December football. Enough said. Everything means a little more this time of year, and everything begins to take shape as we look ahead to January. In many ways, we know what to expect in December — the running game gets a renewed emphasis in bad weather, the Patriots never lose, the Cowboys never win, and the Raiders are the first ones to send out their “wait ’til next year” holiday cards. But as much as we think we know, we’re delighted for all of the inevitable surprises, like the Cowboys actually winning a December game and somehow defying the basic laws of physics to NOT finish a season with an 8-8 record. Yes, indeed, December football is a glorious, festive unpredictable holiday treat that is sprinkled with minor miracles.


We believe we have identified the really, really good and maybe-even-great teams of 2014, the short list of which includes (in no particular order) the Patriots, Broncos, and Packers. Then, we have the upper middle class that includes teams that have done enough to hang on to playoff spots but whom we don’t completely trust. We’re talking to you, Indianapolis, Arizona, Detroit, Cincinnati, San Diego, and Dallas. The next rung of potentially sneaky contenders introduces us to the denizens of the Republic of 7-5-Ville, also known as the mosh pit of mediocrity. All bets are off for this group, as we have been conditioned to expect that any of these teams could either disappear into the December ether or hoist the Lombardi trophy (cue the tape of Eli Manning leading a cavalcade of average talent to the title — twice). Now is the time for someone to get hot, and in the modern NFL, that’s all you need to crash the Super Bowl party.


Lurking somewhere in the white spaces of the above classifications are perhaps the two most intriguing teams to watch down the stretch, the Eagles and Seahawks, who just happen to play each other on Sunday in a juicy, feathery matchup. While each squad has lingering question marks, we can’t deny their “it” factor. It is certainly plausible that after Week 14, neither team loses again this season. More importantly, seeing my team lined up against either Philly or Seattle in the Super Bowl would scare the Gronkowski out of anyone.


Of the two aviary adversaries, the team to beat is the Seahawks. At the end of the day, the team with a championship pedigree and a quarterback who is an unquestioned winner is always the safer bet. The coaching staff and front office have done their best to bungle their relationships with the team’s star players, but the defensive talent is still elite. Russell Wilson will undoubtedly elevate his game as we move forward. While last week’s Packers vs. Patriots matchup was a gluttonous offering of eliteness, Eagles vs. Seahawks has as much intrigue as any game we’ve seen this season, given the timing and magnitude. Welcome to December football.


Here are four other things to watch this week that will give you a great excuse to not be dragged to see the Rockettes at Radio City or visit the giant tree in Rockefeller Center.


The Eliminator:

The end comes early this time of year, especially for those in the Republic of 7-5-Ville. The Ravens and Dolphins are both trying to swim their way off that island and into the playoffs mainland. It’s essentially over for the loser of this game. The Ravens also have lost their best run-stopper, Haloto Ngata, due to suspension. Could be a really big deal.


The Eliminator II, Electric Boogaloo (mid-80’s reference):

There’s limping to the finish line, and then there’s “Oh, dear god, is it possible that we might not be capable of scoring a touchdown ever?” That’s sort of what it feels like for the Cardinals and Chiefs. The loser here will be confronted with a serious crisis of confidence. We really want to believe in Arizona’s story, but it is trending quite horribly.


The Pats Showcase of the Week of the Century du Jour:

New England visits San Diego in what also amounts to a must-win for both teams. After losing to the sensational Packers, the Pats have a very loose grip on the top seed in the AFC. If they stumble, the Broncos and (gulp, choke, laugh) Bengals can swoop in. Another gut-check week for the Chargers. Also, Gronk was hanging out with Justin Bieber this week, and we are all aware of the recent destruction the little guy has left in his wake.


It’s Johnny Time…Oh, wait, not yet…I mean, it could be…maybe:

The coaches are waffling and players are taking sides, which means we have officially begun the Johnny Manziel watch. It is everything we ever hoped it would be, as we are one bad play away from John John taking the reins from Brian Hoyer in Cleveland. The Browns will need to put up points against Indianapolis, which is not the most impossible thing to do. If they falter, this feels like the Manziel December to remember.


Which teams do you think will surge ahead of the pack and make it to the Big Game? Let’s talk theory here, or find me on Twitter @endbadly