Not all NFL matchups are created equal. While 256 regular season games will take place during the 2020 regular season, there are several games that will deservedly receive more attention than the rest. The majority of those games will be between rival teams, as the 2020 NFL calendar includes several rivalry games that may help determine who is hoisting the Lombardi Trophy by season's end. While each team has its annual games against divisional rivals, the 2020 schedule includes several intriguing games between rivals that don't get a chance to play on a yearly basis.
With that in mind, let's take a look at this season's top-10 rivalry games between non-divisional opponents.
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Week 15 (Christmas Day)
New Orleans is certainly circling this game on its calendar after losing to the Vikings -- in controversial fashion -- in last year's wild-card round. Saints fans also haven't gotten over Stefon Diggs' game-winning catch on the final play of the Vikings' improbable win in the divisional round of the 2017 playoffs. Those losses deprived the Saints (and Drew Brees, who is "stuck" on one Super Bowl win) from winning another Lombardi.
The pain isn't all on the Saints' side, however, as Vikings fans are still getting over their team's overtime loss to the Saints in the 2009 NFC title game, a game that was later marred in controversy following New Orleans' "Bountygate."
Narratives aside, this game will feature two teams with serious Super Bowl aspirations. The Saints, who added Emmanuel Sanders to their offense this offseason, enter the 2020 season with 26 wins over the past two years. The Vikings, who replaced Diggs with first-round pick Justin Jefferson, are looking to build off of last season's 10-6 campaign.
9. Patriots at Rams
Week 14 (Thursday Night Football)
There are two games this season that will pit the Patriots against a team they defeated to win one of their six Lombardi Trophies. Those include a trip to Los Angeles to face the Rams, the team the Patriots twice defeated in the Big Game.
With marquee names from their 2018 matchup gone (most notably Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Todd Gurley), the narrative surrounding this game may be more focused on the coaching matchup between Bill Belichick and Sean McVay. The most successful coach in NFL history as far as Super Bowl wins are concerned, Belichick will look to keep the Patriots' run of success going in 2020. McVay, the youngest coach in NFL history to lead his team to a Super Bowl, is looking to rebound following a disappointing 2019 campaign.
Believe it or not, Pennsylvania's cross-state rivalry isn't all that heated (many Steelers fans actually rooted for the Eagles to defeat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII). That being said, there is a rivalry between the two cities as it relates to which team really is "The City of Champions," a title that is typically tied to Pittsburgh.
The Eagles, who own a 48-28-3 all-time series lead, drubbed the Steelers the last time the two teams met each other in 2016. This year's matchup should be more competitive, however, with both teams posting similar records during the 2019 season. Along with featuring two franchise quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz, the matchup will also feature two of the top receiver prospects in the 2020 draft in Jalen Reagor and Chase Claypool.
7. Patriots at Seahawks
Week 2 (Sunday Night Football)
Rest assured that Seattle's fan base, arguably the loudest in the NFL, will be on its "A" game for this matchup. Seahawks fans certainly haven't forgotten how the Patriots denied them the chance at winning back-to-back Super Bowls at the end of the 2014 season.
This game will feature two of the best defensive minds in the NFL in Belichick and Pete Carroll, who were both successful defensive coordinators before becoming head coaches. While the Patriots are bringing back most of their starters from the league's top-ranked defense, the Seahawks, who finished 22nd in the NFL in scoring defense last season, spent their first and second-round pick on the defensive side of the ball, selecting Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks and Tennessee pass rusher Darrell Taylor.
6. Raiders at Patriots
The last time Jon Gruden coached in Foxborough was the 2001 "Tuck Rule" game that jumpstarted the Patriots' dynasty. While it's been almost 20 years, rest assured that Gruden will use that game as motivation entering this year's matchup with the Patriots.
Gruden won't be facing Brady this time, however. Instead, it appears that the Patriots will move forward with Jarrett Stidham after New England decided . With major question marks surrounding the Patriots' dynasty, teams like the Raiders are hoping to take advantage of a more wide-open AFC. Belichick, conversely, is out to prove that the Patriots, with or without Brady, will still have a say in which team gets out of the AFC in 2020 and beyond.
5. Steelers at Cowboys
This is a matchup between the only teams that have faced one another three times in Super Bowl competition. Pittsburgh won the first two matchups, defeating the Cowboys by a combined eight points in Super Bowls X and XIII. In the process, the Steelers won the title of "Team of the Decade" over the Cowboys, who won two Super Bowls while appearing in five Super Bowls during the 70s. The Cowboys turned the table in Super Bowl XXX, holding off a late charge by the Steelers to win their third Super Bowl during the 90s.
This matchup is also a battle between two of the biggest fan bases in professional sports, two fan bases that are not typically fond of each other. Pittsburgh fans loathe the Cowboys' unofficial title as "America's Team," a nickname they were given during the 70s. Conversely, Dallas fans detest the fact that the Steelers defeated their team twice during that decade.
The actual game should live up the off-field narratives. After both teams finished just outside their respective playoff races, the Steelers and Cowboys are hoping to make long playoff runs in 2020. If their 2016 matchup is any indication of how this game will go, NFL fans are certainly in for a treat.
4. Ravens at Patriots
Week 10 (Sunday Night Football)
Rest assured that Bill Belichick has circled this game on his calendar. After his team raced out to an 8-0 start, Belichick's 2019 Patriots team hit its first road bump -- and it was a major one -- when they went to Baltimore in Week 9. Instead of containing Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Patriots' defense was no match for the eventual league MVP, who scored three touchdowns in leading Baltimore to a 37-20 win.
There is also considerable playoff history between these two teams. Since 2009, the Ravens are 3-1 in the playoffs against the Patriots that includes their convincing win in the 2012 AFC title game. Baltimore's lone playoff loss against New England was a bitter defeat, however, as a dropped pass and a missed field goal enabled the Patriots to escape with a 23-20 win in the 2011 AFC title game.
3. Titans at Ravens
Simply put, this matchup has it all. Not only is it a rematch of Tennessee's surprising upset over the top-seeded Ravens in the 2019 playoffs, but this rivalry also dates back to the 90s, when both teams were members of the AFC Central Division. There was no love lost between the two teams back then, especially after the Ravens ended the Titans' reign atop the division -- as well as the entire AFC -- during the 2000 playoffs. The image of Ray Lewis racing toward the Titans' end zone after stealing the ball out of Eddie George's hands is a memory that continues to live on in the minds of both fan bases. George and the Titans did somewhat settle the score three years later, defeating the Ravens in an extremely physical playoff game.
This year's matchup between the two teams also has no shortage of intrigue. Jackson and the Ravens are out to prove that their run-heavy philosophy can lead to a championship. To get there, however, the Ravens will likely have to get past Derrick Henry the Titans, who are expected to be a factor in the race for the AFC's No. 1 seed.
Week 9 (Thursday Night Football)
This is a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game, which the 49ers dominated en route to punching their Super Bowl ticket. San Francisco won both of their 2019 games against the Packers with ease, defeating Green Bay by a combined score of 74-28.
After falling short in Super Bowl XLIV, the 49ers will try to avoid joining Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are hoping to show that they have closed the gap between themselves and the 49ers. Rodgers is also looking to keep rookie quarterback Jordan Love on the bench while showing that he is still capable of leading a team to a championship.the following season. Conversely,
From a historical standpoint, there aren't many matchups better than this one. Since 1995, the two teams have faced each other six times in the postseason, with the Packers winning four of those matchups. The teams faced in the playoffs four straight years from 1995-98, with Green Bay winning three of those games en route to winning one Super Bowl and two NFC titles. The 49ers ended Brett Favre and the Packers' run in dramatic fashion, with Steve Young hitting Terrell Owens for the game-winning score in San Francisco's win over Green Bay in the 1998 wild card round.
1. 49ers at Cowboys
Week 15 (Sunday Night Football)
Speaking of the 90s, the decade's greatest rivalry featured several classic games between these storied franchises. After winning four Super Bowls during the 80s, the 49ers were dethroned by the Cowboys in the 1992 NFC title game. Dallas, inspired by Jimmy Johnson's pregame guarantee, defeated the 49ers with each in the '93 title game en route to becoming the fifth franchise to win back-to-back titles. San Francisco extracted a measure of payback during the '94 title game, racing out to a 21-0 lead en route to a 38-28 win. Despite losing to the 49ers during the regular season, the '95 Cowboys rebounded by matching the 49ers' Super Bowl tally of five Lombardi Trophies by defeating the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.
While the 49ers are looking to get back to the Super Bowl, the Cowboys, who haven't made it beyond the second round of the playoffs since 1995, are trying to match the Patriots and Steelers' tally of six Lombardi Trophies. Specifically, the matchup betweenagainst the 49ers' formidable defense should make for a highly entertaining game.