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Falcons-Saints Is One Of The Best Rivalries In The NFL

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You can have your Patriots-Jets. Take your Packers-Bears. For my money, the best rivalry in the NFL today belongs to the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.

Admittedly this is extremely subjective. As a Falcons fan, you say, of course I'm going to write that. But I do have an argument here, one that draws on history, animosity and a host of other words that end with y.

If you'll follow me over the jump, we'll get right to it.

There's A Rich History

The Falcons and Saints have shared a division since 1970. That was the year the two were brought together under the umbrella of the new NFC West, which they shared with the hated San Francisco 49ers and the less hated St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams.

The Saint and Falcons stumbled into a rivalry more or less by virtue of their ineptitude. With the 49ers or Rams tending to run away with the division, the Saints and the Falcons picked up table scraps in the division. They say misery loves company, and both the Falcons and Saints were pretty miserable throughout much of the 30 years they shared the West.

That breeds some natural animosity between fans and teams who are perpetually in the basement, and it happened naturally with the Saints and Falcons over the course of three decades. When both teams finally started looking like real football teams in the mid-to-late 2000's, that animosity really flowered.

That's the cool thing about shared suffering: It can unite or it can sharply divide once it ends. Now that the Saints have a Super Bowl victory and the Falcons have chained together three winning seasons, there's something to play for every time out. All those leans years have created a more bitter rivalry now that both teams are perennial playoff contenders.

The Games Are Often Close

At least recently, Falcons-Saints games have tended to be thrilling slugfests that aren't over until the fourth quarter has ground to a halt. In their last six meetings, the games have gone thusly:

Saints 17-Falcons 14
Falcons 27-Saints 24 (OT)
Saints 35-Falcons 27
Saints 26-Falcons 23
Saints 29-Falcons 25
Falcons 34-Saints 20

In only one of those games has the winning team walked away with a W by more than eight points, and that was the Falcons in 2008. These have been close, hyper-competitive tilts between two quality teams, and that's been a huge benefit to fans.

It also points to why this is such a cool rivalry. It ceases to be worth celebrating when one team regularly destroys the other, and that hasn't been the case in the Mike Smith era. Instead, we've gotten pitched battles between two worthy teams. That builds up a rivalry in a hurry.

The Teams And Fans Don't Like Each Other

I mentioned this in passing, but there's a deep vein of hatred here.

The Saints have insinuated things about the Falcons. One Saint memorably claimed to have peed on the Georgia Dome field. The Falcons have had harsh words for the Saints, with Roddy White unwisely Tweeting something about Katrina in the lead-up to one of last year's game. Over the last few years, it's gotten to the level of vitriol.

Fans are much the same. I think The Falcoholic and Canal Street Chronicles get along relatively well, but that amounts to a relatively small slice of the total fanbase for both teams. I've been called nasty, nasty names by Saints fans before, and I've seen Falcons fans return the favor. On the most basic level, you need look no further than the nicknames: "Falcan'ts" and "Ain'ts."

But that's what makes a rivalry great. When the players and the fans are invested in the hatred that flows freely in sports, it makes every contest matter a little bit more. And it makes the lead-up to the games damn fun, too.

What do you think? Is this one of the best rivalries in the NFL?