Some say “football isn’t football until you’ve had your turkey.”
Well, we’re now in the thick of the NFL season post-Thanksgiving. We’ve had our turkey, everyone has played 11 to 12 games, and there are now no longer any excuses for uncertainties when it comes to the real and the fake teams finding their early-season footing; we know if a team is a contender or a pretender by now.
With that being said, there are realistically a select few teams that can realistically WIN the Super Bowl relative to their expectations of what we’ve seen thus far barring a monumental injury. Magic can happen but there are in all likelihood just this select elite that are in that group.
Speaking of magic, the storybook Super Bowl Champion DVD that will be inevitably passed out at the end of the season similarly follows the exact same format of what it is now the season of: the infinite amount of Hallmark Christmas movies that have some sort of formula. Let’s take a look at the likely SIX teams that could get a Super Bowl Champion DVD and see what the plotline narrative of a stereotypical Hallmark Christmas movie their story would follow.
San Francisco 49ers- “The single parent finally finds love during the holidays”
The main character has a damaged past around Christmas time- there’s pain in the loneliness, in trying again, in not having a partner to support a child alone during the holidays, and the joy seems lost. In comes at long last the perfect dream guy or girl likely at a department store or at their work! He or she ends up being supportive as a perfect match and they rediscover the joy of the holidays and fall in love!
That damaged single parent? Kyle Shanahan as the coach of the 49ers. He has gone through the ringer in finding a quarterback that can put it all together to support his system enough to bring him a title in his electric offensive scheme; for blowing the 28-3 lead with Matt Ryan as the OC in Atlanta, to falling short in the Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo in 2020, from somehow getting solid production in extended periods during Jimmy’s continuous injuries with C.J. Beathard, Bryan Hoyer, and Nick Mullens in his absence, to having his GM spend high draft capital on Trey Lance only for him to suffer with injuries with a 5-4 record in his system before being traded. With a surrounding roster as talented as the 49ers, a top 10 offense in 4 of the last 5 years due to how innovative his motion is, and a defense that allows the fewest points per game, who will be the one that finally brings the Shanahan system the glory of a Super Bowl title?
In enters Brock Purdy into his place of business! Purdy is possibly the divisive figure of the NFL- being Mr. Irrelevant in the draft, the argument is that the 49ers success is not due to his actual skill, but rather this being the best surrounding talent and a Shanahan support system that makes his talent maximized in the easiest way possible. We may never find out what came first, the chicken or the egg, but Purdy has been the best fit in Shanahan’s system that may help him rediscover the magic of not the holidays, but of football if the 49ers win the title. Purdy had a perfect passer game rating in their win against Tampa, they have the largest point-differential (+12.7 points per game) during the Shanahan tenure with Purdy at the helm, and he leads the league in passer-rating and QBR in the NFL. That doesn’t mean that Christian McCaffrey isn’t the best player on the offense, but Purdy is finally the “right guy/girl” that would deliver a holiday miracle to Shanahan.
Philadelphia Eagles- The disillusioned main character makes things right for the holidays after making a mistake
There’s either the main character too consumed in his or her work to care about the holidays or takes the holidays TOO seriously that alienates their loved ones, be it the family or a spouse, right before the holidays. They perform some sort of holiday cheerful act to make it right as a redemption story, and all is right!
That may be the story of the Philadelphia Eagles, your 2022 runner-up in the Super Bowl. In a city where sports are lived with and died with, dysfunction with the fellow Flyers and Sixers and disappointment with the Phillies and Union, the Eagles need their redemption story. They may be the most depressed and anxious first place team in the league with Jalen Hurts playing at a level worse than last year, winning “ugly” games and receiving the third-best luck % in the NFL, and edging out games against teams that they SHOULD dominate (six one score victories).
Their last miraculous come-from-behind win over Buffalo in overtime was Jalent Hurts’s signature moment to overcome a double-digit deficit, but at the same time, he had just 33 yards and an interception at halftime while getting booed by the home fans before the second half explosion and tallying five total touchdowns. It was ugly, but winning is a skill- a skill that the Eagles have garnered enough trust in as an organization.
That being said, they’re atop the NFL with a defense that looks stronger than ever after adding Jalen Carter, likely DROY this year, and winning in a style much different than last season. They’re doing everything they can to win back the approval of the fans and get that redemption arc to make things right for the holidays for the city of Philadelphia if they can return to the Super Bowl. They still have the pedigree of consistency as an organization and a roster deep enough to explode if they can get out of the remaining tough schedule and bring home their second Super Bowl in a decade, but a significant act of holiday cheer for growth, will be their narrative, if you will, to go back to dominating games to right their wrongs of the 2023 Super Bowl loss.
Dallas Cowboys- The “Opposites Attract” love story during the holidays
A small town character meets a big city character during the holidays, be it on a flight or in a store or some other random location. Despite all of their drastic differences, they fall in love due to the magic of the season! Somehow, someway, it was always destiny anyway!
This is the opposite of a team that Jerry Jones was expecting to be the team that could potentially bring him his “one last championship” post 1990’s Cowboys dominance as an owner. He was obsessed with the marketable and lovable in-house stars on his roster- the Tony Romo’s, Ezekiel Elliot’s, Dez Bryant’s, and Jason Witten’s that couldn’t bring home a trophy under a regime that was slow to make a Jason Garrett coaching change because of the loyalty Jones often expressed with his roster and with his staff.
Mike McCarthy felt like an obligatory “big name” hire that might even be pre-fired for someone else that could take one of the most high-level coaching jobs in pro sports. Dak isn’t Jerry’s Romo, referred often as a guy that you win with rather than because of, and the selling point of this team isn’t necessarily the big name stars coming out of college, but the dominant defense under DC Dan Quinn and the miracle story of DaRon Bland, the fifth-round draft pick out of Fresno State that now has the NFL record for pick-sixes in a single season.
It would certainly be an unlikely story of opposites attracting if Jones won with this particular team, but with wins as dominant as they’ve had in the games that they’re SUPPOSED to win, 45-10 over the Commanders, 33-10 over the Panthers, 49-17 and 40-0 over the Giants to name a few, it’s just a matter of proving that they can win the big ones in the playoffs against the elite of the elite in the NFC to avoid the scrutiny of dumb mistakes that have cost them against the 49ers twice now. The games that are at home where they boat-race the cupcakes are not what you think of, which, fair or unfair, prevents one from putting them in the same class as the 49ers and the Eagles until proven otherwise. The Cowboys officially belong in that conversation now because of how impressive the soft wins have looked, and if you gave Jerry a list of every Cowboys team for the last decade, there’s no way this one would have been thought of as his most-loved or most-talented.
Miami Dolphins- Unlikely hero saves a small town fixture from being closed down during the holidays (and probably falls in love)
Oh, no! Everyone’s favorite small town shop us being threatened by a large evil corporation right before Christmas time! All hope is lost until the local town hero steps up to stand up for the shop and push out that evil corporation just in time for the town to live happily ever after. It also just so happens that the shop owner is single and now they’re made for one another.
The Miami Dolphins will always have the 16-0 undefeated season in 1972, but coming up short with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Dan Marino, proceeding to be dominated by the Patriots in the division, and then reaching disastrous lows of “tanking for Tua” in which coaches were being incentivized to lose games made the once-proud franchise in need of any glimmer of hope.
In steps Mike McDaniel as head coach in 2022- the former run game coordinator for Kyle Shanahan is 5’9, went to Yale, and looks like your neighbor at your apartment complex during college.
He also is running one of the most-innovative offenses we’ve seen in years.
McDaniel would be that unlikely hero that suddenly takes the Dolphins to the top of the AFC- while Tua has been largely scrutinized by the media in relation to his expectations, partially due to injury and also in the similar vein of Brock Purdy benefitting from a system and surrounding talent, the build around Tua with speed in Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and a stable full of running backs that all are set up with success due to the motion run in the backfield he brought over from San Francisco make the offense he runs so special. The way that he schemes Tyreek and Waddle open is revolutionizing the way an offense is built in a similar fashion to when Golden State changed the NBA with a back court that maximized the three point shot.
While they went 9-8 and lost in the Wild Card round last year in McDaniel’s first year, they’ve put up a 70-point route against Denver earlier this year and now have more of a balance with their defense hitting its stride with Jalen Ramsey now back and healthy, and the pass rush has the third-most sacks in the NFL at 38. That certainly complements an offense that averages a full 30 yards more than the second-best per game at over 430.
The Dolphins have that unlikely hero in McDaniel.
Baltimore Ravens- The protagonist visits the dysfunctional in-laws for the holidays and finally gets family approval, falling in love during the holidays
Stop me if you’ve seen this before: they’re visiting the in-laws for the first time, there’s constant hijinx at the dinner table and around the house for the get-together, there’s constant mess-ups and awkward situations where the protagonist fights for the approval of the parents that are drastically different, only for there to be a redemption moment where he/she gets the firm handshake or hug signaling that they’ve finally got the approval. The couple then enjoys their holiday together, officially a happy family.
That’s the Lamar Jackson narrative. From the very beginning he struggled with league approval- it was that you couldn’t win with someone so reliant on the run and that his play style would fade or get him injured; just play him at running back as he fell to the bottom of the first round. Then he won MVP in 2019, but his scrutiny with the Ravens has only continued with a playoff loss against the Titans and Bills, injury-plagued seasons that resulted in missing the playoffs, and operating in an offensive scheme where the wide receivers have failed to be maximized. We’re also just coming off the stand-off between Lamar and the organization that was skeptical to give him the stamp of approval as the franchise guy for the long-terms as he requested a trade on social media, but the two finally agreed on a 5-year $260 million contract.
Lamar has been fighting for that approval as a legend in the game due to how different and unique his play style is- be it his own organization or his reputation around the league and media. With a new offensive coordinator this season in Todd Monken, they’re 4th in points per game, but Lamar hasn’t had that sort of “superhero” expectations he’s been accustomed to. Their 1st-ranked rushing attack has allowed the heat to be taken off of Lamar despite his growing chemistry with Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr.
A ring this year would be that handshake or hug of approval in Baltimore.
Kansas City Chiefs- “Stranded for the holidays”
The snowed-in scenario or where you can’t get to the desired destination but find happiness during the holiday after all because ultimately it’s about the people!
That’s Patrick Mahomes. Despite having the best defense of his career in Kansas City this season, the loss of Tyreek Hill ironically thriving on the Dolphins and Travis Kelce in fact not being able to handle the entire workload after all has made it truly a struggle for the Chiefs offense this season. They failed to score a second half touchdown for three consecutive weeks and it genuinely feels like work for the offense to put up points with their lack of weapons, leading the league in dropped passes and averaging negative EPA per play since week 8.
However, skill talent being the massive red flag is a much more fixable problem than infrastructural concerns such as the trenches or lack of a defense, which the Chiefs don’t have an issue with. As long as Mahomes and Andy Reid are together, they’ll have a fighting chance to make some magic happen even if it does feel like he’s stranded back there.
Sometimes, like the holidays, it’s ultimately just about the people.