The 8 rivalries you need to watch this NFL season

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is part of one of the NFL's most compelling rivalries, kicking off the season against Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The NFL’s oldest rivalry kicks off the 2019 season, with the Chicago Bears playing host to their sworn enemy Green Bay Packers on Thursday night.

The beef that exists between teams and players are the most compelling thing about the NFL at the moment, so in that spirit, we highlight the eight rivalries to keep an eye on this season.

Bears vs. Packers

This feud dates back to November 1921, but the Bears and Packers aren’t on this list for history alone. Buoyed by an outstanding defence and the gamesmanship of first-year head coach Matt Nagy, the Bears emerged as the surprise winners of the NFC North, while the Packers slumped to a 6-9-1 record despite Aaron Rodgers playing all 16 games.

Wasting another year of the tail end of Rodgers’ prime was inexcusable, and the Packers fired Mike McCarthy, replacing him with 39-year-old Matt LaFleur. Free of McCarthy’s playcalling which he routinely disagreed with, Rodgers is apparently hell-bent on lighting the league on fire and that’s always a scary sign for defensive coordinators.

Adrian Amos, one of the most promising young safeties in the league, left the Bears for the Packers in free agency, adding another layer to this heated battle. With the Bears, led by Khalil Mack, looking to prove last year wasn’t a fluke and the Packers looking to get back atop the division, this kick-off game could be one to remember.

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Eagles vs. Cowboys

In many ways these teams are built similarly, featuring two franchise quarterbacks from the 2016 NFL Draft in Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott, along with the two best offensive lines in the NFL. The Eagles might have the most talent of any team in the NFL and have depth across the board while the Cowboys, whose defence took a major leap last year, have star power on both sides of the ball.

Philadelphia nursed a Super Bowl hangover last year and it is poised to recapture the division with a healthy Wentz, while Dallas will be in prime position to defend their NFC East crown after locking up star running back Ezekiel Elliott days before the season kicks off.

Both teams are in their Super Bowl window, with the Eagles looking to hold bragging rights over America’s Team as they very well could lift the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in three years. The Cowboys aren’t going anywhere either, and this might be the tightest divisional race in 2019.

Antonio Brown vs. Ben Roethlisberger

Antonio Brown was traded to the Raiders but it doesn’t mean his long-standing dispute with Ben Roethlisberger is over.

Brown was benched for the Steelers’ season finale, then requested a trade in large part due to his frustrations with Roethlisberger.

After a long-standing fight that lasted the whole summer, Roethlisberger tried to apologize for singling Brown out after a game, regretting his earlier decision. Brown had no time for it, telling Roethlisberger to shut up in a since-deleted tweet.

It’s a shame the Raiders and Steelers don’t play each other, but Brown is active on social media and if he has a standout year with the Raiders, you can expect him to take some parting shots at his former quarterback.

Antonio Brown vs. Raiders

It hasn’t been exactly paradise for Brown in Oakland. Brown threw a fit when it was revealed that he couldn’t wear the helmet he wanted because it did not pass the league’s safety regulations. The superstar wideout threatened to hold out for the entire season if he couldn’t play with the helmet he desired, eventually caving on his demand.

Brown was fined $54,000 for missing practices and called the Raiders out during his Instagram story.

Although Brown has at times enjoyed the change of scenery, he’s already butted heads with management as general manager Mike Mayock visibly grew frustrated throughout the summer, telling him he needs to be “all-in or all-out” in late August.

We’ll see how it plays out, but don’t be surprised if Brown’s time in Oakland is short-lived.

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Patriots vs. Entire AFC

There’s no need for preamble. Even the precautionary line about this not being the year to count out the Patriots feels stale. New England has been to three consecutive Super Bowls, with two victories to punctuate the second major chapter of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady dynasty. It’s on the rest of the AFC to do better or else Brady could be walking off with an unprecedented seventh Super Bowl.

Not all hope is lost. Patrick Mahomes submitted one of the most dominant seasons ever by a quarterback, and even if the Chiefs’ standout regresses, it still should look like a 40-plus touchdown campaign. Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr. and the new-look Browns aren’t backing down from anyone, and this might actually be the year for the Chargers, provided Melvin Gordon signs.

Until one of these contenders steps up and knocks off the NFL’s greatest dynasty, the Patriots are the prohibitive favourites in the AFC, buoyed by the greatest coach and quarterback of all-time. You hate to see it.

Aqib Talib vs. Michael Crabtree

If you like chains getting snatched and a prodigious amount of trash talk, this is the one to circle. Rams cornerback Aqib Talib and Cardinals wide receiver Michael Crabtree detest each other and will get to face each other twice, again, after Crabtree signed with Arizona in August.

A beef recap: during a 2016 game between the Broncos and Raiders, Talib ripped Crabtree’s chain off of his neck, causing the animosity to grow. The following season, Talib snatched Crabtree’s chain again, which led to a fight, ejection and subsequent suspensions for both players.

Talib joined the Rams last year, while Crabtree left the Raiders in 2017, played for the Ravens in 2018 and is now back in the NFC West once again. Both players have insisted that the beef has been squashed, but we’ll see if cooler heads prevail when they square off on the field again. Talib-Crabtree III, we’re here for it.

Earl Thomas vs. Pete Carroll

Earl Thomas is the defining safety of his generation and was the most essential member of Seattle’s vaunted Legion of Doom. Thomas wanted a well-deserved extension prior to the 2018 season, threatened to hold out, then ended up playing out of a sense of loyalty to his team.

In a tragic turn of events, Thomas broke his leg against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4. Thomas gave Pete Carroll and the Seahawks the middle finger in one of the most haunting, iconic shots of the 2018 season.

Thomas signed a four-year, $55-million contract with the Ravens in March and explained that his disgust wasn’t directed at his teammates, only at Carroll.

“I don't regret my decision," Thomas said to ESPN's Josina Anderson. "If my teammates felt like it was toward them, I regret that part. But I don't regret doing that to Pete."

Thomas returns to Seattle on Oct. 20 as an opponent and though fans will likely be on his side, the six-time Pro Bowler will be happy to dissect the Seahawks’ offence and could have the game of his career.

Saints vs. Rams

This wasn’t a rivalry prior to the 2018 season but after the Saints lost to the Rams in a very controversial NFC Championship Game, expect this Week 2 matchup to be chippy and ferocious.

Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman got away with blatant pass interference in the final minutes of the game, which would’ve set up a game-winning sequence for the Saints. The game went to overtime, where the Rams intercepted the Saints on their opening drive, then kicked a game-winning field goal to advance to the Super Bowl, where their world-beating offence was completely nullified.

Saints fans and players alike believe that had they not been robbed by the officiating, they would’ve knocked off the Patriots. Who can really say? But this game boasts a ton of star power on both sides of the ball — Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley alone make this a must-watch.

Equal parts talent and contempt brooding in the mix, we cannot wait for this burgeoning conflict to escalate.

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