The 2021 NFL season is quickly reaching its witching hour. With five or six games remaining on the schedule, the margin for error for playoff-hopeful teams is quickly disappearing. Parity has served as a surprisingly consistent theme throughout the year, and it's led to a wonderfully unpredictable playoff picture in both conferences.
The early afternoon slate will see the Los Angeles Chargers meet the Cincinnati Bengals, with the loser likely falling out of the AFC playoffs as things stand. The highlight of Sunday will occur when old rivalries are renewed between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.
Various other divisional contests are on deck. The surging San Francisco 49ers will travel to Lumen Field to take on Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. Sunday's primetime battle will place Patrick Mahomes and his Kansas City Chiefs under the bright lights against their fellow AFC West partner Denver Broncos. Week 13 will come to a close with a massive Monday night matchup between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, with the winner taking sole control of the incalculable AFC East.
We're in store for an ever-important weekend in the National Football League. We've compiled three bold predictions for the action ahead.
STEELERS DEFEAT RAVENS
The Steelers were thoroughly embarrassed in Week 12, losing to their AFC North rival Bengals by a shocking 31 points. They'll get an opportunity to right their wrongs when they meet the Ravens in front of a rambunctious home crowd at Heinz Field on Sunday. Mike Tomlin is one of the greatest coaches in the NFL, and his teams typically respond to adversity and disappointing showings in rather impressive fashion.
This promises to be a tightly contested, intense match. These two storied franchises have met a total of 29 times since Tomlin and John Harbaugh became their respective teams’ head coaches, and an astounding 21 of those games have been decided by seven points or less. The Ravens have been especially fortunate in 2021 in similar outcomes. Harbaugh's men are 6-1 in one-score contests thus far. That luck is going to run out at some point. Both of these teams are due for a result to go in the other direction. We love Pittsburgh's chances of pulling off an unexpected upset.
BRANDON AIYUK STEPS UP IN DEEBO’S ABSENCE
Kyle Shanahan's 49ers will unfortunately be without the services of Deebo Samuel on Sunday. Samuel has been outstanding, having already recorded a career-high 1,006 receiving yards in just 11 appearances. Samuel's dual-threat ability has served an asset, as the former South Carolina standout has astonishingly topped 200 rushing yards and has scored a combined 10 touchdowns.
Fortunately for the 49ers, another young playmaker has recently broken out of his shell at the receiver position. Second-year player Brandon Aiyuk could serve as the main beneficiary of Samuel’s absence, and he's beginning to round into form at the opportune moment.
A first-round selection in 2020, Aiyuk posted a season-high 91 receiving yards in San Francisco's thrilling Week 12 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. It marked the third time in his last four showings that Aiyuk topped the 80-yard mark. He'll encounter a horrid Seattle defense that's giving up a league-worst 399 yards of total offense per game. Aiyuk is an ultra-talented athlete that is fully capable of continuing his recent hot streak.
PATRIOTS WIN IN BUFFALO
Everything is going according to plan for the New England Patriots right now. Officially the hottest team in all of professional football, Bill Belichick's Patriots are currently embarking on an incredible six-game winning streak, having claimed impressive victories over the Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, and Los Angeles Chargers in the process. Standing in the way of them making it seven consecutive wins is their most heated rival and grandest competition in the AFC East.
Monday's inner-divisional showdown may serve as the biggest game of the year and will be the first of two meetings between these two heated adversaries in a remarkable 20-day span. The Bills enter as the more well-rested team, having defeated the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving by a commanding final score of 31-6, but the Patriots are unquestionably the team in better form. It’s a contest that promises to be plenty physical.
Get your popcorn ready. This has all the makings of an all-timer. The team that can showcase greater mental strength will reign victorious. We're siding with Belichick.