It’s rivalry week at SB Nation, and when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers it is not necessarily a unanimous decision as to who is actually the teams biggest rival. I know all the other teams in the AFC North look to the Steelers as their biggest rival. And why wouldn’t they? Since the current AFC North format began in 2002, the Steelers have won the division eight times with the Baltimore Ravens having six division championships and the Cincinnati Bengals four. Add in the six Lombardi trophies held by the franchise and the Steelers set the mark for what other teams in the division achieve to accomplish.
So which NFL team is the Steelers biggest rival at this time? While these teams can change from time to time, let’s look back at some of the history of the Steelers biggest rivalries to help determine which one maybe the top spot for the 2020 season.
Although they were probably never the Steelers biggest rival in the NFL, the championship chases experienced by the Steelers and Cowboys in the 70s make their matchups highly anticipated. The teams actually only faced each other five times in the 70s. With two of the matchups being in the Super Bowl, it’s fair to say the two teams had a bit of a rivalry.
When it comes to owning the matchup, not only with the Steelers 2-0 in the Super Bowl, they were 4-1 against the Cowboys in the 70s with the only loss being in Dallas in 1972.
A bigger rival throughout the 70s for the Pittsburgh Steelers had to be the Oakland Raiders. The team on the losing side of the Immaculate Reception had some great battles with Pittsburgh both in the regular season and playoffs. There were 11 matchups in the 70s, and even though the Steelers only won five of the games they faced against the Raiders, they were victorious in three of the five times the teams faced off the playoffs.
When it came to divisional rivals, the team the Steelers were most combative with since joining the AFC in 1970 were the Houston Oilers. From 1970 to 2001 when the teams played in the same division, they faced off a total of 66 times with the Steelers having a record of 40-26. As for the playoffs, the two teams only faced off three times while they were in the same division with twice being in the 70s and once in the 80s. In all three cases, the Steelers were victorious.
Another divisional rival of note in the old AFC Central division were the Cleveland Browns. With a record of 36-23 in the 59 games the two teams squared off from 1970 to 2001, The Steelers owned the Browns through the 70s with a record of 15-5. It was in the 80s were the Browns had the advantage as the Steelers were only 8-12 against Cleveland. The Steelers got back to their dominance of the Browns in the 90s as they waent 10-5 with the team not having a franchise in the 96 through 98 seasons. Since the Browns returned the NFL in 1999, they just haven’t made much noise to live up to any rivalry with Pittsburgh.
With divisional realignment beginning in the 2002 season, who has since become the Pittsburgh Steelers biggest rival? The simple answer is which ever team has given them a challenge within the AFC North. The Cleveland Browns have not won a divisional championship in the history of the AFC North, so even with the recent antics which occurred during the 2019 season, the Browns still don’t bring enough to the table to be the Steelers biggest rival entering the 2020 season.
So who could it be? Does the Steelers biggest rival even belong in their same division?
The Bengals have made a splash in the AFC North a few times since its inception. It’s hard to forget the Bengals winning the division in 2005 only to fall in the first round of the playoffs to the Steelers as they made their way to win Super Bowl XL. The Bengals also won the division in 2013 and 2015 with the Steelers sandwiched in between. During these times there were some intense moments and very hard hits which were shared between the two teams. But the Bengals have not been able to sustain a culture of winning for very long to maintain the status of a true rival.
Only two behind the Steelers, the Ravens have won six AFC North championships. Additionally, they have won two Super Bowls within the last 20 years just like the Steelers. Being a rare occasion where the Ravens were completely out of the running, their continued quality performance gives them the edge as the Steelers biggest rival since 2002. And after winning the last two division championships, they are the team to beat in the AFC North and therefore the Steelers biggest rival.
New England Patriots
It wouldn’t be right to mention recent rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers without throwing up, I guess I mean ‘out,’ the name of the New England Patriots. Unfortunately, this rivalry is much like those in the AFC North where it is more one-sided. Although the Steelers have seen the Patriots as the team to beat in order to get to the Super Bowl, New England has not seemed to hold the same respect back toward Pittsburgh. Being the only other team in the NFL to match the Steelers in Lombardi trophies, the Patriots will always be a team on the Steelers radar in coming years. But with the departure of quarterback Tom Brady and the fact the Steelers do not play the Patriots during the regular season in 2020, this matchup does not carry near the weight it did over the last five seasons.
So who is the Steelers biggest rival going into the 2020 season? Please vote in the poll and leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Who is the Steelers biggest rival entering the 2020 season?
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New England Patriots