Bengals fans are extra fired up for the game against the Raiders because it marks the return of former Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer. Our fearless Raider fan checks out the tailgate in the enemy territory and finds the locals are intense but accommodating.
It's hard to boast about a matchup when you and your opponent don't even have the best rivalry in your own division, let alone your own conference.
Not that Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals fans are ready to do any bragging.
Still, with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens aging, and with a plethora of young offensive stars flourishing in the Buckeye State, could the two franchises founded by Paul Brown be next up as top dogs in the AFC North?
One prominent Ohio NFL fan hopes so.
"To have a true, effective rivalry, it helps when both teams are playing at the top of their respective games, like you see the Steelers and Ravens are right now," entertainer and Cincinnati native Nick Lachey told ThePostGame. "So the Bengals have fared a little better over the past decade or so than the Browns, but it’s been times for both franchises for a while now. It’d be good to see Ohio football be back on its feet."
And while Buckeye State fans should probably be more excited about Ohio State football than either of their NFL teams, it's not too far-fetched to think that the Bengals and Browns are closing in on consistent success.
Most importantly, both teams feature talented, young quarterbacks with promising futures. Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and Cleveland's Brandon Weeden, both in either their first or second year in the NFL, rank in the top 20 in passing yards on the season. They're both averaging more yards-per-game than established veterans like Jay Cutler and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Thanks to some high draft picks, the organizations have surrounded Dalton and Weeden with notable offensive weapons. In Cleveland it's rookie Trent Richardson, whose 209 rushing attempts are fifth among all running backs. In Cincinnati it's 24-year-old A.J. Green, who leads all receivers with 10 touchdown receptions.
"I like what the bengals are doing," Lachey said. "I obviously like Dalton and Green, what’s not to like there? I think the future is looking good and we’ve got some good young pieces in place. If we continue to build on that, we should be contenders for a while.”
The Bengals and Browns are also young teams, at least compared to the other two squads in their division. Going into the 2012 season the Ravens (21st) and the Steelers (25th) both ranked in the oldest third of the NFL in age. Meanwhile the Bengals (11th) and the Browns (3rd) were in the youngest third.
The Bengals-Browns matchups of the next few years may not be as intense as those of the Ravens and Steelers, but all signs indicate that Cincinnati and Cleveland fans can be optimistic about the quality of football in their state going forward.
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The rivalry between Tampa Bay and Carolina might not be a classic in the NFL, but it has been plenty intense in the past decade. Here's the story of a Buccaneers fan who lives in Panthers' country:
Winning a Super Bowl is no small deal, but ask anyone who watched the NFL in the 1980s and they'll tell you the Chicago Bears easily could have won two or three championships.
Those Chicago defenses, which boasted three future Hall of Famers, are some of the best ever. Add in one of the top three running backs to ever play the game, and it is somewhat astounding that those Bears squads only played in one Super Bowl.
Perhaps more than any other team, the Bears have the 49ers to blame for not accumulating more rings. The teams met twice in the NFC Championship game in a four year span, with San Francisco coming out on top both times. The 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl in those years, and it's hard to argue that if the Bears had beaten San Francisco that Chicago wouldn't have been the Super Bowl favorite.
“That great defense of the Chicago Bears would’ve won more than one Super Bowl if it wasn’t for the San Francisco 49ers," said Jesse Sapolu, an offensive lineman and four-time Super Bowl champion on the 49ers.
What made the rivalry so enthralling was the differing styles of the teams. The Chicago Bears lived and died by their defense, a hard-nosed, no-nonsense bunch that pummeled opponents. That's how it always was in the Windy City, and that's how it is today. Even though the Bears have some legitimate weapons on offense --quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Brandon Marshall -- they are still a defensive team through and through.
"It represents the city of Chicago," former Chicago linebacker Dick Butkus told the San Francisco Chornicle of Chicago's tradition of defensive excellence. "It's a tough city -- people work hard and give 100 percent effort, and you can correlate that with the way the Bears play defense. I think the fans really appreciate it."
Meanwhile, the 49ers of the 1980s were led by one of the greatest offensive innovators the game has ever seen. Bill Walsh pioneered the West Coast offense and mentored Hall of Famers Jerry Rice, Joe Montana and Steve Young.
When the teams met in the 1980s, Walsh's high-powered offenses had the upper hand over Buddy Ryan's menacing defenses. San Francisco outscored Chicago 51-3 in their two NFC Championship meetings.
On Monday, fans can expect another defensive battle. Led by Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman and Julius Peppers, these Chicago Bears are a nightmare for opposing offenses. And the 49ers, once an offensive juggernaut, are also led by their defense. NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis lead a rock-solid linebacking corps that, along with a menacing defensive line, is allowing a stingy 292 yards-per-game. That mark is the best in the NFC and third in the NFL.
Adding to the intrigue of this matchup is the fact that the 49ers' current head coach, Jim Harbaugh, spent the bulk of his career in Chicago. San Francisco's previous head coach, Mike Singletary, also suited up for the Monsters of the Midway in the 1980s.
And if defensive aficionados get their way, this won't be the last time these two teams square off this year.Full Story >>
Don't look now, but here come the New Orleans Saints.
Rocked by the offseason revelation of a bounty scandal that deprived them of their coach for the entire season and their general manager for eight games, the Saints have managed an improbable mid-season turnaround that has them alive and fighting for an NFC wild card spot. After starting the season with four consecutive losses, New Orleans has won four of its past five games, including an impressive 31-27 victory over the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons.
"We're chugging along," quarterback Drew Brees said after Sunday's win over the Falcons. "I don't think we've played our best football. That's still to come. When you start 0-4 and now you're a game away from .500, that's an impressive comeback."
Winners of the NFC South in two of the past three seasons, and Super Bowl champions three years ago, the Saints were a question mark at the start of the season. New Orleans would be without its respected head coach, Sean Payton, for the entire year. Assistant coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis were also suspended for for six and eight games, respectively.
Making matters worse, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams left after the 2011 season and stalwarts Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma were each slapped with suspensions, throwing the Saints defense into disarray.
The defense struggled mightily in New Orleans' first four games, giving up at least 27 points each game. While the Saints lost those four contests, Brees and the Saints' prolific offense kept the team alive in the fourth quarter each time. New Orleans' losses to the Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers each came by one score or less.
Even though the Saints' defense has been performing at a historically poor level -- New Orleans is last in the league in yards allowed (469.3 yards-per-game) and fourth worst in points-allowed (28.4) -- the offense has stepped up big time. As has become the norm, Brees leads the league in passing yards (2,847) and touchdowns (25) through ten weeks. Against the Falcons, the Saints got a boost from their running game, as Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory combined for 148 yards.
"That's great balance," Brees said. "That's when you're really rolling as an offense."
And just when they needed it most, the Saints have Vilma back as he appeals his suspension. After initially being banned for the entire season, Vilma is allowed to play as the NFL considers his appeal. Vilma, who played in his fourth game of the year on Sunday, is still shaking off the rust from his suspension as well as offseason knee surgery.
While some people assumed he'd be benched for all 16 games, Vilma told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he always figured he'd be back at some point this season.
"A lot of people didn't think that way, but I did," Vilma said. "Never a doubt."
The bounty scandal is far from finished, and it won't be in the rear-view mirror for quite some time. Vilma's appeal is still pending, and Payton will become a free agent after the season. But as the scandal settles, the Saints now have something to play for.
"[NFL commissioner Roger Goodell] stepped too far," Vilma said. "I can live with that for now because I still have the defamation suit, the suspension thing is still pending. He had to recuse himself. So that will all take care of itself later on. But right now, it's really all about football."Full Story >>
Pinto Kenny Johnson is a legend among Bills fans with a streak of more than 300 consecutive games attended.
Johnson, whose streak includes home and road games, has some signature tailgate traditions. They include cooking with an army helmet and drinking shots out of a bowling bowl.
Watch this fan recall how his late father instilled a love for the Colts. He hasn't ever seen the Colts play in person until this night in Jacksonville.
With the parity in today’s NFL, it’s almost impossible to predict which teams will be playing in late January. For example, before the season very few people thought last season's NFC championship game would be between the San Francisco 49ers, who fired their coach after finishing 6-10 in 2010, and the New York Giants, the NFC’s fourth seed in the playoffs.
That lack of a dominant team or conference is neither positive nor negative, it's simply the state of today’s league.
Two decades ago, however, that wasn’t the case.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the NFC was clearly the superior conference, winning 13 straight Super Bowls from 1985 to 1997 and 15 of 16 dating back to 1982. Two teams accounted for more than half of those championships the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers. Those two, along with the Chicago Bears, the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants formed a powerful NFC elite.
"You relish playing those teams; I miss that when I look at how the league is now," said former 49ers offensive lineman and four-time Super Bowl champion Jesse Sapolu. "If you look back on it ... the NFC won 15 of 16 Super Bowls in a row. That’s unheard of today."
The Cowboys and the 49ers formed the best rivalry of the NFC’s "Golden Years," and some say the best rivalry in NFL history. The list of Hall of Famers who played or coached in those games is extremely impressive: it includes Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Bill Walsh, Troy Aikman, Emmit Smith and Michael Irvin.
The Cowboys knocked the 49ers out of the playoffs in three straight years during the early 1970s, and one decade later the rivalry was renewed in the 1981 NFC championship game, which San Francisco won after Montana hit Dwight Clark in the corner of the end zone in the game’s final minute.
In the early 1990s the two teams squared off three more times in the NFC championship game, with the victor going on to win the Super Bowl each time.
"Everyone knew, before the season started, that it was going to be between Dallas and San Francisco," Sapolu said.
Despite the intense rivalry, and the fact that the Cowboys denied the 49ers a chance at several more Super Bowl rings, Sapolu said the competitions were characterized by mutual respect. In fact, the teams may have been more similar than different in their overall philosophies. One of the key reasons for the success of both the 49ers and the Cowboys, Sapolu said, was that each team refused to compare itself to the rest of the league. Their only measuring stick was themselves.
"At the end of the day you would respect their team," Sapolu said of the Cowboys, "because they created a standard for themselves that was hard to beat."Full Story >>
The Pittsburgh Steelers could have had plenty of excuses had they lost to the New York Giants on Sunday. Not only were the Giants riding a four-game winning streak, they were playing at home in front of an emotionally-charged fan base which was beginning to come together after one of the worst storms in recent history.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh had to alter its travel schedule, leaving the Steelers arriving in New Jersey several hours before kickoff.
No matter, however, as the Steelers erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter and snuck out of East Rutherford, N.J. with a 24-20 win.
"Coming in the day of the game was tough and we had to deal with that adversity," said Steelers running back Isaac Redman. "But the Giants had to deal with adversity all week. We just had to come in here and be ready to play. This shows we have a lot of heart. When you play for the Steelers, it's all about heart."
Normally, Pittsburgh arrives in its destination city on Saturday afternoon. But because their Jersey City hotel lost power, the Steelers were forced to rearrange their travel plans. Rather than look for another hotel and risk shutting out displaced residents from shelter, the Steelers decided to stay in Pittsburgh on Saturday night and fly into New Jersey on Sunday.
The Steelers charter plane left Pittsburgh around 9 A.M. on Sunday and arrived at Newark Airport about an hour later. The team bused to a hotel, where they ate a pre-game meal, and then headed over to MetLife Stadium. Kickoff was at 4:25 P.M.
The NFL told the New York Times that it could not remember another team arranging same-day travel for a regular season game.
"It felt kind of weird coming the day of," Redman said. "But any obstacle that comes in our way, we just push it aside and come to work."
In light of the unusual circumstances, the Steelers victory was quite impressive. In fact, Pittsburgh's win may have had other teams wondering whether they should fly into visiting cities the day of the game rather than a day before. But a league official told NBC Sports' Pro Football Talk that that would be strongly discouraged because of the risk delay.
The Steelers knew that as difficult as their journey was, it was nothing compared to the plight of scores of New York and New Jersey residents.
"There are so many bigger things going on around here that what we do is not as important as real life," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone else who are going through so much. There were so many emotions going on, I didn't know what to expect from it. But maybe we were able to take their minds off their problems just a little."Full Story >>
The story lines are perfect, and the characters are even better. The media would eat it up, and so would fans. Honestly, an Andrew Luck-Robert Griffin III rivalry sounds too good to be true.
It could have started when both were Texas high schoolers searching for a suitable college. Griffin visited Stanford and seriously contemplated attending. Coach Jim Harbaugh told Griffin that the Cardinal could employ a two-quarterback system, with Griffin and another highly-touted recruit, Andrew Luck. Thanks, but no thanks, was Griffin's answer. He thought the stage wouldn't be big enough for both of them, and he turned out to be right.
Griffin and Luck went on to have exceptional college careers, and they're both among the most talented football players their schools have ever produced. By 2011, they were the best two quarterbacks in the country, and it soon became clear that one of them would eventually be holding the Heisman Trophy.
Griffin won, with Luck coming in second. That order was reversed a few months later, when Luck went first in the NFL draft and Griffin followed. They were the fifth quarterback duo to be selected with the top two picks in the draft, and the first since Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb in in 1999. While it's still early, Luck and Griffin are shaping up to have the best rookie seasons of any 1-2 duo since Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer in 1993. The bar isn't exactly set very high.
Both Luck and Griffin are extremely talented, intelligent and grounded. And therein lies the rivalry rub. A rivalry between these two seems extremely natural, almost like what Larry Bird and Magic Johnson had throughout their careers. But all indications are that there is no bad blood or strong friendship, the two key ingredients for a rivalry. Simply put, they're "frenemies."
Before a preseason game between the Colts and the Redskins, reporters asked Luck what he would say to Griffin as they stood on the field. Luck's response? "Nothing earth-shattering."
They'll forever be tied to each other. But unlike, say, Bird and Magic or Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, they don't have to get through one another to achieve their ultimate goal.
That's what makes football rivalries unique. Quarterbacks are never actually going up against each other, which creates a sort of intangible and undefinable clash. Much of the rivalry between two quarterbacks is defined by individual success (due to the lack of head-to-head meetings) and off-the-field action.
In some ways the relationship between Luck and Griffin mirrors that of the premier quarterbacking rivalry of the past decade, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. It's a competition that is characterized by mutual respect, if not friendship.
Regardless of who proves himself to be the better quarterback, football fans can cherish the fact that these two young, talented signal callers appear to have extremely bright futures. That is truly a gift in itself.Full Story >>