Skip to main content
Carolina Panthers

In the NFL, division games are unrivaled


Even the NFL matchups most often referenced as rivalries – like the Cowboys-Redskins game tonight and the Steelers-Ravens game next week – don't hold a candle to the portrayal of college rivalries.

There are no game names like the "Iron Bowl," the often-mentioned moniker for Auburn vs. Alabama. There's also no Iron Skillet – not a greasy spoon but rather a treasured trinket that goes to the annual SMU-TCU winner.

From a propaganda perspective, rivalries are a more subtle notion in the NFL, but for the players they're palatable. While college rivals usually square off just once a season (and sometimes not at all), the Panthers see their rivals twice a year.

"Those division games, man, they bring something out of you," said guard Trai Turner, a New Orleans native doubly invested in the Saints rivalry that will be renewed Sunday in his hometown – with first place in the NFC South on the line.

Does Turner, a product of SEC country, believe division games in the NFL can claim a little bit of the feel of his battles at LSU with Alabama?

"A lot bit. A lot bit," Turner said. "I always compare this to SEC games."

NFL Sundays don't have the same pageantry as college football Saturdays, but they have every bit of the passion. Linebacker Thomas Davis, decked out in Georgia Bulldogs gear for an NFL Network interview this week, called Panthers-Saints a "fierce rivalry."

Davis has been pretty outspoken about his lack of love for the Saints over his career. NFL players are among the most competitive people on this planet, and they relish rivalries. The college playoff banter between Oklahoma product Zack Sanchez and Wisconsin product Dezmen Southward in the locker room earlier this week – with Auburn product Cameron Artis-Payne chiming in – was epic but also par for the course.

Another Auburn product, one Cam Newton, wears his heart on his sleeve – literally. Sporting Auburn gear for the second consecutive Wednesday press conference, Newton talked in terms of the importance of Sunday's game more than any rivalry aspects.

Cam, do you like playing in New Orleans?

"I like playing football," Newton said. "New Orleans is an opponent that we see twice a year, so we're very familiar with each other. I don't have picks of where I like playing, but a game of this magnitude, you know what they say about it. Everybody is all geared up. Everybody knows what this game means."

In recent memory, the closest thing to a brawl involving the Panthers took place inside the Superdome in 2014 (check it out at the 1:27 mark below). And yes, Newton was in the middle of it (or at least at the beginning of it).

In 2012, a dramatic victory for the Falcons in Atlanta prompted quarterback Matt Ryan to passionately/not politely tell the Panthers to get off his field. In Tampa, well, that rivalry has been heated in the past but has been on the quiet side the last few years.

Turner said this Panthers team is really relishing road games. It shows: Already 5-1 away from home, this team has a chance Sunday to become just the third in 23 seasons of Panthers football to claim six road victories. The previous two? The 2015 team that reached the Super Bowl and the 2005 team that won two road playoff games to reach the NFC Championship.

"Not only Cam, but we definitely embrace the road," Turner said. "It's a great feeling when you go into an opponent's stadium and you quiet everybody.

"Sometimes the fans can pick you up at home if you're starting off a little slow or things aren't going your way. When you're going into a hostile environment, you kind of have to get yourself going. I think we feed off of that. Cam feeds off of that."

The Panthers have averaged 40 points a game over their last three trips to New Orleans. In those games, Newton has averaged 293 yards through the air with 10 touchdowns against two interceptions. That might speak to the Saints' defense those seasons as much as it does to Newton's love of rivalry games and road games, but if memory serves, Newton enjoyed every last one of those touchdown tosses.

Sunday's matchup clearly needs no pompoms, no pomp and circumstance. The circumstance in the NFC South standings is enough on its own.

But the rivalry between the Panthers and Saints can only add a little more sauce, as Newton likes to say. Sunday, that sauce will feature a dab of Cajun spice.


View top photos of Carolina's game against New Orleans by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.

Related Content