National Football League rivalries are part of what makes professional football so exciting. As fans, we circle the dates on the game schedule when our favorite team will face off against a hated rival.
The players look forward to these matchups as well. Of course every NFL team wants to defeat every opponent they play, but not all games are created equal. Players and coaches feel the heat when an arch rival appears on the schedule, constantly reminded by the media, fans, and former players how critical it is to win.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been around for over eighty years. The franchise has existed during multiple versions of the NFL and has seen several division realignments along with one major merger. This has given them plenty of opportunity to rack up a long list of enemies.
In ranking the top 10 Steelers rivals of all time, it is helpful to break them down into three major groups, from least-heated to most-hated:
- NFC Rivals: The Steelers are in the American Football Conference. That means National Football Conference teams might see them in the regular season every few years, but they won’t face off against Pittsburgh in the playoffs unless both teams make it to the Super Bowl. However, as the Steelers are a franchise from the old pre-merger NFL, they have a history with some NFC teams that dates back to the early days of the league. In some cases, Super Bowl meetings have established a heated rivalry.
- AFC Conference Rivals: As with NFC teams, whether or not Pittsburgh sees their conference rivals during the regular season depends on how the NFL schedule lines up. It is during the playoffs where these matchups become intense. Over the course of Steelers history, there have been a few teams that repeatedly get into Pittsburgh's way on their march to the Super Bowl. Sometimes the matchups come out in Pittsburgh’s favor, and other times not, but it is never boring.
- AFC Division Rivals: Each division in the NFL is comprised of four teams who meet twice per year in the regular season and might even face each other in the playoffs. The Steelers compete in the AFC North against three divisional opponents who each have their own storied history. These are the most-despised Steelers rivals and the teams Pittsburgh must dominate each season in order to make it to the playoffs.
As a fan, you learn to hate your team's rivals, but there is also a level of respect and admiration for the teams the Steelers have done battle with over the decades. It is the struggle against a worthy opponent that makes NFL football so exciting.
Pittsburgh Steelers' Biggest Rivals
10. Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles, the Steelers' cross-state rivals, joined the NFL in 1933, the same year as the Steelers (who were then called the Pittsburgh Pirates). Both were expansion teams, and both came from a state where football was, and still is, highly revered.
Today, when the Steelers and Eagles face off in the regular season, it is a rare but heated matchup. Back in the early days of the NFL, they both battled for the NFL East, along with New York, Boston, and Brooklyn.
The Steelers-Eagles rivalry continued until realignment in 1967, when the Eagles were assigned to the Capitol Division and the Steelers the Century Division. With the NFL/AFL merger of 1970, the two teams found themselves separated by an even greater divide when the Steelers moved over to the American Football Conference.
In an interesting footnote to football Steelers' history, the franchises actually joined forces during World War II. With many players away at war, neither organization had the personnel needed to field a full team. In 1943, the Phil-Pitt Eagles-Steelers Combine team took the field with the unofficial moniker Steagles. The hybrid team went 5-4-1, marking the Eagles' second winning season, and the Steelers' first in team history.
Pennsylvania football fans look forward to the day when the Steelers and Eagles finally meet in the Super Bowl.
- With 78 regular-season games played, the Eagles lead the series 47-28 with three ties between them.
- The Eagles defeated the Steelers once in the NFL playoffs.
- 1947 NFL Playoffs: The 8-5 Steelers lost to the 9-4 Eagles by a score of 21-0 when Philadelphia quarterback Tommy Thompson threw for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
9. Dallas Cowboys
In the history of pro sports, there have been few rivalries as epic as that between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. The teams battled on the field in two Super Bowls, but in many ways they competed for the hearts and minds of an entire country.
The Cowboys were America’s Team, with a U.S. Navy veteran and Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, a linebacker called Hollywood, a shining star on their helmets, and pristine home whites. The Steelers were a blue-collar team, with a good ol’ southern boy at quarterback, a linebacker with no front teeth, the steelmark on their helmets, and black jerseys.
The Cowboy’s joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1960. They had their first winning season in 1966 and continued with a streak of winning years that lasted through 1985. During the 1970s, they appeared in five Super Bowls (lost three and won two). A pair of those Super Bowl defeats came at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers' victories over the Cowboys in Super Bowls X and XIII are among the greatest victories in Pittsburgh franchise history.
Fortunes fell for both the Cowboys and Steelers in the 1980s, but the rivalry rekindled in 1995 when the two teams once again met in the Super Bowl. This time the Cowboys had their revenge, defeating the Steelers 27-17.
- In 29 regular-season games, the Cowboys hold a 16-13 advantage.
- In three Super Bowl meetings, the Steelers have won two.
- Super Bowl X: The Steelers beat the Cowboys 21-17. Pittsburgh wide receiver Lynn Swann hauled in four passes for 161 yards and a touchdown to take home the Most Valuable Player award.
- Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh handed Dallas another defeat by a score of 35-31. Steelers Quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns, while wideouts Lynn Swann and John Stallworth both had over 100 yards receiving.
- Super Bowl XXX: The Cowboys beat the Steelers 27-17, and held off a Steelers fourth-quarter comeback. Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman threw for 209 yards and a touchdown.
Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowls
Jan 18, 1976
Jan 21, 1979
Jan 29, 1996
8. Denver Broncos
The Broncos began as one of the original members of the American Football League in 1960. When the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, they became part of the AFC, along with the Steelers.
It may not seem like the Denver Broncos belong on a list of the Pittsburgh Steelers' greatest rivals, but the Broncos have been a force to contend with in every decade. In the 1970s, it was their intimidating Orange Crush defense that stopped opponents in their tracks. In the '80s and '90s, it was all-world quarterback John Elway leading them to victory. Even Tim Tebow managed to dash the Steelers' Super Bowl hopes during his short stint as Denver's quarterback.
It's true that this isn't the same kind of bitter feud that the Steelers have with some other teams around the league. However, the Steelers have faced the Broncos in the playoffs more than they have any other team, and more often than not the outcome has been heartbreak for the Steel City faithful.
All Time Record
- In 24 regular-season matchups the Broncos have a 15-8 advantage, with one tie.
- The Broncos have beaten the Steelers in five out of eight playoff games.
- 1977 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Broncos knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs by a score of 34-21 on their way to a Super Bowl XII loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
- 1978 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Steelers returned the favor of the previous year, beating the Broncos 33-10. The Steelers won their third Super Bowl that season by defeating another rival, the Dallas Cowboys.
- 1984 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Steelers defeated the Broncos 24-7 in what would be the last hurrah for the Pittsburgh dynasty of the ‘70s. The Steelers lost the AFC Championship the next week.
- 1989 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Steelers lost a nail-biter to a Super-Bowl-bound Broncos team by a score of 24-23. Pittsburgh running back Merril Hodge ran for 120 yards and a touchdown and hauled in eight passes for 60 yards in the losing effort.
- 1997 AFC Championship: The Broncos defeated the Steelers 24-21 on the way to the first of legendary Denver quarterback John Elway’s two-Super-Bowl swan song. The Broncos racked up their first-ever Super Bowl victory against the Green Bay Packers two weeks later.
- 2005 AFC Championship: An underdog Steelers team, led by second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and future Hall-of-Fame running back Jerome Bettis, upset the Broncos 34-17. The Steelers went on to win their fifth Super Bowl championship in franchise history.
- 2011 AFC Wild Card Game: The Broncos came out ahead of the Steelers in a 29-23 overtime contest. Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow went down in history as the unlikely hero of the game by connecting for a touchdown pass with receiver Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime.
- 2015 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Steelers dropped a 23-16 decision to a Peyton Manning-led Broncos team. Manning and a powerful Broncos defense brought home Denver’s third Lombardi Trophy several weeks later.
7. Oakland Raiders
Few NFL teams have hated each other like the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. These were the two bullies of the NFL block, each believing they were the toughest around. When they came together, each team had something to prove.
Back then, and to some extent today, the Raiders had a reputation as the last stop for misfit football players that nobody else wanted. They were an original AFL team full of outlaws and outcasts and they liked it that way. The only thing owner Al Davis asked of them was to “just win, baby.”
The problem was, winning the Super Bowl back then usually meant going through Pittsburgh.
- Oakland leads the 23-game regular season series 13-10.
- The Steelers and Raiders have split playoff matches with three wins apiece.
- 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Raiders have the privilege of being the first team the Steelers ever defeated in the playoffs, even if it did require a little divine intervention. Down 7-6, the Steelers faced fourth-and-10 on their 40-yard line with 22 seconds left on the clock. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw dropped back to throw, but the Raiders' pass rush chased him out of the pocket. He scrambled right and heaved a pass down the center of the field toward running back John Fuqua. Raiders safety Jack Tatum collided with Fuqua just as the ball arrived, sending it careening back toward the Steelers’ line of scrimmage. Steelers back Franco Harris plucked it out of the air and raced into the end zone for the touchdown as the clock ran out, giving the Steelers a 13-7 victory. The play is known today as the Immaculate Reception.
- 1973 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Raiders pummeled the Steelers 33-14, but would lose the AFC Championship the next week to the Miami Dolphins.
- 1975 AFC Championship: In a defensive struggle, the Steelers beat the Raiders 16-10 on the way to Super Bowl X, where they defeated the Dallas Cowboys.
- 1976 AFC Championship: The Raiders beat the Steelers 24-7. Two weeks later, the Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI.
- 1983 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Steelers lost to the Los Angeles Raiders by a score of 38-10, in a game where Raiders running back Marcus Allen ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Los Angeles went on the defeat Washington in the Super Bowl.
6. New England Patriots
The Patriots are in the AFC East Division, and for the better part of two decades, they have stood like a stone wall between Pittsburgh and the Super Bowl. The teams have clashed five times in the playoffs, and only once did the Steelers escape with a win. For 20 years it has been one of the most heated rivalries in sports, though a bit one-sided for Pittsburgh fans.
These days, quarterback Tom Brady gets a lot of credit for New England's success, but Pittsburgh's problems with the Pats started long before Brady arrived.
Before Brady, the Patriots had a quarterback named Drew Bledsoe who was pretty darned good himself. In nine seasons with the Pats he threw for 29,657 yards and 166 touchdowns, and even led them to a Super Bowl appearance.
Bledsoe missed most of the 2001 season with an injury, which opened the door for the Brady-era in New England. If not for that turn of events there is a good chance Bledsoe would be wearing a few more of those New England Super Bowl rings.
Drew Bledsoe went on to play for five more productive seasons with the Bills and Cowboys. You probably already know what became of Tom Brady.
- In 28 regular-season meetings, the Steelers hold a 15-13 advantage.
- In the playoffs, the Patriots have won four out of five games
- 1996 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Patriots and quarterback Drew Bledsoe beat the Steelers 28-3 on their way a Super Bowl loss against the Green Bay Packers.
- 1997 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Steelers squeaked passed the Patriots 7-6, only to lose the AFC Championship to the Super-Bowl-bound Denver Broncos the following week.
- 2001 AFC Championship: The Patriots and a young Tom Brady beat the Steelers 24-17. Weeks later, Brady would win his first of many Super Bowl titles.
- 2004 AFC Championship: Brady and the Patriots put up 41 points and beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh yet again.
- 2016 AFC Championship: The Steelers dropped another championship game to the Patriots by the score of 36-17. Several weeks later, New England staged the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history to beat the Atlanta Falcons.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars
A pair of expansion teams joined the NFL in 1995: The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers. As the AFC Central Division only had four teams instead of five like most of the other divisions, the league placed the Jaguars in the AFC Central. Thus began one of the most frustrating rivalries in Steelers history.
It makes sense to assume an expansion franchise would struggle for their first few years in the league, but that didn’t happen with the Jaguars. They had a winning record their second season and made the playoffs. By their fourth season, they had won the division and by their fifth, they had made it to the AFC Championship.
Needless to say, many Steelers fans were more than happy to see the Jags shipped off to the AFC South when the NFL realigned its divisions in 2002, but that hasn't stopped Jacksonville from irritating the Steelers in the playoffs.
- The Steelers and Jaguars have split 24 regular-season meetings 12-12.
- The Jaguars have gotten the best of the Steelers in the playoffs, 2-0.
- 2007 AFC Wild Card Game: The Steelers lost to the Jags 31-29 in a game where Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions. Jacksonville lost to New England the following week.
- 2017 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Steelers and Jaguars put up 87 points between them. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 469 yards and five touchdowns in a heroic but losing effort. The Steelers again came up short and lost, 45-42.
4. Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans
The Dallas Cowboys weren’t the only dominant football team in Texas during the late 1970s. The Houston Oilers, an AFC Central opponent of the Steelers, were a force to be reckoned with as well.
Powered by the legs of 230-pound running back Earl Campbell, the Oilers rolled to the AFC Championship game in both 1978 and 1979, only to be stopped dead by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Oilers got their revenge throughout the 1980s and early ‘90s, with Hall-of-Fame quarterback Warren Moon at the helm of a crazy prototype of today’s wide open offenses which was then called the “run-and-shoot”.
While they made it to the playoffs six times during Moon’s tenure, the Oilers didn't appear in the Super Bowl until the 1999 season. By then the franchise had relocated to Tennessee and changed their name to the Titans.
The Steelers battled the Oilers/Titans in the AFC Central until realignment in 2002.
- In 74 regular-season meetings, the Steelers have a 43-31 advantage.
- In four playoff meetings, the Steelers are ahead 3-1.
- 1978 AFC Championship: The Steelers beat the Oilers 34-5 on their way to an epic Super Bowl showdown with the Dallas Cowboys and their third Lombardi trophy.
- 1979 AFC Championship: Oilers running back Earl Campbell had rushed for 1,697 yards and an incredible 19 touchdowns during the 1979 season, but the Steelers defense held him to a paltry 15 yards on 17 carries in their second-straight championship-game matchup. The Steelers won 27-13.
- 1989 AFC Wild Card Game: The Oilers were hot in the late 1980s, and the Steelers were struggling. But Pittsburgh still had Houston’s number, and managed to pull out a 26-23 win thanks to kicker Gary Anderson’s 50-yard field goal in overtime.
- 2002 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Tennessee Titans defeated the Steelers 34-31 in another overtime stunner. Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns during the contest.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals started out as an AFL team owned in part by Paul Brown, the co-founder and first coach of the Cleveland Browns. With the AFL/NFL merger of 1970, the Bengals landed in the AFC Central Division with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they have been arch rivals ever since.
Through the '70s, the Steelers handled the Bengals with little difficulty. In the early '80s, Cincinnati changed their helmets and, apparently, their attitude. They appeared in two Super Bowls throughout the decade, but were unable to emerge with a win in either.
After struggling through the '90s, the Bengals had a resurgence in the 2000s, first on the arm of quarterback Carson Palmer, and more recently thanks to quarterback Andy Dalton.
The 2019 season marks the 50th year the Bengals and Steelers have butted heads in one of the most hard-nosed divisions of the NFL. They’ve only met twice in the playoffs, but the results were two of the most brutal and controversy-packed post-season games in AFC history.
- In 99 games, the Steelers lead the series 64-35.
- The Steelers have won both playoff matchups.
- 2005 AFC Wild Card Game: The Steelers defeated the Bengals in Cincinnati by a score of 31-17. The Bengals lost Pro-Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer to a severe knee injury early in the game when Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen hit him low in an attempt to make a sack. Bengals fans were outraged, but the hit was legal at the time. The NFL changed the rules in the offseason and made diving at a quarterback’s knees illegal.
- 2015 AFC Wild Card Game: The Steelers pulled out an 18-16 win in a game they should have lost. Cincinnati led 16-15 with seconds left in a scuffle-ridden, hard-fought contest. While the Steelers struggled to move the ball as the clock ran down, Bengals defensive players Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones rang up a pair of unconscionable personal fouls that gave Pittsburgh a free 30 yards and an easy field goal for the win.
2. Cleveland Browns
Number two on my list of the Pittsburgh Steelers greatest rivals is the Cleveland Browns. Like the Steelers, the Browns are an old-school NFL team, with origins that trace back to the All-America Football Conference. They joined the NFL in 1950 and have battled the Steelers ever since.
In those early days, the Browns fielded some powerful teams. They appeared in six straight NFL Championship games from 1950 to 1955 and won the title three of those years. With the exception of a losing season in 1956, and 1970 when they went 7-7, the Browns posted a winning record every year until 1974.
And that was right around the time when the Steelers Super Bowl dynasty of the 1970s was born. The Steelers dominated the ‘70s, but the Browns resurged with some strong teams in the late 1980s.
Today, excluding a 10-6 record in 2007, the Browns have not had a winning season since 2003. And, despite all of their early NFL Championships, they are one of only four current NFL teams that have never been to the Super Bowl.
No matter their records, when the Browns face the Steelers, nothing is taken for granted. The Steelers have battled the Browns in the regular season more than any other opponent in history.
- In 134 regular-season games, the Steelers lead the series 74-59, with one tie.
- The Steelers met the Browns twice in the playoffs, winning both times.
- 1994 AFC Divisional Playoff: The Steelers beat the Browns 29-9 in a game where Pittsburgh running backs plowed their way for 238 rushing yards. The Steelers lost the AFC Championship game to San Diego the following week.
- 2002 Wild Card Game: Pittsburgh won 22-9 thanks to the arm of quarterback Tommy Maddox who threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
1. Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens have only been around since 1996, so how could they possibly rank higher than Cleveland and Cincinnati on a list of the Steelers' greatest rivals? Because the Baltimore Ravens are actually the Cleveland Browns, sort of.
In 1995, Browns owner Art Modell made the fateful decision to move his team out of Cleveland. For many football fans this was outrageous. (There are few fan bases in the country more dedicated than Browns fans). Even Steelers fans sympathized. It was heartbreaking to see your biggest rival and life-long nemesis disappear in the blink of an eye.
Modell moved the team to Baltimore, another city with a passion for football, a city that had watched its beloved Colts abscond to Indianapolis eleven years earlier. But an agreement was reached to leave the Browns team name, team colors, and franchise records in Cleveland. Thus, the Cleveland Browns became the Baltimore Ravens, a new franchise with old roots.
For three seasons, there was a Browns-shaped hole in the NFL, until the league awarded Cleveland an expansion team. The Browns returned to the field in 1999, an old NFL franchise starting anew.
It didn’t take long for Steelers fans to hate the Ravens as much as they hated the Browns, if not more. While the Browns name may have stayed in Cleveland, the players were the same and the rivalry didn't miss a beat. When the Browns returned in 1999, the Steelers found themselves with two bitter rivals where before there was one.
- Pittsburgh has the edge in 48 all-time matchups by the score of 25-23.
- The Steelers hold a 3-1 advantage in playoff meetings.
- 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff: Pittsburgh beat the Ravens 27-10 on a pair of touchdown runs by Amos Zereoue and a 32-yard touchdown pass from Kordell Stewart to Plaxico Burress.
- 2008 AFC Championship: The Steelers defeated the Ravens 23-14 en route to Super Bowl XLIII and their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
- 2010 AFC Divisional Playoff: Pittsburgh beat Baltimore 31-24 in a game where the Steelers defense held the Ravens to 126 total yards of offense.
- 2014 Wild Card Game: The Ravens sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and beat the Steelers 30-17.
Who Is the Pittsburgh Steelers' Biggest Rival?
The Baltimore Ravens are currently the Steelers biggest rival in the NFL. Like the Steelers, the Ravens pride themselves on strong defense, intimidation, and toughness. These are two teams that just don't like each other. They battle for first place in the AFC North almost every season, and whenever they meet you can bet you will see a hard-hitting contest (and possibly a fight or two).
Steelers vs. AFC North Opponents
|Team||Regular Season Wins||Regular Season Losses||Ties||Regular Season Win %||Playoff Wins||Playoff Losses|
Steelers NFL Rivalries
Rivalries are part of what makes NFL football so exciting. As Steelers fans, our team gives us an identity. We weren't drafted, we never went to spring workouts, we didn't attend training camp, and we won't be stepping on the field this Sunday. Nevertheless, we put on our team colors and we feel like we are part of the team.
We are Steeler Nation.
If you have been a Steelers fan for long, you've seen some incredible games and some powerful opponents. While it seems like it would be fantastic to win every game by 70 points, that would get old soon enough. Super Bowl trophies are wonderful, but it is the struggle that forges the memories.
So, here's to the Steelers' greatest rivals. Let the Ravens, Browns, and Bengals remain worthy adversaries for decades to come.