Pick Six: Greatest divisional rivalries

Some rivalries come and go, but bitter divisional rivalries always continue to fester. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say.

The Cowboys and 49ers were top rivals in the 1990s, but that matchup is near meaningless now. On the other hand, two divisional rivals with nothing to play for will still slug it out. It’s why the NFL made a great decision to go with divisional matchups for the final week of the regular season.

But before we count down the top six divisional rivalries of all-time, here are two that just missed:

Rams vs. 49ers: This rivalry lost all meaning when it was no longer an all-California affair.

Steelers vs. Oilers: Of course, a name change and a division change for the former Houston franchise put an end to this one. Though the Steelers and Titans have a pretty intense AFC rivalry.

Here are my top six rivalries:

6. Bills vs. Dolphins. As Nick Bakay noted in a recent column, the most compelling part of this rivalry is the sheer difference between the two locals. Miami has South Beach, bikinis and Super Bowl trophies. The Bills have the Anchor Bar, chicken wings and an 0-for-4. “Miami Vice” vs. Dabney Coleman‘s “Buffalo Bill.” This list could go on.

Quotable: “I’ll take Miami any day — and as much as I hate them, I can’t imagine life without them. In rivalry terms, we are the aging, long-married couple who talk over each other, curse each other, resent each other, but at the end of the day make sure each other’s pill case is full.” — Bakay

5. Ravens vs. Steelers. Hines Ward says this is the one game that he circles every year. And for good reason: The rivalry has recently not only decided the AFC North, but the entire AFC. The only thing holding back these games are that they haven’t been around long enough. This will certainly move up the charts.

Quotable: “I don’t think their head coach likes me. I tried to shake his hand before we played them the last time. He gave me a fake handshake. He didn’t even look at me. That’s fine. Whatever.” — Ward on Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

4. Cowboys vs. Redskins. Any NFC East team could claim a top rivalry with the Cowboys, but when Tom Landry once filmed an American Express commercial, he was surround by Redskins, not Giants or Eagles. But in all seriousness, the images of this rivalry are strong. Cowboys QB Clint Longley rallying his team for a 24-23 win on Thanksgiving in 1974. The Fun Bunch beating the Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship Game. This rivalry has it all.

Quotable: “I don’t have very much to say. It was probably the toughest loss we ever had.” — Redskins coach George Allen after the loss in 1974.

3. Steelers vs. Browns. The old Turnpike rivalry still tortures the town of Youngstown, Ohio. Younger NFL fans will find this hard to believe, but the Browns dominated the NFL when it joined the league in 1950 and owned the Steelers until Chuck Noll and the Steel Curtain days in the 1970s. While the Steelers dominate now, that doesn’t make this rivalry any less intense between these teams are situated less than 150 miles apart.

Quotable: “I understood. That was the first thing anyone has ever told me when I came here, was to beat Pittsburgh. I didn’t quite understand but that game week I understood.” — Browns QB Colt McCoy.

2. Packers vs. Bears. The oldest rivalry in the NFL also features one of the nastiest moments in NFL history when Packers DE Charles Martin slammed QB Jim McMahon onto the turf at Soldier Field in 1986, ruining any chance the Bears had of repeating as Super Bowl champions. The rivalry also features some great coaches: George Halas vs. Curly Lambeau, and then Vince Lombardi. Mike Ditka vs. Forrest Gregg.

Quotable: “He wasn’t unbeatable, of course, but you could not start thinking about it on Monday and expect to win over Green Bay the following Sunday. To compete with Lombardi on any Sunday afternoon, you had to work just as hard and intelligently as Lombardi all year long.” – Halas on Lombardi.

1. Raiders vs. Chiefs. By far the AFL’s top rivalry, and one that carried over to the NFL. The Raiders, like the Cowboys, have heated rivalries with all of the teams in their division, but the Chiefs are special. Mainly because the Chiefs are the only AFC West team with a winning record against the Raiders. The feud reached its zenith in the 1990s when Marcus Allen left the Raiders to join the Chiefs.

Quotable: “Those were my favorite games … I always likened them to a heavyweight fight. You knew you were going to get beat up, but it was fun. We needed the Chiefs. We wouldn’t have been as good without them.”— Former Raiders DE Ben Davidson.

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