it continued even when the Rams left the state to go to St Louis.
This was clearly helped along by their remaining in the NFC West, but also by the competition between the fanbases (at least on behalf of the 49ers, who still loathed the Rams).
The tit-for-tat victories seemed to ignore the teams' relative success in the NFL, as the Rams were strongest in the 1970s, the 49ers owned the late '80s and 1990s, and the Rams came back to national prominence in the early 2000s. It is evident that this rivalry is as strong as ever.
#14: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns (The Turnpike Rivalry)
Regular season record: 60-56-0 to the Steelers
Postseason record: 2-0 to the Steelers
This is the most prolific rivalry around, with 118 contests between the teams, dating back as far as 1950.
Again fueled by geography, the occasional nickname 'the Turnpike rivalry' recognizes the Pennsylvania and Ohio turnpikes that separate the cities, which are only 135 miles apart.
While there was a hiatus in the rivalry during the Browns relocation episode of the 1990s, the reappearance of the Browns (and also the creation of the Ravens) didn't dampen the competitive nature between the teams one iota.
However, the football of late hasn't been so competitive, and the Steelers have, of recent times, been dominant (albeit with a little luck and some very close scrapes), and that bumps them down the list a little in comparison to some red-hot recent rivalries.
#13: Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys
Regular season record: 60-38-2 to the Cowboys
Postseason record: 2-0 to the Redskins
Two of the most wealthy NFL franchises, who also happen to be divisional rivals, they have a combined eight Super Bowl victories between them.
The rivalry itself dates back to 1960, when the Cowboys joined the league as an expansion team.
Dallas's status as an expansion team causes the very first rift between the two franchises, as Dallas used its expansion status to select Redskins Pro Bowl quarterback, Eddie LaBaron, after the Redskins had inexplicably failed to list him as a protected player.
The Redskins had their comeuppance. For although, they were in separate conferences, the teams did happen to meet once that year, resulting in a 26-14 win to the 'Skins.
The next season they were put together in the same conference, and have been at it hammer and tongs at least twice a year since.
Lately there has been a slight ebb, as the Redskins have been also-rans in a strong division, and the Cowboys have found interesting ways to be patchy.
#12: Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Battle of Ohio)
Regular season record: 39-36-0 to the Browns
Postseason record: 0-0 tie
This one has a lot of history, even though it's not the oldest on the list (first game in 1970).
Naturally, there's the fact both teams are in-state, and at stake is dominance in Ohio. You know, the state with the Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
The teams, while both within Ohio, have entirely different fanbases. Cleveland fits somewhat with the Northeast, while Cincinnati looks more to the South for influence, so there's a culture clash. More fuel to the proverbial fire.
There's also the history. Paul Brown founded both franchises, and being slightly bitter about the history behind creation of the Bengals, he uplifted the very same shade of orange he'd assigned the Browns just to irk his old team.
Of late it's been mostly one-way traffic, with the Bengals having won a significant number of the last dozen match-ups. However, that's not to say the games have been poor. Let us not forget the 51-45 firecracker in September 2007.
#11: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots
Regular season record: 14-8-0 to the Steelers
Postseason record: 3-1 to the Patriots
This one isn't so much about the longstanding regular season history as the recent postseason battles.
And man, those have been rough.
In 2004 the Steelers were the team to end the Patriots record 21-win streak. But the Patriots didn't have to wait too long for revenge, downing Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game.
Ever since they've been a top competitor, yet Tom Brady seems to have the Steelers' number, only losing one game to the Pittsburgh team. That continued up to last year, where Brady shredded the Steelers LeBeau-penned defense.
Yet the Steelers had the last laugh, going deep into playoffs, including a win in the AFCG and a Super Bowl win.
#10: Oakland Raiders vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Regular season record: 54-47-2 to the Chiefs
Postseason record: 2-1 to the Chiefs
This has been traditionally one of the more bitter rivalries around, dating back to the AFL, and then the AFC establishment in 1960.
The Raiders and Chiefs were both strong in the late '60s and early '70s, with the Chiefs getting to the Super Bowl in 1966 and 1969, and the Raiders having appearances in 1967 and 1976.
It's not just historical. Lately the teams have been neck and neck, with 11 of the games since 2003 having been determined by less than a touchdown.
Much has been said from the Raiders camp in regards to the rivalry. Kirk Morrison described it by saying, "The Raiders hate red."
But Harvey Williams got straight to the point. In his first year with Oakland, after four with the Chiefs, he simply stated, "Blood".
#9: Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings
Regular season record: 52-45-2 to the Bears
Postseason record: 1-0 to the Vikings
After cogitating over this, I'm very, very tempted to bump this one up the list.
Consider what this rivalry has given lately:
There's the October 14 2007 comeback-that-wasn't, where Devin Hester scored the first points in the game off an 89 yard punt return, Adrian Peterson ran for 224 yards and three touchdowns, the Vikings somehow squandered a 31-17 advantage to allow the Bears to tie with 1 minute 17 seconds to go, only to have the Vikings nail a 55 yard field goal to win it. Wow.
Then there was the barnstorming 48-41 Bears win in October 2008, two Chicago touchdowns coming off messed up Vikings punts.
The November 2008 game was punctuated with a 99 yard touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian, while the Vikings eventually won 34-14.
The December 2009 game went to overtime after Favre hit Sidney Rice for a touchdown on 4th-and-goal, and then hit Adrian Peterson on a pass he promptly fumbled. The Bears threw a bomb to Devin Aromashodu to win it.
Then there was the December 20, 2010 game, also known as the last time Brett Favre suited up in the NFL.
This rivalry is fierce and not fading away anytime soon.
#8: Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Regular season record: 56-44-0 to the Cowboys
Postseason record: 3-1 to the Cowboys
I've had to bump this one up solely out of anticipation for this year.
Perhaps they're both overhyped in 2011, but both the Cowboys and Eagles have a ridiculous array of talent in the skill positions and big question marks in the trenches. Just seeing how that works out makes me salivate.
It's not just the twice-yearly divisional match-ups to look forward to.
It's only been three years since these teams met in playoffs, specifically the 2008 NFC wildcard game where the Eagles absolutely annihilated the Cowboys, 44-6.
They have to be solid contenders for playoff spots, and may well end up contesting a divisional round or championship round game come 2012.
#7: New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts (War of 1812)
Regular season record: 45-29-0 to the Patriots
Postseason record: 2-1 to the Patriots
Another recent development, despite their having shared a division once upon a time.
In particular, this is about the quarterbacks: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. You might have heard of them?
Unsurprisingly, the NFL viewing audience responds well to this near-annual contest, and the Patriots-Colts games regularly top the most-watched NFL game list each year.
The ties go further. Brady's first start was against the Colts, and he went on to win his first 6 games against the franchise, including the 2003 AFC Championship Game and the 2004 AFC Divisional Game.
Manning reversed it, notching up two regular season wins and the 2006 AFC Championship Game en route to his first Super Bowl.
The next meeting of the pair is scheduled for December 4 2011, and ideally Peyton Manning will be in full flight to continue the rivalry.
#6: Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
Regular season record: 51-47-1 to the Packers
Postseason record: 1-0 to the Vikings
This is both one of the oldest (since 1961) and, traditionally, closest ongoing contests.
Beyond the football, you have the drama, from Randy Moss mooning the Packers crowds, to Brett Favre's defection to the enemy, seemingly for the sole purpose of sticking it to the Packers for having the temerity to move on with Aaron Rodgers.
On the field antics, as of late, include the 2008 game featuring Mason Crosby's last-second missed field goal to cap off a game with two safeties on Rodgers, Adrian Peterson running for 192 yards, and a 55-yard pick-six by Nick Collins.
In 2009 there were the bitter duels between Favre and Rodgers, and in 2010 the Packers victory over the Vikings prompted Brad Childress's firing as coach.
Every year they add to the legend, so it's always worthy catching these games.
#5: Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints
Regular season record: 44-39-0 to the Falcons
Postseason record: 1-0 to the Falcons
This is the one Len Pasquarelli counts as one of the best in sports, noting the "debauchery-filled afternoon" and overall fun had by the inebriated before, during and after the 7-hour bus ride for fans.
The Saints-Falcons games drew a lot of attention in the aftermath of Katrina, including the highest-rated program in the history of ESPN and the second-highest cable program of all time.
They've carried through that popularity, through the 2008 tit-for-tat battle, eventually won by the Saints 29-25, that featured a half-dozen lead changes.
The 2009 game on November 2 was featured on Monday Night Football, and the teams elevated to have a 35-27 screamer. This game was notable for a 21-point quarter by the Saints off the arm of Drew Brees and a 48-yard Jabari Greer pick-6, Matt Ryan finding Roddy White for a 68-yard touchdown, and a game-sealing interception by Darren Sharper.
The teams met again in 2010 on Monday Night Football, a highly competitive affair that ended 17-14, with Brees leading his team downfield for a fourth-quarter touchdown to seal it.
The rivalry between these two southern teams will continue to fill buses with eager (maybe even inebriated) fans.
#4: New York Jets vs. New England Patriots
Regular season record: 52-51-1 to the Jets
Postseason record: 2-1 to the Patriots
I'm pretty sure this one needs no introduction.
And it goes deeper.
New Patriots Shawn Ellis was a wrecking ball for the Jets in their wins in week three and the playoffs last year; Ellis was initially selected with the first-round draft pick the Patriots surrendered to the Jets in exchange for Bill Belichick. Cosmic.
As for 2011, both these teams are looking at an inside shot for a deep playoff run, with the Jets coming of a season with an AFC Champion Game appearance, and the Patriots coming off a 14-2 regular season record.
The Jets led 2-1 in the series in 2010, but the Patriots absolutely annihilated the Jets in their sole win, a 45-3 rout. Expect tough battles in 2011, too.
#3: Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears
Regular season record: 92-84-6 to the Bears
Postseason record: 1-1 tie
This one began in 1921 (yes, 1921), and unsurprisingly has 182 total contests between the teams.
And what contests they have been.
Of late, the teams have been neck and neck, splitting the games in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, while the Packers took 2009 and the Bears taking 2007 and 2005.
In 2010, the last regular season game between the two teams was a must-win for the Packers, needing the victory to get the wild card playoff spot. The Packers ground out a 10-3 victory in front of a 71,000 Wisconsin crowd to seal a playoff berth.
The Packers promptly turned that playoff spot into an NFC Championship Game appearance, against none other than the Chicago Bears.
The Packers again prevailed in the must-win situation, knocking out the Bears in a 21-14 victory to seal a Super Bowl gig, and damage Jay Cutler's reputation (although not so much as cavorting with Kristin Cavallari later that night).
#2: New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Regular season record: 80-72-2 to the Giants
Postseason record: 2-2 tie
One of the oldest rivalries, dating back to 1933, and due for a renovation in light of the Eagles 'Dream Team' of 2011.
Despite the high profile signings of the Eagles, the Giants are no slouches, having won a Super Bowl in 2007 and remaining particularly competitive against the Eagles.
The last Giants-Eagles game was that game.
You know the one.
December 19, 2010, and the Giants led 31-10 with 7 minutes, 28 seconds to go.
Three scores in 7 minutes to tie the game, somehow. And then a ridiculous DeSean Jackson 65 yard punt return for a touchdown with zero time on the clock to win the game, against all reason or logic.
Same again this year? Yes, please.
#1: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
Regular season record: 18-12-0 to the Steelers
Postseason record: 3-0 to the Steelers
This one has to be the most physical, brutal and often dirty occurrences that doesn't involve a weekend at Paris Hilton's house.
Oh, and it happens at least twice a year.
This one has history, partly stemming from the Ravens genesis out of the Browns, and also of their own accord.
The teams split the regular season in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010, while the Ravens took out 2006 and lost the 2009 AFC Championship Game to the Colts.
Conversely, the Steelers had both regular season wins and an AFC Championship game in 2008 to their credit, and won an AFC Divisional Game over the Ravens in 2010.
In short, they're almost inseparable.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers rivalry with the Ravens was the top; Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh had to agree.
I can't find any way to fault their logic.