To me for a rivalry to be great or for it to even be a rivalry, the two teams involved have to at least be good. Not just consistent winners, but consistent playoff teams. Not teams that generally 8-8 or 9-7 or worst and every few years sneak into the playoffs. But teams where just getting to the playoffs is not enough for them to have a successful season. Teams that have it as their goal every year to win their division and win the league championship.
The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcon Fans and even though both teams are good now and making the playoffs and in the Saints case winning the Super Bowl in 2009, but historically both franchises have either been mediocre or bad. The Falcons didn’t make the playoffs until 1978, their twelfth season and are now in their forty-eighth season and they have only made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons once. The Saints didn’t even have a winning season until 1987 their 21st season and played and won their first Super Bowl in 2009 their forty-third season. So Falcon-Saint games traditionally haven’t meant much.
Unlike Packer-Bear games, Packer-Viking games, Bear-Viking games, Redskins-Cowboys, Redskins- Giants etc. It’s when the games are important that they have meaning is when they become rivalry’s because that’s when both teams prepare real well and tend to play their best and when the games are played real hard and physical and get real tense and you see big hits and borderline cheap shots and everything else. And the fans really get into it and even go to the other teams stadiums to watch their team play that the games become rival games. Which is exactly what you get in the NFC East where everyone is a big rival of the other.
That’s exactly what the Steeler-Raider rivalry was in the 1970 and 80s to a certain extent. Because every time they played in this time period, their games were about who would have home field advantage in the AFC Playoffs. And have the better chance of winning the AFC Championship and going to the Super Bowl. And the rivalry that the Pittsburgh Steelers had with the Oakland Raiders in the 1970s, is similar to the rivalry the Steelers have with the New England Patriots today because they are playing for home field advantage in the AFC Playoffs almost every time they play each other.
But with the Steelers-Raiders rivalry of the 70s, you’re talking about two of the three best franchises of the 70s that made the AFC Playoffs a total of sixteen times, that won fifteen division championships between the two of them. Won five AFC Championships and won five Super Bowls. They knew to get to where they wanted to go they were going to have to beat the other team. It was really that simple because both teams in this decade both had the same goal every year, win the Super Bowl. And since they were both in the AFC, that meant beating the other team especially in the AFC Playoffs just to get to the Super Bowl and this why this rivalry was so great and intense.
Rivalry’s are between two good teams and franchises, otherwise they don’t mean anything. They’re just another game, rivalry games are important, even when one team may be having a down year because they can make their season by beating the other team. Which would be like their championship. “We didn’t do much this year, but at least we beat that team and made their season a little more difficult. Perhaps cost them a home game in the playoffs”. And the team who lost that game remembers losing that game, takes that with them going into the next season and try’s to get their revenge, which makes the rivalry that much greater.