Who Are the Arizona Cardinals' Biggest Rivals?
When considering the most intense rivalries in the National Football League, the Arizona Cardinals are not the first team that comes to most fans' minds. But like every other team, the Cardinals have their fair share of rivalry games each season. Whether entrenched within the division, with roots buried deep in the past, or formed out of postseason matchups, there are a handful of teams that Arizona’s players and fans can’t wait to see on the field.
Do the Arizona Cardinals Have a Rival?
There are five teams who the Arizona Cardinals would consider as rivals, and while some of those rivalries have cooled in recent seasons, any of them could be rekindled at a moment's notice.
Who are the Cardinals’ Biggest Rivals?
Arizona claims the Seattle Seahawks as their most hated rival, and fellow National Football Conference West Division foe, the San Francisco 49ers, are right behind. Outside of the division, a rival born out of the postseason is with the Carolina Panthers, who have maintained a 2-1 playoff record against the Cardinals since 2008. Historically, Arizona and the Philadelphia Eagles contest a “Battle of the Birds,” which was aided by back-to-back battles for the NFL championship in 1947–48. The oldest rival of the Cardinals, however, is the Chicago Bears—which is considered the first rivalry in football history. On a lesser scale, Arizona counts the Pittsburgh Steelers as a rival, especially after the teams combined in 1944 due to a player shortage in World War II and after Pittsburgh defeated the Cardinals in the final minute of Super Bowl XLIII.
Why Do Some of Their Rivals Consider Them False Rivals?
Despite being in existence for 100 seasons, the Cardinals have never established themselves as one of the league’s powerhouse teams. With an overall record of 558-763-41, Arizona has just 30 winning seasons in its history—which includes only 5 such seasons since 1999. Because of those struggles, it’s been difficult for the Cardinals to establish a traditional rivalry with other teams. Even their divisional foes usually focus on other teams more than the Cardinals, but that doesn't mean Arizona should be forgotten when talking about rivalry games, so in this article, I’ll examine all of Arizona's rivalries more closely.
Rivalry With the Seattle Seahawks
- Overall Record: Seahawks lead, 21-20-1
- Current Streak: Cardinals have won one straight
- First Game: Cardinals won, 30-24, on September 12, 1976
- Most Recent Game: Cardinals won, 27-13, on December 22, 2019
- Next Game: To be determined
- Most Memorable Game: A 6-6 tie on October 23, 2016
The Arizona Cardinals' rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks dates back to the very first game in Seahawks' history. Since that 1976 season-opener, the teams moved into the same division in 2002 and have shared many epic battles over the years—especially from 2014–16.
The rivalry between the teams gained steam in 2013. After taking a 58-0 beating in 2012, the Cardinals sought to avenge the embarrassing loss in what would prove to be an upswing year for the franchise. Arizona was building momentum several seasons after losing the Super Bowl, went to Seattle, and picked up a 17-10 victory in Week 16. The Cardinals wouldn't make the playoffs, despite a 10-6 record, but that win set the foundation for six great battles over the next three years. Twice in those three seasons, both the Cardinals and Seahawks made the postseason and from 2014–16, they finished as the top two teams in the NFC West Division, adding some extra punch to their two annual matchups. Seattle held the advantage during that three-year stretch with a 2-3-1 record.
Over the course of the rivalry, their tie game sticks out most. Arizona and Seattle played to a 6-6 deadlock in front of a national Sunday Night Football audience on October 23, 2016. It was the first of three straight games at University of Phoenix Stadium/State Farm Stadium that proved memorable, in a bad way, for Seattle. In the 2017 matchup there, a 22-16 win for the Seahawks, injuries to star cornerback Richard Sherman and several other players marred the victory. In 2018, Seattle won, 20-17, but Earl Thomas suffered a broken leg. Neither Sherman nor Thomas would ever play for the Seahawks again.
- The only other time Arizona and Seattle finished as the top two teams in the NFC West came in 2007, when Arizona finished second at 8-8.
- Including 2019, the Seahawks haven't lost in Phoenix since 2012.
- Arizona won the first five games in the series through 1995—twice as the St. Louis Cardinals, twice as the Phoenix Cardinals, and once as the Arizona Cardinals.
Rivalry With the San Francisco 49ers
- Overall Record: 49ers lead, 31-26
- Current Streak: 49ers have won two straight
- First Game: Cardinals won, 27-21, on November 18, 1951
- Most Recent Game: 49ers won, 36-26, on November 17, 2019
- Next Game: To be determined
- Most Memorable Game: A 24-23 comeback win for the Cardinals on November 6, 1988
As a rivalry born out divisional realignment in 2002, the Cardinals and 49ers haven't shared many intense games. But with both teams finding some success from 2008–11, there is a memorable stretch in the series, which has since cooled tremendously.
In 2008 and 2009, Arizona was the NFC West champion over San Francisco, but the 49ers turned the tables in 2011. During those seasons, San Francisco held a 5-3 edge over the Cardinals. Times changed, however, as the Cardinals didn't lose in the series from 2015–18, but several of the games were close. This isn't the most intense rivalry at the moment, though it could be rekindled at a moment's notice, as the Cardinals seem to be building a competitive roster that could match up with the defending NFC champions.
To me, the best game between the teams came decades ago, when the Cardinals overcame a 23-point deficit to shock the eventual Super Bowl champion 49ers for a 24–23 victory on November 6, 1988. Quarterback Neil Lomax engineered a 66-yard drive with no timeouts, and connected with Roy Green for the game-winning score with 6 seconds to play. It was the Cardinals' first win over the 49ers in the 1980s.
- In 2005, San Francisco and Arizona played in Mexico City in the first regular-season NFL game played outside the United States. Arizona won, 31-14.
- The 49ers were Arizona's first opponent in University of Phoenix Stadium, which opened in 2006.
Rivalry With the Philadelphia Eagles
- Overall Record: Cardinals lead, 57-56-5
- Playoff Record: Eagles lead, 2-1
- Current Streak: Eagles have won one straight
- First Game: Cardinals won, 12-3, on November 10, 1935
- Most Recent Game: Eagles won, 34-7, on October 8, 2017
- Next Game: To be determined
- Most Memorable Game: A 32-25 Cardinals win in the 2008 NFC Championship Game
The "Battle of the Birds" was a rivalry born out of the old NFC East division. The Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles annually had two matchups from 1970–2001, and also faced each other for the 1947 and 1948 NFL championships. After divisional realignment in 2002, however, there have been fewer matchups between the teams, but the rivalry remains steady.
The teams first met in 1935 and played each other twice every season from 1952–2001, except for 1967–69. The Cardinals won nine straight in the series from 1974–78. But when they met in the playoffs, the rivalry took on new life. In 1947, the Cardinals put together the victory in the championship game, taking down Philadelphia, 28-21, on the frozen turf of Comiskey Park. Seventeen championship game records were matched or fell that day, and Charley Trippi and Elmer Angsman each ran in a pair of touchdown for the Cardinals. A year later, however, the Eagles found the winning recipe in a 7-0 upset, in spite of a blizzard blanketing Shibe Park with snow.
Despite all the matchups over the next 60 years, the Cardinals and Eagles wouldn't battle in the playoffs again until the 2008 NFC Championship Game. Arizona was seeking its first Super Bowl appearance and dominated the first half to take a 24-6 halftime lead, but the Eagles stormed back with three unanswered touchdowns to take a one-point lead. Quarterback Kurt Warner then connected with Tim Hightower for a touchdown, and the Cardinals converted a 2-point conversion to advance to the Super Bowl, despite entering the postseason with just a 9–7 record.
- Cardinals receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, has thrived against the Eagles, gaining 744 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season, and 152 yards and 3 TDs in the 2008 NFC title game. He was almost traded to Philadelphia in 2008.
- When the Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Phoenix in 1988, they stayed in the same division as the Eagles—despite the cities being nearly 2,100 miles apart.
Rivalry With the Carolina Panthers
- Overall Record: Panthers lead, 12-5
- Playoff Record: Panthers lead, 2-1
- Current Streak: Panthers have won four straight (two playoff games)
- First Game: Panthers won, 27-7, on November 19, 1995
- Most Recent Game: Panthers won, 38-20, on September 22, 2019
- Next Game: To be determined
- Most Memorable Game: A 33-13 win for the Cardinals in the NFC Divisional playoffs on Jan. 10, 2009
Fans of both teams probably didn't think much of it when the Arizona Cardinals first met the Carolina Panthers in 1995. They probably didn't think much of the next 11 regular-season matchups either. That all changed in 2014, after the teams met in the postseason for the first of back-to-back seasons. Carolina would defeat Arizona in both appearances, leading to a highly charged rivalry game during the 2016 regular season. This rivalry has not necessarily sustained itself, but if the teams were ever to meet in the postseason again, fans will be eager to see the matchup.
The first postseason meeting between the Cardinals and Panthers came in the NFC Divisional round in 2008, when Arizona soared to a 33-13 victory on the way to a Super Bowl appearance. That snapped a five-game losing skid to the Panthers, who would enact revenge six years later.
It was the Wild Card round in 2014, and the Panthers rolled to a 27-16 victory by holding the Cardinals to just 78 yards. One year later, Carolina beat down Arizona again, this time in the Conference title game by a score of 49-15. The Panthers forced the Cardinals into seven turnovers. In a highly anticipated matchup during Week 8 of the 2016 season, Arizona traveled to Carolina for a rematch, but the result was the same—in this round, it was a 30-20 win for the Panthers.
The Cardinals and Panthers had the two best records in football when they met for the 2015 NFC title, and both quarterbacks—Carson Palmer and Cam Newton—were Heisman Trophy winners in college.
- In the 2014 Wild Card game, the Cardinals relied on third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley.
Rivalry With the Chicago Bears
- Overall Record: Bears lead, 59-28-6
- Current Streak: Bears have won one straight
- First Game: Cardinals won, 7-6, on November 28, 1920
- Most Recent Game: Bears won, 16-14, on September 23, 2018
- Next Game: To be determined
- Most Memorable Game: A 24-23 win for the Bears on October 16, 2006
The oldest rivalry in the history of the NFL is between the Cardinals and the Chicago Bears. Because the teams no longer play in the same city, there isn't as much heat between them, but the historical significance of those battles in the Windy City remain a vital piece of NFL history.
The Chicago Cardinals first met the Decatur Staleys in 1920, splitting two regular-season matchups. In the first five seasons, the teams went 4-4-2 against each other, with both winning one championship. The Cardinals would tail off following their 1925 title, and the Bears went 31-5-4 from 1926–46. In each of the next two seasons, the Cardinals would advance to the NFL championship game.
It has been said that the teams don't really have a true rivalry anymore, with some referring to the Cardinals/Bears as the "oldest series" instead of the oldest rivalry. However, there have been a handful of memorable moments within the rivalry, including a preseason brawl that saw more than 50 fines handed out in 1986, and a furious Bears comeback on a Monday night in 2006. In that game, the then-undefeated Bears found themselves trailing by 20 points at halftime, but made up that deficit to squeak by Arizona, 24-23. After the game, Cardinals coach, Dennis Green, went on a rant about the Bears, highlighted by his insisting: "They are who we thought we were, and we let them off the hook."
- After the first game between the two teams, the next 17 saw one of the two teams fail to score—including 4 games that ended in a 0–0 tie.
- Cardinals Hall of Famer Ernie Nevers set an individual record with 40 points in a 40-6 win over the Bears in 1929.
- Cardinals quarterback, Pat Coffee, established a team record with a touchdown pass of 97 yards to Gaynell Tinsley in a 42-28 loss in 1937.