Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Thanks for the overwhelming response from last week when I asked you to make the call on the NFC South's best rivalry.
I went with Carolina and Tampa Bay as my choice. Some of you agreed and some of you disagreed. That's all cool because that's what we're here for. There's really no definitive right or wrong answer and things could change dramatically when a new season starts.
I'll go ahead and share with you some of the responses that came to the mailbag. I'm not going to tally up votes, but I can tell you the two dominant answers are either the Saints and Falcons or the Bucs and Panthers. There also were some very good answers that went beyond those two rivalries.
I've selected a few representatives to make the arguments for just about every scenario for NFC South rivalries:
Shannon in Baton Rouge writes: The best NFC South rivalry has to be the Saints/Falcons. They were the team who I remember hating first, and they will be the team I hate until I die. The Falcons took the Saints best QB (at the time) ever in Bobby Hebert, they took the Saints leading scorer (Morton Anderson) and no matter what when those two teams play, it's going to be heated and both teams are going to show up. There was a reason the Falcons were scheduled to play the first home game in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.
Paul in Albany, NY writes: Saints-Falcons clearly is THE biggest rivalry in the NFC South, it isn't even close. The oldest rivalry, due to being in the same division for decades now. End of Story.
Bill in Laplace,La writes: Pat, I always agree with your answers, but you were way off the mark on the best rivalry. Its Saints-Fralcons easily. They have been playing each other since the 70's, there have been some classic games, bizarre calls, and blowouts, and, when the Falcons come to N.O. they have several thousand fans come here, and Saint fans travel to Atlanta by the thousands. That is what a rivalry is all about.
Austin in Charleston, SC writes: Pat, you are right on target with the best rivalry. The rivalry was hot back in 03, however I think the Monday night game last year was the coming out party for the NFC South. ESPN couldn't get enough of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, not to mention the comeback story of Antonio Bryant, and Steve Smith was on top of his game as always. Although the national exposure doomed the Panthers as it always does, that game put the NFC South all over SportsCenter for the rest of the week.
Adam in Columbia SC writes: Hey Pat, I regards to who has the best rivalry in the NFC South I think that you are right when you say the Bucs and Panthers had the best rivalry, but with Gruden gone and much of the old guard gone it remains to be seen who the Bucs will be. That being said all I can speak from is personal feelings. Although I personally despise every other team in the division as a Panthers fan, I have to say there is a special place in my heart for the Falcons, and I think that is going to build into the biggest rivalry in the NFC South very soon. With bruising backs and WRs that can kill and defenses that can get it done. I think these games are going to be slugfests for sometime.
TF in Tampa writes: Pat, First of all, love your writing. In response to which rivalry in the South is the best, I'm backin you up on "Bucs v. Panthers". I've been a die hard Bucs fan since 5 minutes before conception, give or take. Having lived in this city for nearly all my life, I can attest to the fact that there is no game on the schedule this team and its fans get up for like Carolina's. I can't afford to get to a lot of games a year, but I haven't missed a Carolina game since I got my first job when I was 15. I got that job JUST so I could buy tickets to that game. Last year, I drove home nonstop, on a Saturday, from school in Tennessee solely to make it to THAT game. Oh, and I had 3 midterms that Monday. Not only that, but I had to sell my guitar to get the ticket. If it happens to coincide with a Panthers game, whether home or away, I will very likely not be present for the birth of my first child when it comes. Why is all of this true, you ask? Because I hate the Panthers. Everything on and off the field is amplified when it involves these clubs. When we brought Luke Petitgout in a couple years ago, it was with the express purpose of trying to slow down Julius Peppers. As the truest of true Bucs fans, I'm telling you that I could see a 2-14 season as moderately successful so long as those 2 wins were over those Panthers. This is just the perspective of one fan of one team - but I'd bet just about every Bucs fan feels the same way as I do. You can't define a rivalry by how long the teams have been playing each other consistently or any of that nonsense. A rivalry is just a reality. And there isn't one in this division that stands against Bucs-Panthers.
THE REST OF THE FIELD
Rob in Houston writes: The best rivalry in the NFC South has to be the Panthers vs. the Saints. This boils down to the fundamental difference in philosophies - Defense oriented team vs. Offense oriented team. The Panthers have maintained the Fox philosophy for years that defense wins championships. On the flip side, the Saints have become one of the most fearsome offenses in the league year after year. The highlight of this rivalry for me was in 2004 when both teams entered the final game of the season with a shot at a playoff spot and set to face each other. The Saints wound up being eliminated before the game even started, and all the Panthers had to do was win to slide into the last playoff spot. But the Saints still got energized enough to step out on the field and eliminate the Panthers. Every year, these games are close. As a panther fan that lived in New Orleans for 3 years, I can tell you that the Saints fans certainly get riled up for these two games every year.
Hugh in parts undeclared writes: Pat, You used to report for the Observer and I understand the new teams in the league rivalry, but if you are a Panther fan you must recognize that our real nemesis is Atlanta, who have upset more often that any other team in the division. Like a Redskin fan facing the Cowboys, Watching the Panthers versus the Falcons palpitates my heart!
Kevin in Lexington, nc writes: Hey Pat I wanted you to read this one. The best rivalry in the nfc South has to be the Saints vs. the Bucs. Since 2002 each team has won 7 games, the point spread is only 15 points better by the Bucs in 7 years and 11 out of 14 games have been won by a touchdown or less. Both Teams respect each other, the Saints stole several players this off season from the Bucs, the year before the Bucs got Faine the Saints center. The hitting is hard and the games are close. Hands down it has to be the Saints vs. the Bucs it's always a great game!
Joe in Atlanta writes: Regardless of who has the best rivalry in this division, it is safe to say that this is one heck of a
division. No team lost a division game at home last year. One team does not repeat as NFC South Champ very often. The NFC South has the best division games and the most heated rivalry with NFC East a close second. What also helps fuel the fire is that our college teams are in the same Conference as well and those games with LSU, UGA, UFL, and (sometimes) USC are always tough and heated games. NFC East does not have that to fuel their fire. You've got to love football in the south...
Pat Yasinskas: Thanks for all the great responses. Again, I don't think there really is a right or wrong answer in this argument and there's always room for change. But I chose to end this with Joe in Atlanta's statement about the overall strength of the NFC South and the passion for football in this region. That much is certain. If you want to argue some more on the NFC South's best rivalry, hit the comments section below.