Who Are the Arizona Cardinals' Biggest Rivals?
When considering the most intense rivalries in the NFL, the 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 six teams the Cardinals consider their main 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?
The Cardinals claim the Seahawks as their top rival, with fellow NFC West Division foe, the 49ers, coming in a close second. Outside of the division, a rival born out of the postseason comes against the Panthers, who have maintained a 2–1 playoff record against the Cardinals since 2008. Historically, the Cardinals and the Eagles have clashed in a “Battle of the Birds,” a rivalry fueled by back-to-back battles for the NFL championship in 1947–48.
The oldest rival of the Cardinals, however, is the Bears—which is considered the first rivalry in football history. On a lesser scale, the Cardinals count the Steelers as a rival, especially after the teams combined in 1944 due to a player shortage during World War II and after Pittsburgh defeated the Cardinals in the final minute of Super Bowl XLIII. Lastly, the Cardinals have a long-standing rivalry with the Cowboys, with whom they once shared a division.
Why Do Some of Their Rivals Consider Them False Rivals?
Despite being in the NFL 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, the team 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 they should be forgotten when talking about rivalry games. In this article, I’ll examine all of the Cardinals' rivalries more closely.
Rivalry With the Seattle Seahawks
- Regular-Season Record: Seahawks lead, 21-20-1
- Current Streak: Cardinals have won one straight
- First Game: Cardinals won 30–24 on Sept. 12, 1976
- Most Recent Game: Cardinals won 27–13 on Dec. 22, 2019
- Next Game: vs. Seahawks on Oct. 25, 2020
- Most Memorable Game: A 6–6 tie on Oct. 23, 2016
The Cardinals' rivalry with the Seahawks dates back to the first game in Seahawks' history—the 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. Five years after losing the Super Bowl, Arizona was building momentum and picked up a 17–10 win in Seattle during Week 16. The Cardinals didn'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 3-2-1 record.
Over the course of the rivalry, their tie game sticks out most to me. Arizona and Seattle played to a 6–6 deadlock in front of a national Sunday Night Football audience on Oct. 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.
- Cardinals defensive back Lorenzo Lynch returned an interception 72 yards for a touchdown to give Arizona a 20–14 overtime victory on Oct. 29, 1995.
- 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
- Regular-Season Record: 49ers lead, 31–27
- Current Streak: Cardinals have won one straight
- First Game: Cardinals won 27–21 on Nov. 18, 1951
- Most Recent Game: Cardinals won 24–20 on Sept. 13, 2020
- Next Game: vs. 49ers on Dec. 27, 2020
- Most Memorable Game: A 24–23 comeback win for the Cardinals on Nov. 6, 1988
As a rivalry born out divisional realignment in 2002, the Cardinals and 49ers haven't shared as many close games as in the past. But with Arizona and San Francisco both finishing in the top two of the division in most seasons from 2008–11, it created a memorable stretch in the series as the teams battled to become division champion. The rivalry 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. Overall from 2008–11, the 49ers held a 5–3 edge over the Cardinals. Times changed, however, as the Cardinals didn't lose in the series from 2015–18, though several of the games were close. This isn't the most heated rivalry at the moment, but 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 Nov. 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' only win against 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 at University of Phoenix Stadium, which opened in 2006.
Rivalry With the Dallas Cowboys
- Regular-Season Record: Cowboys lead, 56-32-1
- Current Streak: Cardinals have won one straight
- First Game: Cardinals won 12–10 on Oct. 23, 1960
- Most Recent Game: Cardinals won 38–10 on Oct. 19, 2020
- Next Game: To be determined
- Most Memorable Games: A 25–22 regular-season win on Sept. 7, 1997, and a 20–7 first-round playoff win on Jan. 2, 1999
When the Cardinals and Cowboys were both members of the NFC East, the Cowboys had a far better record. Between 1970 and 2001—the Cardinals left the division for the newly formed NFC West in 2002—the Cowboys won the NFC East 15 times, while the Cardinals claimed just two such titles. Nevertheless, the matchups between the teams throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s remained among the most anticipated on each team’s schedule.
The disparity in team success was at its peak during the 1990s. Throughout the decade, the Cowboys made the playoffs in all but two seasons and won three Super Bowls, while the Cardinals finished at or below .500 in nine of the 10 seasons. The rivalry was equally lopsided. After the Cardinals won the season’s first matchup in 1990, Dallas went on to win 13 straight, often by double digits. Yet fans continued to fill the stadium when Dallas came to Phoenix. The top three attended home games in Cardinals history came against the Cowboys in the ‘90s, as did three more of the top 10.
The Cardinals finally broke the losing momentum with a pair of memorable moments in the rivalry—two games that will forever be etched into the lore of Cardinals/Cowboys history. In Week 2 of the 1997 season, it appeared the Cardinals were in for another big loss, but they erased a 15-point deficit to force overtime, and kicker Kevin Butler bounced a field goal through the uprights to secure the victory. Fans flooded the field and tore down the goal posts. One year later, the Cowboys swept both regular-season matchups, but were unable to make it a trifecta when the teams met in the playoffs. The Cardinals came to Dallas and scored the game’s first 20 points on the way to a 20–7 victory in one of the greatest games in franchise history.
- When the Cardinals defeated the Cowboys in 1997, it marked the first time the franchise had won its home opener since moving to Phoenix in 1988.
- In 1979, Roy Green returned a kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown against the Cowboys, which is the second-longest kick return in franchise history.
- An individual Cardinals player has recorded three interceptions in a game against the Cowboys twice—Roger Wehrli in 1975 and Adrian Wilson in 2002.
- The Cardinals were penalized a team-record 166 yards against Dallas on Oct. 9, 1977, but only lost the game 30–24.
Rivalry With the Philadelphia Eagles
- Regular-Season Record: Cardinals lead, 57-56-5
- Postseason Record: Cardinals lead, 2–1
- Current Streak: Eagles have won one straight
- First Game: Cardinals won 12–3 on Nov. 10, 1935
- Most Recent Game: Eagles won 34–7 on Oct. 8, 2017
- Next Game: vs. Eagles on Dec. 20, 2020
- Most Memorable Game: A 32–25 Cardinals win in the 2008 NFC Championship Game
This Battle of the Birds was a rivalry born out of the old NFC East division. The Cardinals and Eagles had two matchups annually from 1970–2001 (except during the strike-shortened 1982 season) and also faced each other for the 1947 and '48 NFL championships. After divisional realignment in 2002, 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 and 1982. The Cardinals won nine straight in the series from 1974–78. But the times that they met in the postseason, 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 touchdowns 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, which I consider to be the best game in the rivalry's history. The Cardinals were seeking their 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 scored on a 2-point conversion to advance to the Super Bowl, despite sneaking into the postseason with a 9–7 record.
- Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald has thrived against the Eagles, gaining 744 yards and eight TDs in the regular season, and 152 yards and three 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 of Philadelphia and Phoenix being nearly 2,100 miles apart.
- Cardinals quarterback Jim Hardy set a dubious NFL record against the Eagles in 1950, when he threw eight interceptions.
Rivalry With the Carolina Panthers
- Regular-Season Record: Panthers lead, 12–5
- Postseason Record: Panthers lead, 2–1
- Current Streak: Panthers have won four straight (two playoff games)
- First Game: Panthers won 27–7 on Nov. 19, 1995
- Most Recent Game: Panthers won 38–20 on Sept. 22, 2019
- Next Game: at Panthers on Oct. 4, 2020
- 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 Cardinals first met the 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 would 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 skid to the Panthers, which I believe makes the matchup the best ever in rivalry history. The Panthers, however, would get their 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 with 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
- Regular-Season Record: Bears lead, 59-28-6
- Current Streak: Bears have won one straight
- First Game: Cardinals won 7–6 on Nov. 28, 1920
- Most Recent Game: Bears won 16–14 on Sept. 23, 2018
- Next Game: To be determined
- Most Memorable Game: A 24–23 win for the Bears on Oct. 16, 2006
The oldest rivalry in the history of the NFL is between the Cardinals and the 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 remains an important 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 tailed off following their 1925 title, and the Bears went 33-6-4 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 in 1986 that saw more than 50 fines handed out and a strong Bears comeback on a Monday night in 2006 in a game I believe is the most memorable one between the franchises.
In that game, the then-undefeated Bears found themselves trailing by 20 points at halftime, but they 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 four games that ended in a 0–0 tie.
- Cardinals Hall of Famer Ernie Nevers set individual NFL records with 40 points and six touchdowns in a 40–6 win over the Bears in 1929.
- Cardinals quarterback Pat Coffee established a since-broken team record with a touchdown pass of 97 yards to Gaynell Tinsley in a 42–28 loss in 1937.
- Cardinals punter Doug Russell booted an 84-yard punt against the Bears in 1938, which remains the longest punt in franchise history.
- Cardinals return man David Johnson ran back a kickoff 108 yards against the Bears in 2015 to set a new team record.