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Instant Debate

NFL's best rivalry? Bears-Packers remains among top choices

The NFL is built on classic rivalries, as is clear in the prime-time lineup for Week 10. First, the Cleveland Browns rolled over the Cincinnati Bengals on "Thursday Night Football," with an honest-to-goodness AFC North race adding some juice to the Battle of Ohio. Next comes the granddaddy of them all: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on "Sunday Night Football."

As the Bears and Packers prepare for the 190th installment of one of the more storied series in league history, we thought we'd ask: Which NFL rivalry is the best right now?

I can think of a lot of great rivalries in history. Of course, like the temperature, these rivalries tend to go up and down in intensity. For example, Rams- 49ers used to be especially hot back when the Rams were located in Los Angeles and both teams were playing at a high level. Similarly, Chiefs- Raiders was a special one in the days of Hank Stram and Al Davis. Browns- Steelers has become a bit lopsided in recent days, but there was a time when it was one of the fiercest rivalries going -- consider that former Browns owner Art Modell refused to switch to the AFC unless Pittsburgh moved also, to ensure he'd continue to play the Steelers twice a year.

At the end of the day, the rivalry that has held up the best is Bears- Packers, stretching all the way back to its beginning in 1921. There was even a time when the two teams played each other not just twice but three times per season. Through 189 contests (including two playoff matchups), the scoring differential is a razor-thin 60 points, in favor of the Bears -- that averages out to about a third of a point per game. When I think of the greatness of this rivalry, I think of the trains that used to run between Green Bay and Chicago, ferrying supporters of the visiting team to each game -- and it was always a party going back, whether the fans on board were celebrating a win or a loss. This is the No. 1 rivalry today and of all time. At the beginning of this season, I thought it was going to be San Francisco-Seattle -- and it still might be, depending on how the rest of the year plays out. (These two teams are set to play twice in 18 days, beginning at the end of this month.) One way to judge a rivalry is the national interest in the game. When that is the criteria, the clear winner is Tom Brady/ Bill Belichick vs. Peyton Manning, no matter which team Manning is playing for. The stakes are always high when they play; it's typically a matchup between two first-place teams or a postseason contest. The main subplot is obviously Manning vs. Brady -- who is the better quarterback? But it's also fun to see if Belichick, who always seems to be working with an outmanned defense, can stop Manning's scoring machine.

If we're talkin' division rivalries, I'll go with Pittsburgh-Baltimore, which is as hard-fought as it gets on a game-to-game basis. But, my first choice, when presented with this question, is Brady/Belichick vs. Manning. What a duel. The Steelers- Ravens rivalry ranks as the best battle in football. Each team is regarded as a rough-and-rugged outfit, which makes these games hard-hitting affairs. In addition, there is a genuine dislike between the squads, so the intensity and physicality is always at a playoff level.

Now, I've been a part of some other great rivalries, including Packers- Bears and Chiefs- Raiders, but nothing can match a Steelers- Ravens bout in prime time. There are so many great rivalries in the NFL ...

Green Bay-Chicago has history. So does Washington-Dallas. (And the passion still exists today in both bouts.) Baltimore and Pittsburgh have an amazing rivalry built on pure hatred.

But there's still nothing like Seattle vs. San Francisco in 2014. The coaches truly loathe each other, dating back to their Pac-10 days. The players despise each other. The fan bases are passionate. The Seahawks and 49ers have played in so many big and meaningful games of late. The teams are built the same way, with physical defenses and smash-mouth run games and electrifying quarterbacks.

This is the best rivalry in the NFL right now. And it is my favorite.

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