For starters, San Francisco (5-2) needs to win to stay ahead of their closest pursuers in the NFC West, Arizona (4-3). The Raiders (4-3) need to win to snap a three-game losing skid. Oakland, meanwhile, trails San Diego (6-1) and Denver (6-2) in the AFC West.
Notice how the word after Bay Area in the first paragraph was "matchup" and not "rivalry." What exactly is a sports rivalry? The concept has a few gray areas but, by definition, a rivalry in sports is one or more teams trying to get what only one can have. That idea is also widely misconstrued by a segment of Bay Area sports fans.
I'm going to start a regional war by saying the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders are not rivals even if the two groups of fans practically go postal over each other.
Just mention the 49ers to a Raider fan and you will hear things like, "These damn wine sippin' 49er fans!" Mention the Raiders to a 49er fan and you'll hear things like, "Raider fans are a bunch criminals who never bathe!"
The San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics better define a rivalry because they've played each other on the field six times per year since 1997.
The only rivalry that exists between the 49ers and Raiders is between the fans. You won't see many crossover 49er and Raider fans who like both teams like the Giants and A's.
Fans and media (present company excluded) on both sides treat the game like a Super Bowl, but where's the logic in that?
* They hardly play when it matters
The two teams usually play each other in a meaningless exhibition game. Exhibition wins don't get teams into the playoffs, whether a team wins or loses 987-0.
Exhibition games are not like the regular season because the starters normally play, at most, half the game. The rest of the game involves players who will be unemployed the next week.
In 42 years of the franchise's existence, the Raiders and 49ers played only nine times in the regular season. Four of them came when they were the Los Angeles Raiders. The Raiders have played the New Orleans Saints nine times, same number as they played the 49ers. Is that a rivalry? No.
* Division games are more important
The 49ers (an NFC team) and Raiders (an AFC team) are not even in the same division or conference.
Records against division and conference opponents are a prime tiebreaking method when determining who makes the playoffs. In effect, division and conference games virtually count double.
Oakland's most recent losses to Kansas City and San Diego could be damaging to their playoff aspirations. San Francisco's division wins over Arizona, St and Seattle are likely to benefit their playoff position.
Let's put the 49ers and Raiders in the same division and have them play each other twice a year, and then call it a rivalry.
* What bragging rights?
Calls like this flood sports talk radio.
49er fan: "I don't care if we lose 15 games, as long as the one win is against the Raiders."
Raider fan: "I don't care if we lose 15 games, as long as the one win is against the 49ers."
That idea is pure idiocy because if a team goes 1-15, it does not change the fact that they had a lousy season. To a lesser extreme, remember 1988? The Raiders beat the 49ers 9-3. Subsequently, many Raider fans gloated about that win but the team went 8-8. The 49ers, conversely, went on to win the Super Bowl that season.
Again, based on the current situation, Sunday's game will be important and emotional but it's not a rivalry.