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What is the NFL’s best rivalry? Browns QB Deshaun Watson has a surprising answer

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Deshaun Watson provided a throwback response when he was recently asked to rank the top rivalries in sports. 

The Cleveland Browns‘ quarterback mentioned Georgia-Florida (college football) and Duke-North Carolina (men’s college basketball) before revealing his choice as the NFL’s greatest rivalry. 

“Cleveland-Pittsburgh, for sure,” Watson recently said on his podcast. “Baltimore’s a big game, for sure. It’s up there, but it ain’t as real as Pittsburgh.”

Once upon a time, Watson’s answer would have received little pushback. The Steelers and Browns were undeniably one of the league’s top rivalries prior to Cleveland’s move to Baltimore in 1996. 

To that point, the Steelers-Browns rivalry’s history included Joe “Turkey” Jones’ head slamming tackle of Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw in 1976, Cleveland’s 51-0 dismantling of Pittsburgh in the 1989 season-opener and members of the Browns’ vaunted Dawg Pound dousing Pittsburgh QB Neil O’Donnell with beer in 1993. 

More than those moments, the true genesis of the Browns-Steelers rivalry comes down to civic pride. The two cities, separated by just 134 miles, are comprised of hard-working, blue collar people who take immense pride in their football teams. Both fan bases care deeply about having the superior football team. The Browns enjoyed having that title over Pittsburgh in the ’50s and ’60s, but Pittsburgh dramatically turned the tables during the 1970s. The Browns briefly got back on the inside track in the 1980s only to lose it during the ’90s. 

While its undoubtedly lost some of its steam following the original Browns’ move to Baltimore, the Steelers-Browns rivalry is still alive and well. Most recent chapters in the rivalry include Ohio native Ben Roethlisbeger’s dominance of Cleveland during his 18-year run as the Steelers’ quarterback, the Browns’ upset win over the Steelers in the 2020 playoffs and Myles Garrett’s infamous fight with then-Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in 2019. 

The rivalry is in a good spot entering the 2024 season, as both Pittsburgh and Cleveland are expected to compete for playoff spots again after winning a combined 21 games last season. 

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