Ah, the holidays.
Lights strung up over downtown streets, the same seven seasonal classics playing on loop at the local mall. Goodwill melts the heart of even the most hardened Scrooge, and the crushing normalcy of traditional powerhouses rise to the top in both college football and NFL alike.
With three weeks to go, it’s time for another AFC North heat check.
Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1)—Heat check: Table for one at the Christmas Day buffet at your local Chinese joint. This year was supposed to be different. You’d made an uneasy peace with your folks, even applying for those temp jobs to get them off your back. You controlled your alcohol input at Thanksgiving, the better to avoid an argument with conservative Uncle Jim. You even had a steady girlfriend primed and ready to be shown off at Christmas dinner. A few disastrous mistakes later and you’re on your way to eating lukewarm General Tso’s chicken in front of a Santa-hat-wearing Buddha statue.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)—Heat check: The soothing glow of a roaring fireplace. There’s something timeless about staring into a fire’s gaping maw, it’s blaze flickering and sending warmth creeping up your shins. For centuries, man has crouched beside its life-giving warmth—for even longer, believe it or not, than the Steelers have had this division on lock down.
Baltimore Ravens (8-5)—Heat check: Mug filled with spiked apple cider. Eggnog is the standby, the Christmas tradition that gets all the glory. The less ambitious stick to wine or beer. Meanwhile, forgotten in the crock-pot next to the unpopular cookie dish—the pecan sandies and oatmeal raisin—steams the lonely bowl of cider. Go on, fill that mug, take a long pull. Isn’t that delicious? Everybody forgets how good this stuff is during the rest of the year, but come December, it’s spiked apple cider’s time to shine.
Cleveland Browns (7-6)—Heat check: Stocking full of coal. You thought you were really clever, didn’t you? Being extra nice to your little sister during the tiny window between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, letting her take the big piece of cake and not picking fights, not even once. As if that was going to make up for the rest of the year. As if Santa couldn’t see right through your transparent bid for contrition. You can’t fight nature, boy. Back to the naughty list.