There is something about a rivalry that brings fire to fans. Rivalries have been a part of sports for as long as anyone can remember. The Red Sox and the Yankees. The Celtics and the Lakers. Even at the college level, rivalries like Ohio State and Michigan exist.
In the NFL, some rivalries are classic and span the life of the sport. The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers come to mind. Other NFL rivalries fluctuate year to year depending on which teams will be most competitive. So what are the top NFL rivalry games in 2020?
Top NFL divisional rivalry games of 2020
AFC East: Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots
What seemed to be a one-person race in the division has quickly changed overnight. Cam Newton’s arrival in Foxborough might not make the Patriots the favorite to hoist a Lombardi Trophy, but they’ll be in the running with the Bills for the division.
Both Newton and Josh Allen are known for their brute strength and tendencies to run the ball. Once compared to the 2015 MVP, Allen will hopefully develop into a more fluid pocket-passer, showing off the mechanics of the deep ball with new No.1 target Stefon Diggs. Thanks to an improved offensive line and a top-five defense, the now third-year quarterback helped his team pick up their first double-digit win season since 1999.
There’s no telling if Newton will even return to quality form, but the weapons around him won’t help. Without a true No.1 receiver and limited play from lesser-known prospects, the former Panther could be in for a long season at Gillette Stadium. Still, if he can exceed exceptions, the two defense should create havoc by producing low-scoring outings.
Is it boring? Perhaps – but someone has to win the division. Defense wins championships (some still believe), and in 2020, expect Buffalo or New England’s to win them the AFC East.
AFC North: Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals
It’s easy to go with anyone Lamar Jackson faces as the top rivalry from the AFC North. But how about the Battle for Ohio? With two former Heisman Trophy winners and No.1 picks leading the way, this could be the start of the future of AFC North play. Meanwhile, both quarterbacks have something to prove as Joe Burrow needs to show he’s more than a college star while Baker Mayfield – well, he’s fighting for his job.
Much like the AFC East, one side of the ball should determine the outcome. Cleveland will feature an offense with Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb leading the run game while Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry look to bring back the Bayou magic. Browns’ general manager Andrew Berry also fixed the offensive line for Mayfield’s protection and added a security blanket in Austin Hooper to boost the red zone efficiency.
Burrow’s arsenal could sink or swim to start the new decade. If it sticks the landing, it’s promising to the start of the reining Heisman’s career. A.J. Green still possesses No.1 receiver mentality, while Tyler Boyd has become a consistent slot option. John Ross’s straight-line speed could make him one of the more dangerous vertical threats in the NFL. The same goes for Joe Mixon as he tries to become the next big name to be paid at the position.
In year’s past, the Ohio showdown could be deemed as a snooze. While very unproven, if these offenses’ hit, expect fireworks twice a year near Lake Eire or the Ohio River for years to come.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans
Houston will always contend with Deshaun Watson, but the rivalry this year belongs to Tennessee and Indianapolis. The Colts will look to remain a contender after a 7-9 season while Tennessee is still living off their AFC Championship tour. One of these two likely will be the only representative of the division in the postseason.
The Colts knew Jacoby Brissett and Frank Reich wouldn’t work, thus prompting the signing of Philip Rivers. The 38-year-old Chargers’ star saw some of his best seasons when Reich called the plays in San Diego, thus making the transition a smooth one for a winning roster. Chris Ballard only upped the roster by adding DeForest Buckner’s pass-rushing skills in the trenches, USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor via the draft.
Tennessee will need to replace the production of Logan Ryan and Jack Conklin, but the draft sufficed for them in one area. Should Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson make an immediate contribution, Ryan Tannehill will have protection while Derrick Henry should continue his running success. The biggest knock now will be if Corey Davis and Adam Humphries can pick up the slack to go alongside AJ Brown. If not, Tannehill could be limited.
The winner of this series should take the AFC South. Don’t be shocked to see either club make a push in the postseason – thus adding more fire to the rivalry.
AFC West: Los Angeles Chargers vs. Denver Broncos
Here’s the reality – Kansas City is in its own stratosphere for 2020. With the current Super Bowl Champs likely the favorites to repeat and win the AFC West, attention turns to the new seventh Wild Card spot. For now, the winner of Denver and Los Angeles could be the front-runner to grab it.
Denver will go all-in with Drew Lock after an impressive 4-1 record last winter. John Elway couldn’t afford to miss on another quarterback, therefore justifying the signings of Graham Glasgow and Melvin Gordon. In the draft, Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler should provide a third and fourth option in the passing game, while Lloyd Cushenberry could be the best center from the class. Defensively, Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye could be moves that fix the pass rush and secondary.
Much like Denver, Los Angeles stayed in the division to capture their big free agent in Chris Harris Jr. The longtime Bronco will shine in a secondary featuring Casey Hayward, Derwin James, and the do-it-all Desmond King. Offensively, so long as Tyrod Taylor manages his passes or Justin Herbert exceeds his rookie expectations, the weapons all-around are there.
Could Taylor or Herbert cost Los Angeles another playoff berth? Was the hype around Lock just that — hype? All those questions could be answered, but expect this to be the showdown fans are hoping to see just below Kansas City.
NEXT PAGE: NFC Rivalries
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