Christmas week is upon us. If you’re anything like me, then your usual M.O. is probably to save up all that Christmas shopping for right about now, but this year the calendar dropped a true Holiday Sports Spectacular right in our laps with NFL football on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to complement the usual Christmas Eve bowl game followed by Christmas Day NBA basketball. As a chronic procrastinator, I urge you to get your stuff done so that you can strap in for a wild sports holiday ride. There are so many things that make the Christmas season special, but one of them is the sitting down to rewatch all those holiday favorite films that you’ve seen a blue million times already but still get just as much enjoyment out of them today as you did the first time. In honor of that time-honored tradition, I’ll be ranking the top five Christmas movies with this week’s tiers. Before we start a disclaimer, the old holiday specials are some of my absolute favorite holiday viewing, but to my mind they occupy a separate category and so have been omitted. Don’t come at me when you don’t see Rudolph or The Grinch (original not Jim Carrey) or Charlie Brown Christmas, maybe we’ll do those next year.
Tier 1: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Season Record: 20-21-1)
Jaguars +1 over Jets
Bengals -3.5 over Patriots
Dolphins -4.5 over Packers
The most adult film to grace this list, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, also known as simply “Christmas Vacation”, is a holiday masterpiece and the best movie of the National Lampoon’s entire catalog. At its surface, Christmas Vacation looks like a family man trying to give his family a warm and cozy gathering for the holiday, but then the movie takes us on a raucous romp through holiday shopping and cooky relatives (shouts Cousin Eddie and Aunt Bethany) and snow sledding and the unraveling of a Christmas Eve dinner. Apart from laughing at the one-liners of Bethany and Eddy and the slapstick torment of the Griswold’s insufferable neighbors (seriously who drinks margaritas on Christmas Eve?), we have a man with a truly horrible financial plan. Who in their right mind would kite a check that their banking on a Christmas bonus to come through to cover to pay for a down payment on a pool? It’s not like he’s breaking the bank to feed his kids or give them one or two presents. He’s committing a crime just to fund a pool. Here’s the natural follow-up question: if Clark Griswold can’t afford a down payment on a pool, how is he paying for that massive house in Chicago? How many mortgages you got on that thing Clark? Financial blunders aside, this film would consistently put a stitch in your side and Clark’s rapid descent into madness on Christmas Eve is one of the best 15 minutes in Christmas movie history.
The only rationale for the Jets being a slight favorite on Thursday night, when we open this NFL weekend bonanza, is that early bettors either a) can’t resist betting the home team b) aren’t aware that Mike White isn’t playing and/or c) stopped watching football five weeks ago. Trevor Lawrence has Jacksonville on a tear and the Jets best football is behind them. In a similar vein, I can’t imagine anyone who’s watched Cincinnati or New England play in the last month would pick the Patriots in this game. The Bengals are surging at the right time and New England, fresh off one of the most gut-wrenching losses imaginable, are just trying to finish the season. Miami may have lost to Buffalo last week, but they were competitive in an adverse climate. This week they get to go back home to warm and cozy Miami to take on a Packers team that still isn’t any good.
Tier 2: A Christmas Story (Season Record: 17-27)
Chiefs -9.5 over Seahawks
Lions -2.5 over Panthers
Chargers -4 over Colts
A Christmas Story is iconic due to its combination of nostalgia, quirky humor, and an absolute master class in narrative storytelling. The cinematography expertly transports us back to a different era in American history, but the storytelling reframes even the most adult viewer back into the childhood psyche around Christmas in a way that could never be duplicated. The imagination bubbles of the teacher turning into the wicked witch and gunning down “Black Bart” with the Red Ryder or going blind from being forced to eat soap are still relatable in my 30s.
Kansas City still plays with its food more than I care for, hence dropping them a tier, but Seattle’s best football may be in the rearview mirror and their defense is atrocious. Detroit has the benefit of being both hot as a pistol and in dire need of wins every week. That makes them a good bet against a team that they are much better than. Carolina just needs to try to secure the best draft position they can with needing to replace Christian McCaffrey and finding an adequate quarterback on their offseason agenda. Indianapolis just became the first team to blow a 33-point lead and lose in an NFL game. Any momentum they had to play spoiler down the stretch has to be completely gone now, right? The Chargers have a nasty tendency to let inferior teams hang around, but they are still in a seed battle and Justin Herbert finally seems fully healthy and has his full complement of receivers and running backs.
Tier 3: Home Alone (Season Record: 21-25-1)
Titans -5 over Texans
Falcons +7.5 over Ravens
Broncos -2.5 over Rams
49ers -7 over Commanders
Home Alone can arguably viewed as the child’s counterpart to Christmas Vacation. Full of inexplicable parenting decisions, it’s an expert blend of slapstick comedy superimposed upon a family unification, or in this case reunification, theme. Also, can we talk for a second about the brilliance of Kevin McCallister’s anti-theft deterrent set-up? He needles Harry and Marv in perfect, almost personal, ways, despite only having seen these clowns in passing a time or two before the big finale. For example, he knew that the one of them that came through the window would be the same burglar who attempted the tar stairs, otherwise stepping on Christmas ornaments in shoes, while annoying, doesn’t slow down the burglar. The comedy pinnacle of the movie is Joe Pesci’s full mouth scream while his head gets blowtorched. It still makes me cackle like a hyena, and always will.
Tennessee just seems to be trying to white knuckle it into the playoffs at this point, but the Texans are still the Texans, despite threatening to beat playoff teams in back-to-back weeks. Eventually, Houston will just fold and accept their place at the top of the draft board, and this seems likely to be the week it happens. The Titans really need this game and are the better team. I can only assume Baltimore is favored by more than a touchdown on the pretense that Lamar Jackson will be playing quarterback this week, but he didn’t practice yesterday and without him is Baltimore even capable of scoring 7.5 points in a game? Even if Lamar plays, he will be less than 100% and the Falcons at least have a reasonable run game. Denver really won the schedule lottery down the stretch it seems like. This trash team might cobble together a respectable record just by nature of playing impotent offense for weeks on end. The defense is still good enough to win games against teams who can’t score. My first draft of this column had the Commanders covering this game, mostly because I felt like their defense was good enough to keep the game close, but San Francisco is laying waste to everything in its path right now. I’m not betting against them.
Tier 4: The Muppet Christmas Carol (Season Record: 25-15-4)
Bears +9.5 over Bills
Vikings -3.5 over Giants
Eagles +4.5 over Cowboys
I am, admittedly, a bigger Charles Dickens fan than most people of my generation. A Tale of Two Cities is my favorite novel, and pretty much any version of A Christmas Carol will always make my watch list. The Muppet version is a childhood relatable for me due to its early 90s release date. Also, Michael Caine with an absolute masterful performance as Ebenezer Scrooge! This performance probably doesn’t get considered one of his top all-time performances, but the man berated puppets with a straight face for a solid hour. If that isn’t great acting, then I’m not sure what is.
Chicago has been covering these kinds of lines all year, and Buffalo has not been covering these lines all year. I don’t have any reason to believe that stops this week. Buffalo would love to try to keep that first-round bye, but that doesn’t mean they’ll win comfortably either. Minnesota is either destined to flame out in the first round or string together a few improbable playoff wins and wild comebacks en route to a Super Bowl appearance. I see no other alternatives. Betting on them scares me, but the Giants roster is so depleted at this point and Saquon Barkley can only do so much. Jalen Hurts probably shouldn’t play this weekend, but regardless of if he does or doesn’t, I’m not entirely sure why Dallas is favored by this much. Dallas, aside from blowing out the Vikings in Week 11, hasn’t looked like a team that has it this year and Philadelphia does. I think the Eagles defense can at least make a few plays, and this game will be close.
Tier 5: White Christmas (Season Record: 28-17-1)
Browns -2.5 over Saints
Steelers -3 over Raiders
Cardinals +6.5 over Bucs
What a classic! Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt) pair together wonderfully in this musical sing-along classic. There are a few lines from the movie that don’t age particularly well, as with most films from this era, but in general, this is just an entertaining film. Also, for those that don’t know, Clark Griswold’s “ha-ha-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f***ing Kaye” line is a reference to this movie.
Betting on the Browns, Steelers or Cardinals gives me unpleasant sensations in the pit of my stomach, but the alternatives are slightly less palatable. The Saints are a bad team with not much direction. Kenny Pickett should return to the helm this week and his mobility will be important against a Las Vegas team that’s only attribute, aside from Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs, is its pass rush. Tampa Bay just seems to be in freefall at this point and it’s hard to imagine them beating anyone by a touchdown, even a Colt McCoy-led Cardinals team.
Last Week: 9-6-1
Season Record: 111-106-7
Cover Photo Courtesy of Joel Auerback/Getty Images