Analysis

NFL's best rivalries in 2021: Browns vs. Steelers, Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick and more

Who doesn't love a good rivalry? I mean, it's what makes sports so much fun.

Well, unless you're a Bears fan and your rival has dominated you for the past few years. Fine, decades. But generally speaking, rivalries are fun.

And right now, I would like to talk about some of my favorite NFL rivalries in 2021. Not the best historical rivalries. That's not what I'm doing here. When I performed this same exercise last March, you all yelled at me for having Saints-Bucs as a top rivalry. Everyone said Saints-Falcons was WAY better. And who ended up being right? The Falcons went 4-12, with one win in the NFC South. The Saints and Bucs battled for the top spot in not only the division, but in the entire NFC. And they faced off a third time in the Divisional Round. Maybe it's time for y'all to wise up!

OK, that came off far harsher than I intended. Sorry. Let's just get to the top rivalries of 2021:

Tennessee Titans vs. Baltimore Ravens

This is one of my favorite rivalries in the NFL right now. The only bummer is, they aren't scheduled to play -- at the moment. The teams have traded wins in the past two postseasons. Gimme a playoff rubber match next January!

Ravens-Titans is one of those rare occasions where it feels like a big-time rivalry, even though the teams don't play in the same division. But this matchup screams announcer cliché: "These teams don't like each other." I want to see more of it. I wish this was like AEW or something, and the commissioner could just schedule a game between these two.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns

The Steelers have played some epic games against the Ravens over the years, no doubt about it. Pittsburgh even swept Baltimore last season on the way to an AFC North title. But lately, it feels like the Steelers' games vs. the Browns have become more of a blood feud. The Steelers won the division thanks to an 11-0 start to the season. But Pittsburgh lost four of their last five regular-season bouts. And then the Browns embarrassed them with a 48-37 Wild Card Weekend shellacking that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.

This feels like the Browns' time to really take control of this AFC North rivalry. Like, if this were Mortal Kombat, the game would be yelling, "Finish him!"

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers

I know, I know. I love what is going on with the Chargers. And I know a bunch of you will roll your eyes and say, "Here we go again ..." Because the Bolts trail only the Cowboys when it comes to ultimately fruitless "Hey, this is their year!" hype pieces. But I love that the Chargers put a priority on the offensive line in free agency, with the banner acquisition being first-team All-Pro center Corey Linsley.

And I'll say it: Justin Herbert just feels different. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year seems like the kind of guy who can routinely compete with Kansas City's all-world talent, Patrick Mahomes. Two young stud quarterbacks forging a rivalry for the foreseeable future? Sign me up! This could be Brady-Manning, but in the same division. I love it.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. History

Since I mentioned Tom Brady, I wanted to add this in. A little unconventional, for sure, but let me explain ...

The Chiefs were supposed to be the chosen ones. The team that was gonna go back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-infinity. Stringing together the kind of run that would put Mahomes in the conversation of The G.O.A.T. Place Andy Reid on the Mount Rushmore of NFL head coaches. And crown Travis Kelce as the premier Beastie Boys cover artist.

But a funny thing happened to the Chiefs on the way to immortality: Tom Brady knocked them off.

And there is a precedent for this kind of thing. The St. Louis Football Team and Seattle Seahawks each encountered a similar situation some years back. Both ended up losing to Brady in the Super Bowl. Is Kansas City going to be a one-hit wonder? Like Hanson. (Just kidding. "Where's the Love" is actually better than "MMMBop.") Or will the Chiefs get back on track for a historic run?

New York Giants vs. Washington Football Team

Only this year, I hope both teams at least reach .500 -- and we don't have to worry about the Eagles giving a full effort or whatnot. I mean, I suppose the Eagles do figure into this, in a way. But I love what the Giants and Football Team have done this offseason.

Big Blue took a page out of the Bills' playbook by snagging a big-time receiver. Now, Stefon Diggs is a better player than Kenny Golladay, but the latter should give Daniel Jones a huge boost -- and inherently allow the team to fully evaluate whether Danny Dimes is truly a quarterback to build around.

Washington's early offseason effort might be my favorite of all. The FT already has a good defense, but they juiced up the offense by adding barnstorming wonder Ryan Fitzpatrick to go along with Curtis Samuel, who is reunited with coach Ron Rivera.

The NFC East has a bunch of great rivalries. Heading into the 2021 season, though, NYG-WFT is my favorite.

Carson Wentz vs. Jalen Hurts

Speaking of the Eagles, this is going to be great. The Colts and Eagles don't play this year, but there is going to be a huge competition between these two teams -- and specifically, these two quarterbacks.

Wentz obviously will have his eye on what's happening back in Philly. And Philly will keep its eye on Wentz, whether Colts PR likes it or not. Meanwhile, Jalen is going to be linked to Carson forever. And the pressure on the second-year signal-caller will significantly ratchet up if Wentz goes out there in Indianapolis and kills it with Frank Reich by his side again.

New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In a normal situation, losing a first-ballot Hall of Famer would take some shine off a rivalry like this. But honestly, Drew Brees' retirement only made it better, because the Saints are bringing back Jameis Winston -- you know, the guy Tampa took No. 1 overall six years ago.

At the moment, we don't know if Sean Payton will start Jameis or go with this Taysom Hill nonsense some more. But we really need Winston going up against the Buccaneers this season. In fact, I demand that this be the 2021 Kickoff Game. That's right, I demand it! And Payton has to ride the Jameis-coaster, at least in this opener.

Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins

I know a lot of you kids have spent the vast majority of your lives with a Patriots-centric AFC East. But this rivalry, Bills v. Dolphins, was a highlight of my football-watching youth. And now, like every show I watched as a kid, it's been rebooted -- and might even be better than the original. Kind of like Cobra Kai.

Fresh off a 13-3 season that ended in the AFC title game, the Josh Allen-led Bills will enter the 2021 campaign with legit Super Bowl aspirations. So, this rivalry's ultimate juiciness more likely depends on the Dolphins, who just missed last season's playoffs at 10-6 and have been quite active this offseason. If Tua Tagovailoa becomes the player the Fins envisioned when they took him at No. 5 overall last year, this could become the it rivalry.

Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay Packers

The Rams were eliminated by the Packers in last season's playoffs. And the two teams are slated to meet in Green Bay again in the 2021 regular season. But I really love this budding rivalry because, while both teams are top NFC contenders, they go about things in very different ways.

The Rams could have been content to just continue riding with Jared Goff. The rationale would have been simple: We already got to the Super Bowl once with him -- what's stopping us from doing it again? But no, Los Angeles most definitely did not go this route. Instead, they sent Goff, two first-round picks and a third-rounder to Detroit in exchange for Matthew Stafford. This came 17 months after L.A. flipped two firsts and a fourth to acquire Jalen Ramsey's services. It's an approach that screams WIN NOW. Which is a little bit different than what the Packers have done for ... well ... decades. Where they look at their Hall of Fame quarterback and go, "Welp, you've got to do this all on your own." I mean, the team re-signed Aaron Jones this offseason, which definitely helps. But by and large, the Packers have been far more apt to invest in the future (SEE: trading up to spend a first-round pick on QB Jordan Love) than mortgage it. Rams-Packers is a contrast in styles, and I can't wait to see how it plays out.

Oh, and it should be noted that Golden Tate could be headed to Green Bay. The Tate-Ramsey feud would take center stage on Lambeau Field.

Russell Wilson vs. Seattle Seahawks

You might ask where Rams vs. Seahawks ranks, but Wilson vs. Seahawks is going to be much more interesting. This has been building up through the offseason. And it's something that's been of particular interest to this Chicago Bears fan.

I mean, I never would have deluded myself into thinking he would want to come to Chicago until it was reported that the Bears were on his wish list. But this will be a situation where, if Russ does indeed stay put in Seattle for 2021, there will be mounting pressure on the Seahawks every time a defender even gets close to him, or one of his linemen misses a block. This kinda puts the Bears in a weird spot, too, where you almost don't want to be too good and consequently get a later first-round draft pick. But the good news for Chicago is that the team's offseason moves have shown this likely won't be a problem.

Wilson's dead-money number is gargantuan this offseason, but it drops significantly in 2022. So, yeah, I don't see this drama ending any time soon.

Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick

There is no doubt we are ALL IN on this rivalry. I mean, I'm sure a lot of Patriots fans were happy for Brady to win. But now it's time for New England to get back on top. And if you don't think Belichick feels that way, you haven't been paying attention.

The Patriots approached free agency with the vigor of a scorned lover working on a revenge body. But seriously, maybe you could have been a little more deliberate, Pats. Like, don't be the guy who shows up back at the gym for the first time in a year and tries to get it all back in one day. What were you spending all that money on? Nelson Agholor? What in the name of Gary Matthews Jr. is going on here? That's like somebody offering to buy you dinner, and you choose Taco Bell. No disrespect to Doritos Locos Tacos, but you might want to set your sights a bit higher. Not that I hated all of the moves. Adding Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry is actually genius. But man, some of the other actions seem quite aggressive.

Thankfully, we will get to see these two franchises face off at least once this year, with the Brady-led Bucs visiting Foxborough. And fine, maybe that should be the game that kicks off the 2021 NFL season.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter.

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