NFL football fans live for games in which their favorite team plays its chief rival. Some rivalries have lasted since the league was born in 1920. Others began with the modern era which is considered 1960 to the present. What are the best NFL rivalries in each division today? Let’s go one by one in the American and National Conferences:
New York Jets vs. New England Patriots:
These two teams have battled each other since the old American Football League was born in 1960. The Jets were the Titans and the Patriots hailed from Boston. Fifty years later, they are still at it hotter than ever.
From ‘Spygate’ with former Jets head coach and one time Patriots assistant Eric Mangini and Patriots coach Bill Belichick to the current New York coach Rex Ryan and coach Belichick, Jets-Patriots has become a game that football fans circle on the calender.
Mangini turned Belichick in for taping his teams practices in 2007 and their relationship was shot. After Mangini was fired in 2009 Ryan came in and said he had no fear of the Patriots and that the Jets were the best team in the division. Then he went out and beat Belichick 16-9 the first time they met. The two teams have split regular season games the last two years. Belichick and the Patriots humiliated the Jets 31-14 in their second meeting of 2009.
When the teams met in the post season, Ryan said that the game was personal for him and that it was between he and Belichick. The Jets defeated the Patriots 28-21 in Foxboro and if it wasn’t personal for Belichick before, it may be now.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers:
Maybe the best rivalry in football right now. The Ravens and Steelers have been battling each other since Baltimore was in Cleveland and called themselves Browns. They were rivals then and still are, but it has never been this intense.
Every year the division seems to come down to who wins when these two teams play. Eight of the last nine meetings have been decided by seven points or less. They have met in the playoffs twice in the last three years and three times overall. The Steelers have won every meeting including one for the AFC championship in 2008.
There is no love lost between players and fans. The organizations and fans are mirror images of each other. They are both no nonsense, tough and blue collar. The two teams reflect this image. And Ravens-Steelers is without question the most physical rivalry in the NFL today.
Indianapolis Colts vs Tennessee Titans:
They have been the two best teams in the conference for some time now. The only thing that holds the rivalry back is that Tennessee is not always a playoff contender. So the Colts have a more intense rivalry with the Patriots than they do with any team in their division. Tennessee and Indianapolis have not met in the playoffs since 1999 as well.
But when they are both winning, their games are hard fought battles in which the Titans try to impose their will physically on the Colts while Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning tries to find a way to put points on the board. It makes for a great chess match.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders:
Chiefs and Raiders used to be the rivalry of the AFC. The two teams met 23 times in the old AFL. Kansas City won 12 and Oakland 11. The last meeting was in the 1969 AFL championship game. The Chiefs won it 17-7 and went on to win their only Super Bowl.
Today the rivalry is still intense, though both teams aren’t nearly as good. Kansas City hates Oakland and the feeling is mutual. When the two teams meet the locals call it ‘Raider week’ and ‘Chiefs week.’ And Arrowhead Stadium rocks in Kansas City when the Raiders come to town while Oakland’s Coliseum rolls when the Chiefs visit.
Former running back Marcus Allen still holds a grudge against Raider owner Al Davis for letting him go to the Chiefs. So much so that Allen went into the hall as a Chief. And former old school Raider players have yet to forgive him
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New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles:
For years the Dallas Cowboy-Washington Redskin rivalry defined this division and was the best in football, maybe the best of all time. Not anymore. Neither the Cowboys nor ‘Skins are very good and they haven’t played any meaningful games in a while.
The rivalry of today in the NFC East is Giants-Eagles. They have been battling each other for almost 80 years. Some of the most bizarre moments in NFL history have happened in games between these two. There have been three ‘Miracles at the Meadowlands’ in which the Eagles have stolen victory from the jaws of defeat against the Giants. The latest was in 2010 when Philly came from 21 points down in the fourth quarter to win 38-31. Eagle punt returner Desean Jackson won it with a 65 yard punt return as time expired. The victory won the NFC East for Philadelphia and eventually knocked the Giants out of the playoffs.
This is par for the course when these two turnpike rivals play each other.
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers:
It is the longest running rivalry in NFL history dating back to 1921. The only season that these two teams did not play each other was 1982 when the NFL players strike canceled both of their scheduled meetings. There have been times when neither team was very good, but it has not made a difference to the fans. Bears fans want to beat the Packers above all else and the feeling is mutual.
Bears-Packers games are unpredictable. This is really a series in which the records are thrown out of the window. The two teams played for the NFC championship last year in Chicago and Green Bay won it 21-14. It was the first time in almost 70 years that they had met in the post season.
But as long as the ghosts of George Halas and Curly Lambeau roam Chicago’s Soldier Field and Green Bay’s Lambeau Field Bears-Packers will always be intense.
Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints:
These two teams came into the NFL a year apart, Atlanta in 1966 and New Orleans 1967. They have been rivals ever since. Even when they have been terrible the intensity has never waned. Now they are both pretty good so the rivalry is at its peak.
In 2009 it was the Saints who defeated the Falcons twice to win the division while Atlanta had to settle for second. New Orleans went on to win the Super Bowl. Last season the Falcons and Saints split, but Atlanta beat out New Orleans for the division title.
And let’s not forget the first game in the New Orleans Superdome after Hurricane Katrina back in 2006 when the Saints blocked a punt for a touchdown on Atlanta’s first series and went on to win the game 23-3.
The Falcons and Saints are the oldest two teams in the NFC South so should be and are the most bitter of rivals.
St. Louis Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers:
They are still the best by default. This division has two teams, the Rams and Niners, who have battled each other twice a year for 60 years. It also has two teams, the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks who have only been members since 2002. So there really is only one rivalry. Rams-Niners.
It used to be a really big one when both teams were in California. When the Los Angeles Rams and 49ers played it was the pro game of the year on the west coast. Until Cowboy Stadium opened last season, the Rams and 49ers held the record for the largest attendance at a regular season game played in the United States. They drew 102,368 fans to a game at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1957.
The last time that the two teams played meaningful games were in the late 1980’s when San Francisco defeated the Rams in the 1989 NFC championship game and Los Angeles ended the 49ers quest for an undefeated season in 1990.
Now when they play it is all nostalgia which was left in California.
These are the best rivalries in each division. All subject to change.
If they do, let’s hope the ones that take their place are even more intense.