Tis’ the season: NFL Christmas Day matchups to get excited for
By Zach Payne, Staff Writer
The holiday season is fast approaching, which means the NFL regular season is nearing its waning weeks. There is a very clear sense of which teams are destined to compete for a Super Bowl, and those who are competing for draft position.
On Christmas Day, teams on both sides of the standings will take the field in a triple-header slate of games that viewers can watch throughout the day. All three feature at least one team with championship aspirations.
Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
The first game of the day features an AFC West matchup between the Raiders and the Chiefs. Vegas is in the midst of a frustrating season, having already fired head coach Josh McDaniels following their Week 8 loss to the Detroit Lions. In the weeks following, the Raiders showed more signs of life, winning back-to-back games against New York’s Giants and Jets. They lost to the Miami Dolphins and Chiefs in the following two weeks, but they put up more of a fight than anyone expected them to. In the first matchup against the Chiefs, they even jumped out to a 14-0 lead before Kansas City roared to life in the final moments of the first half—en route to a 31-17 win. Right now the name of the game for the Raiders is to be competitive while upper management evaluates next steps. There are a number of talented players that the Raiders need to make decisions on in the near future. Superstars Maxx Crosby and Davante Adams can help the Raiders now, or they can be shipped off for massive hauls to fuel a rebuild. The time for those decisions to be made is nearing.
For the Chiefs, it’s time to start tuning up for the playoffs once again. But, this season hasn’t featured the same level of dominance the Chiefs are known for. The defence has been mostly solid, but the offence is starting to feel the lack of solid options at wide receiver. The remaining games on the schedule are all about fine tuning things to the best of their ability to prepare for their title defence. The AFC is experiencing a bit of a shift from years prior, as the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills aren’t the same threats they have been in recent history. This season it’s a Baltimore Ravens team boasting an excellent defence, and a Dolphins team boasting the best offence in the league. Kansas City needs to balance out their play so they stand a chance against both.
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
The afternoon slate features the most lopsided matchup on paper. The withered corpse of the Giants roster continues to limp through the season, destined for a top-10 selection in the draft. The team invested heavily in maintaining the status quo following a surprising 2022 season that saw them reach the divisional round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, in the NFL, if you don’t move forward you will experience some heavy regression. The Giants were due for some regression already and had it fast-tracked after starting quarterback Daniel Jones went down for the season with an injury. For as poor as Jones was this season, he is still miles ahead of his replacement, Tommy DeVito. The Giants don’t look to have much of a chance against the Eagles, but crazier things have happened.
As for the Eagles, they have their sights set on reaching the big dance for the second-straight year. Only this season they hope to come out of it with a championship ring. Star quarterback Jalen Hurts is one of the favourites to win MVP this season, and the Eagles are humming along with the best record in the league. A first-round bye seems like a formality at this point, as the Eagles have a multi-game lead on both the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions. The stage is set for them to keep rolling through everyone in their path. The lone obstacle could be the fact that divisional games tend to be closer than regular games. But looking at both the Giants and Eagles on paper, as well as what each team has done this season, it’s hard to see a scenario in which the Eagles don’t win by multiple scores.
Baltimore Ravens at San Francisco 49ers
Thankfully, the night game on paper should be a good one. Both of these teams are bonafide Super Bowl contenders. Boasting some of the best defences in the league, along with electric offensive weapons. This will be a true test for each team, and a great litmus test with the playoffs on the horizon to self-evaluate potential flaws.
The Ravens have been absolutely on fire since the opening month of the year. Particularly against NFC teams, and furthermore particularly against NFC contenders. Both the Seattle Seahawks and Lions—two teams poised to make the playoffs—got absolutely smacked by the Ravens. The combined score of those two wins was 75-9. It also doesn’t make things easier for the 49ers, when considering the Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson has been downright incredible against NFC opponents in his career. As it turns out, Jackson is 18-1 in his last 19 games against NFC opponents. Pair that with a top-three defence, and that’s a lot for any team to handle.
However, if there was a team to stand up to the Ravens, the 49ers—a team with championship ambitions of their own—might be it. Brock Purdy has had his moments of inconsistency, but for the most part he has been solid at getting the ball to the plethora of talent across the 49ers offence. Christian McCaffrey is by far the best running back in football, George Kittle is one of the best tight ends and Deebo Samuel is an electric weapon both as a rusher and receiver.
Defensively, Fred Warner and Nick Bosa lead a defensive front that should be able to at least slow the Ravens top-ranked rushing attack. This matchup between two elite teams feels like just that. The great equalizer will be whether or not Purdy can elevate his game to go toe-to-toe with a former MVP like Jackson. Regardless this is going to be an excellent game. If you’re only planning on watching one game on Christmas Day, make sure this is it.