With nearly a century of storied tradition — and a sport built on high intensity, bruising hits and crushing collisions, bitter rivalries were a natural result and have helped power the league's interest for decades. But with all due respect and apologies to old-school rivalries like Packers-Bears and Cowboys-Redskins that helped build this league — which are the tastiest NFL rivalries RIGHT NOW? In other words, which are the hottest rivalries today, with a major caveat focusing on top teams (apologies to both NFC and AFC West, both of which must improve ASAP to make the list) that currently can't stand each other? Adrian Hasenmayer ranks the Top 10 NFL rivalries going these days.
Dolphins vs. Bills
This longtime AFC East rivalry just got an offseason boost from good ol' No. 81, who arrived in Buffalo with his usual glitz, glamour and hype. But what football fans will really be hyped about is watching Bills' new star wide receiver Terrell Owens face off twice against his former Dallas head coach, Dolphins general manager Bill Parcells — who used to openly mock T.O. in Dallas to media, referring to him only as "The Player." Get your popcorn ready.
Cowboys vs. Eagles
Listen, just about any NFC East game is a virtual 60-minute octagon throwdown. But the level of hatred is sky-high — at least from the Philly faithful — when the Eagles and Cowboys get together. Eagles fans detest everything Cowboys, and while Dallas may not share the same disdain, there is plenty of both past (Michael Irvin getting booed, Jimmy Johnson pelted with snowballs) and recent (T.O. vs. Donovan McNabb, Eagles eliminating Cowboys from playoffs last season) history to keep matchups between these two title contenders stocked with gameday drama.
Broncos vs. Chargers
The best rivalry out West features the Broncos and Chargers, although with "Philip Rivers' biggest enemy" Jay Cutler now in Chicago and the Broncos in transition from the Mike Shanahan era, this rivalry could fade out of the top 10 this season. But coming off of last season's thrillers — the wild, controversial 39-38 Broncos win early in the season (the Ed Hochuli game) and the season finale which the Chargers won to sneak back into the playoffs, the series still merits inclusion for now.
Patriots vs. Jets
The good news for Bill Belichick: He won't have to worry about shaking Eric Mangini's hands twice a year. The bad news: Now with Mangini in Cleveland, Belichick will have to deal with new Jets coach Rex Ryan — and more importantly, the ex-Ravens defensive coordinator's aggressive, in-your face defense that has given everyone (including New England) fits for the last decade.
Giants vs. Cowboys
Think two years back when the Cowboys were the team to beat in the NFC, until the hubbub of Tony Romo's secret vacation during the playoff bye week culminated in a shocking upset by the Giants in Dallas — a game which elevated every head-to-head meeting since then to almost Super Bowl-type proportions between the NFC East rivals.
Vikings vs. Packers
Not only have these two teams despised each other for years (the Packers' surprising struggles last year dropped the ranking a tad), but for most of the past two decades the franchises have battled head-to-head for NFC division crowns, from the Central to the North. And if ex-Packers legend Brett Favre actually does un-retire to play for the purple instead of green and gold, this rivalry will rocket right to No. 1.
Steelers vs. Titans
This rivalry has both a little history — reaching back to the days when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Oilers were division rivals — and current flavor. The heat was turned up in a big way in an already physical rivalry between the two Super Bowl contenders last December, as Lendale White and other Titans celebrated their victory over Pittsburgh by dancing on "Terrible Towels." Steeler feathers were ruffled, but the much-anticipated playoff rematch never materialized when Tennessee lost to Baltimore ... but the NFL took care of that, pitting the two together for the 2009 Thursday night NFL season opener.
Giants vs. Eagles
The New York-Philly rivalry in football is rich historically, back to the days of legends like Frank Gifford, Sam Huff and Chuck Bednarik (aka "Concrete Charlie"). In recent years, the annual NFC East series has often helped decide the division in general — as was the case last year when the wild-card Eagles upset the NFC's top seed at Giants Stadium. With both teams again poised to be Super Bowl contenders and division favorites, expect more of the same.
Colts vs. Patriots
Colts-Pats still ranks as the class intradivisional rivalry in all of football, thanks mostly to the cache of the star quarterbacks — Indy's Peyton Manning and New England's Tom Brady, owners of four Super Bowl rings between them. While the Patriots owned Peyton Manning for years, winning 10 of Manning's Colts' first 12 meetings through the 2004 season and playoffs, it has been Peyton's turn lately in winning four of his last five meetings against Brady and Bill Belichick.
Steelers vs. Ravens
This picture says 1,000 words. The league's fiercest rivalry these days involves arguably the NFL's toughest and most hard-hitting defenses, with bone-crushing linebackers like Ray Lewis and James Harrison leading the way. Last season, the Steelers won three very close, physical "bodybag"-type battles of attrition, including the AFC title game. Don't think Lewis has forgotten. — Adrian Hasenmayer