NFL Analysis


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Ranking NFL's Top 10 Non-Division Rivalries In League HIstory

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, left, and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) hugs Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) after a game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What makes a rivalry special? Is it the games that they’ve played? Is it the number of postseason matchups? Or is it simply how much the teams hate one another? The NFL is loaded with historic rivalries and it’s what makes the sport better than any other. Today, we are taking a look at the best matchups in league history outside of each team’s respective division. So without further ado, here are the top 10 non-division rivalries in NFL history:

New York Giants receiver David Tyree catches a pass while in the clutches of New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl XLII football game in Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 3, 2008.

10. Patriots vs. Giants

Series Record: Tied 7-7 (14 games)

Of all the rivalries on this list, the Patriots and Giants have had the fewest meetings. That makes sense, given that the two teams are in opposite conferences and their first matchup occurred in 1970. However, their two battles in the Super Bowl alone make this rivalry worth mentioning.

The most famous matchup between these two teams came in Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots were 18-0 heading into the Super Bowl and were looking to complete the perfect season. But the Giants pulled off one of the biggest upsets in league history, beating the Patriots 17-14. It’s hard to imagine how different the NFL’s history would be if the Patriots won that game considering it would have been their fourth Super Bowl win since 2001. But we will never know.

A few years later, they met again in Super Bowl XLVI and yet again, the Giants pulled off the huge upset. For whatever reason, the Eli Manning led Giants seemed to have a lot of success against the Patriots when no one else could. Unfortunately, this rivalry is pretty much over with both quarterbacks retired and Bill Belichick out of Foxboro. Still, it’s one of the most unique rivalries in sports today.

9. Browns vs. Lions

Series Record: Lions lead series 19-6 (25 games)

This one might feel a bit strange to include, considering they haven’t had many important meetings over the last few decades, but Browns-Lions must be on the list. From 1952 to 1958, these two teams faced off against one another eight times, four of which were in the NFL Championship Game.

The Lions won three of those four matchups, but the Browns got a monster victory in 1954, winning 56-10. We’ve never had two teams match up against one another four times in the final game of the year, and that’s the reason this historic battle has to be included. With the Browns and Lions both making the postseason in 2023, maybe there is a chance that this rivalry could be renewed in the 21st century.

8. Patriots vs. Ravens

Series Record: Patriots lead series 11-5 (16 games)

This is another relatively new rivalry as the Ravens have only been in the NFL since 1996, but they’ve had some amazing battles with the Patriots over the years. They’ve only played 16 times, but four of those have come in the playoffs. Their first playoff matchup was during the 2009 season when the Ravens smashed the Patriots 33-14 and effectively ended the Tom Brady-Randy Moss era in New England.

They would meet again during the 2011 playoffs in the infamous Lee Evans drop game. The Ravens beat the Patriots on their way to their Super Bowl win in 2012 and the Patriots would return the favor a few years later, beating the Ravens and eventually winning the Super Bowl against the Seahawks. These two elite franchises in the AFC have had several amazing battles and the hope is that more will come in the post-Brady era in New England.

7. Bills vs. Chiefs

Series Record: Bills lead 29-25-1

While many may believe this is a new rivalry between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, the Chiefs, and Bills first met way back in 1960 when the Chiefs were actually named the Dallas Texans. These two teams met 19 times from 1960 to 1969, including in the 1966 AFL Championship Game. The Chiefs won that contest 31-7, but they eventually lost to the Packers in the first-ever Super Bowl between the AFL (AFC) and the NFL (NFC).

But this rivalry has really picked up over the last few years with these two squads meeting seven times since 2020. The Chiefs and Bills have played three playoff games during that stretch with two of them coming down to the final few plays. With Mahomes and Allen still in the primes of their careers, we can only hope for several more playoff matchups between these two historic franchises.

6. Patriots vs. Colts

Series Record: Patriots lead series 53-31 (84 games)

Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Does it get any better than that? Those two quarterbacks carried this rivalry and did so even when Manning left for Denver. But the Patriots-Colts matchup produced some amazing games and more importantly, it was easy to tell that the two sides did not like each other. That’s what really makes rivalries special.

The Colts and Patriots have only met five times in the postseason, but they met in back-to-back playoff games in 2003 and 2004. They met again in 2006, with the Colts winning the game and eventually the Super Bowl against the Bears. Even the regular season games were must-see TV, and they usually resulted in high-level play on both sides. We might never see a matchup like this again, with arguably the two best quarterbacks in NFL history playing against one another in their primes.

5. Cowboys vs. Packers

Series Record: Packers lead series 22-17 (39 games)

There have been so many great games between these two teams that it’s hard to list them all. One of their very first meetings occurred in the NFL Championship Game in 1967, otherwise known as the Ice Bowl. The winner would take on the AFL champion in Super Bowl II. The Packers won the game on a quarterback sneak by Bart Starr to take a 20-17 lead with just 13 seconds remaining.

The Packers and Cowboys have met nine times in the playoffs, and almost all of them have been notable. They met in the postseason in three straight seasons in the 1990s, with Dallas winning all three contests. But the Packers have had the upper hand as of late, winning the last three postseason games, including their 2023 matchup in Dallas.

4. Steelers vs. Raiders

Series Record: Raiders lead series 17-15 (32 games)

When you think of hard-hitting, physical football, look no further than the Steelers and Raiders. This rivalry started in the 1970s and these two teams could not hate each other anymore. The Raiders and the Steelers have played each other six times in the postseason, including five times between 1972 and 1976.

The most famous game is the Immaculate Reception, which occurred in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs. But even in recent years, there have been some incredible games and shocking upsets, including Terrell Pryor’s victory and Bruce Gradkowski defeating the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) scores a touchdown on a 39-yard run during the third quarter of their NFC divisional playoff game Saturday, January 20, 2024 at Levi’ Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers 24-21.

3. Packers vs. 49ers

Series Record: Packers lead series 38-34-1 (73 games)

This is one of the NFL’s oldest rivalries with these two NFC foes meeting 73 times since 1950. They’ve met 10 times in the postseason, five times since the 2012 season. That is the most ever between two teams in the playoffs and it’s not a surprise given how successful each franchise has been.

 Their most recent playoff contest was during the 2023 season, when the No. 7-seeded Packers held the lead against the top-seeded 49ers going into the fourth quarter. The 49ers found a way to survive and eventually advanced to the Super Bowl.

The most memorable postseason matchup between these two teams was during the 1997 NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park. Brett Favre took down Steve Young and helped the Packers advance to the Super Bowl. A year later, they would play in the Wild Card Round and Terrell Owens would catch the game-winning touchdown to help Young get his only postseason victory over Favre.

The Packers have not had a lot of luck recently in the postseason against the 49ers, losing all six of their recent matchups despite having Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love under center. But with both teams expected to be Super Bowl contenders again in 2024, maybe we will get another great matchup.

2. Cowboys vs Steelers

Series Record: Cowboys lead series 17-16 (33 games)

There is just something about the Cowboys and the Steelers playing against one another that makes football feel special. These two of the NFL’s most winningest franchises with 11 combined Super Bowl wins and 16 appearances. Dallas and Pittsburgh have played each other three times in the Super Bowl, which is the most ever between two teams in the Super Bowl era.

The games have all been incredible and were highly competitive throughout. Even their regular season games have lived up to this legacy, including recent contests such as Ezekiel Elliott’s game-winning touchdown, Desea Townsend’s game-winning pick-six, and Brandon Carr’s overtime interception. They’ll meet again in primetime in 2024 (Week 5), and you can guarantee that it’ll be one of the best games of the year because that’s always the case between the Cowboys and the Steelers.

Nov 2 1997; San Francisco, CA, USA; FILE PHOTO; Dallas Cowboys cornerback #21 Deion Sanders during a games against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. The Cowboys defeated the 49ers 17-10. Mandatory Credit: Photo By USA TODAY Sports (c) Copyright USA TODAY Sports

1. Cowboys vs. 49ers

Career record: 49ers lead series 20-19-1 (40 games)

The No. 1 rivalry of all-time belongs to the Cowboys and the 49ers, who have been battling each other in the playoffs for decades. They’ve met nine times in the postseason with their first playoff matchup occurring in 1970. The 1981 matchup is arguably the most famous game in NFL history with Joe Montana throwing the game-winning touchdown to Dwight Clark.

But the rivalry only grew in popularity during the 1990s when they met in three consecutive seasons in the postseason (1992-1994). The 49ers and the Cowboys shared some elite players (Deion Sanders, Charles Haley), which only intensified the rivalry. The matchups between prime Steve Young and Troy Aikman helped make this matchup even more prolific.

The cool thing about this rivalry is that has continued over the last few years with the Cowboys and 49ers meeting in the postseason twice in the 2020s, this is a rivalry that has stood the test of time and still feels as relevant as ever.