NFL’s Greatest Rivalries in History

Part of what makes the NFL so entertaining to watch is the many rivalries that play out on the field every week. Teams that share divisions, divide states, and go back and forth on the scoreboard create compelling matchups and must-watch TV.

These rivalries have also contributed to the history and traditions of the game, helping the NFL become what it is today. Below is a look at some of the greatest rivalries in the NFL’s past and present.

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New England Patriots vs. New York Jets

This matchup is too one-sided to be much of a rivalry. But it has all the ingredients of a bitter one.

For starters, the competition between the New England Patriots and New York Jets predates the NFL, going all the way back to 1960 when they were both members of the AFL. Then there’s the same Boston-New York connection that has generated so much heat in other great rivalries like Red Sox-Yankees, Celtics-Knicks, and Bruins-Rangers. Plus, the teams are both in the same division, so they’re playing each other twice every year. On top of all that, legendary coach Bill Belichick initially agreed to take the head coaching job for the Jets until a last minute change of heart sent him north to New England where he’s led the Patriots to 17 division titles and six Super Bowl wins since the 2000 season.

When you think about it, the one-sided nature of this matchup probably only adds to the bitterness.

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Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers

With proximity, a divisional pairing, and shared success, the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers have the foundation of a solid NFL rivalry. The teams are separated by a drive of under four hours, so it’s common for the visiting team’s fans to occupy part of the stadium anytime these teams square off, which has led to the matchup being called the “I-85 rivalry.” One of these teams has claimed the NFC South title nine times in the last 19 seasons and prior to that, both teams were members of the NFC West. The teams have faced each other twice per season since 1995, and the rivalry has a history of close games. While the Falcons lead the all-time series 34-20, a whopping 27 games have been separated by one touchdown or less.

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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys

The rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys is the biggest one between teams of opposing conferences. Because of that alignment, the teams have only met 33 times since 1960. But this one is about quality more than quantity.

During the 1970s alone, the teams combined for eight Super Bowl appearances that included both squads in 1976 and 1979 (both won by the Steelers). The teams met for the third time in the Super Bowl in 1996, this time won by the Cowboys. The Cowboys currently lead the series 17-16.

The Steelers have won the most Super Bowls with six, while the Cowboys have the second-most wins with five. And both the Steelers and Cowboys are among the teams with the most Hall of Fame inductees, and many of the greatest players of all time have suited up for either the black and gold (Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann) or the silver and blue (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Tony Dorsett, Roger Staubach, Deion Sanders).

Texas and western Pennsylvania are both known as football hotbeds. And many fans of these teams live in the opposing city. Steel mill closures in the 1980s led many Pittsburgh natives to relocate to Texas for work, and the reverse happened in the 2000s when oil drilling grew rapidly in the Pittsburgh area and drew an influx of Texans to the area. The fan bases of the Cowboys and Steelers have arguably the largest nationwide footprint of any NFL franchise.

There’s one other interesting nugget that pertains to this rivalry. The NFL held a vote in 1951 to award a franchise to either Dallas or Baltimore. The owners voted 10-1 in favor of Dallas. The lone person to vote against Dallas? Pittsburgh Steelers founder and owner Art Rooney.

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Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers

The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers combine to make up the longest-running rivalry in the NFL. The first of their 187 meetings on the gridiron took place in 1930 when the Lions were the Portsmouth (OH) Spartans, and the teams have played at least twice every year since 1933, the longest-running matchup in the league.

The rivalry is so fierce that it even divides those within the same state. Fans in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula tend to root for the Packers because of the close proximity to Green Bay, while those in the Lower Peninsula root more heavily for the nearby Lions. Because of this state divide, the rivalry has been coined the “Yooper Bowl.”

The Packers lead the all-time series 107 to 73, with seven games ending in a tie. Green Bay has scored 3,850 points in the matchups while Detroit has scored 3,347.

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Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Commanders

The Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Commanders have yet to play a game against each other. But the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins have done so 176 times since 1934 and have formed one of the most intense rivalries in football. The balanced wins account for a large part of the fierceness of this rivalry, with Washington holding a narrow 88 to 82 lead with six ties. The close proximity between the cities adds another element to the rivalry.

One notable game in this rivalry’s history is the 1990 “Body Bag Game” played on “Monday Night Football.” Speaking with the media before the game, then-Eagles coach Buddy Ryan remarked to the media that the Redskins players were going to “have to be carted off in body bags.” During the game, the Eagles injured nine Redskins players in a 28-14 win.

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New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys

The first game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys ended in a 31-31 tie in 1960 at Yankee Stadium. That set the precedent for decades of close, heated matchups that have blossomed into one of the best NFL rivalries of all time.

The Cowboys are “America’s Team,” while the Giants call the Big Apple home, which lends this rivalry a feel of the city-slicking Yankee versus the good ol’ country boy. The teams share the always-competitive NFC East division and have combined for 31 division titles and 13 Super Bowl appearances in a rivalry that spans 120 total meetings.

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Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers

With 204 total meetings, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers hold the record for the most games played between two opponents. They first met in 1921 and have played in the same conference since 1933 and the same division since 1970. The Packers and Bears are two of the oldest and most historic franchises in the NFL, further adding to the intensity of their rivalry. Separated by under four hours’ driving time and each with loyal fan bases, you’ll find plenty of Bears fans in attendance at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, as well as a significant number of “Cheeseheads” at games in Chicago’s Soldier Field.

The rivalry has been exceptionally close over time, with Green Bay holding just a 103 to 95 lead, along with six tie games.

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Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals

The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals are located on opposite sides of Ohio and create a fan base split down the middle of the state. They both occupy the AFC North division, were both founded by Paul Brown, and even share similar uniform colors. The “Battle of Ohio” has been played 97 times since 1970, with the Bengals clinging to a 51-46 all-time lead. However, each team has fared well in its own stadium, with the Bengals leading 31-18 in games played in Cincinnati and the Browns leading 28-20 in games played in Cleveland.

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Kansas City Chiefs vs. L.A./Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders

No matter which city the Raiders call home, their rivalry with the Kansas City Chiefs remains one of the most bitter in the NFL. The teams got off on the wrong foot right from the get-go. The 1970 season opener between the Raiders and the Chiefs marked the first NFL game for each team (both had previously been members of the AFL). A bench-clearing brawl broke out during the game that eventually resulted in a tie. That day set the precedent for decades to come. The teams have now faced each other 126 times, with the Chiefs leading 70-54-2, and each side has claimed the AFC West Division 12 times.

If there’s one thing that can be agreed upon by everyone involved in a rivalry, it’s that you have to show your colors. And Fanatics is the place to shop for all of your NFL officially licensed sports apparel, sports collectibles, and memorabilia particular to your NFL team.

And if your fandom stretches beyond the gridiron, Fanatics carries merchandise for all leagues in a wide variety of sports, so you can be sure to rock your team colors for any given rivalry. Shop for your team today.

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