Winter’s first chill is settling across this great land of ours and the tropical wave of spring training is still many cold months away. Let’s break through the thaw by bringing an old baseball-season favorite over onto the gridiron.
It’s time to get all warm and toasty with the AFC North Heat Check for the most balanced divisional race in football.
1. Cleveland Browns (6-3) Heat check: Long weekend at Put-In Bay
Put-In Bay has all your standard resort-town trappings: souvenir stands hocking neon-hued T-shirts, overpriced seafood joints, the sun rising and setting over a massive body of water. But no matter the power of your imagination, you’re still lounging alongside Lake Erie, not the Gulf of Mexico. The Browns sure look like a contender—stingy defense, just enough offensive firepower—but are they really legitimate enough to tussle with the Broncos and Pats of the AFC/world?
2. Cincinnati Bengals (5-3-1) Heat check: The carnival merry-go-round in that aforementioned Ohio beach town.
Boy, this sure does feel familiar doesn’t it? On paper—hell, even on the field most of the time—all the pieces are in place to not only take the division but make some real noise in the AFC playoffs. Then comes a stubbed toe here, some untimely interceptions there, and all of a sudden you’re right back where you started, a little dizzy and wondering what the heck just happened.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) Heat check: The corner cubicle right next to the radiator.
Maybe today will be the day they finally figure out how to heat the rest of the office without turning your desk space into Dante’s seventh circle. It is the year 2014, after all, so why haven’t we advanced far enough as a society to figure out central heating? I did notice the maintenance men poking around yesterday…nope, if anything, it got even hotter. Better loosen up that tie. The Steelers finally looked to have edged over the hill, and yet here they are again, just a half-game back.
4. Baltimore Ravens (6-4) Heat check: Mid-November in the City of Angels.
The Ravens, in contrast to their hot-and-cold divisional rivals, are what they are: Temperate, consistent, a steady 75 degrees. They lose to teams better than they are and beat up on the league’s dregs. Whether that will be enough come late December will depend on how the other contenders fare as the cold settles in. Winter is coming.