Alas, we've reached the conclusion of the 2021 regular season. Week 18 is truly unprecedented in NFL history and should lead to an entertaining weekend of football.
As we march toward the postseason, several playoff-related fates and outcomes will be sorted out on Sunday. The AFC West primetime showdown between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders qualifies as the single most important game this weekend, with the winner guaranteed to earn a playoff berth. Elsewhere, a shocking four teams—the Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, and Cincinnati Bengals—have a chance to earn the top seed in the AFC, but only the Titans control their own destiny in that regard. A win over the Houston Texans would guarantee Tennessee a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Indianapolis Colts must defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars to confirm their spot in the postseason. A Colts loss would potentially open the door for the Pittsburgh Steelers and/or Baltimore Ravens. The AFC East title also remains up for grabs, as a Buffalo Bills loss would provide the Patriots with an opportunity to catapult themselves to the division title.
In the NFC, the New Orleans Saints' playoff hopes hinge upon their ability to secure a victory while wishing upon a San Francisco 49ers loss. With our eyes pointed toward the action, we've compiled three bold predictions for Week 18.
JUSTIN HERBERT THROWS 4 TDS; BLOWS OUT RAIDERS
As teased in the introduction, the largest contest of the week was rescheduled for primetime and will see two storied AFC West rivals battle for the final playoff spot in the AFC. There's a slim chance the Raiders and Chargers could both qualify for the playoffs with an unlikely tie should some other results fall their way prior to kickoff, but the more likely scenario will see just one of these teams qualify for the postseason.
This is a game that carries a monumental amount of importance and ultimately represents an opportunity for Chargers franchise quarterback Justin Herbert to shine brightest. The former Oregon Duck has successfully built upon his breakout rookie campaign as a sophomore, throwing for 4,631 yards and 35 touchdowns in year two. He'll now take the field in the biggest showcase of his young career with a chance to propel his Chargers to their first postseason berth since 2018. Sunday night could represent a special moment in Herbert's young career and we have full faith in his ability to take advantage.
Look for Herbert to embarrass the Raiders' defense by tossing for four touchdowns en route to a comfortable and convincing Chargers victory.
SAINTS LEAPFROG 49ERS FOR FINAL NFC PLAYOFF SPOT
The surging San Francisco 49ers enter their regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Rams as owners of the sixth seed in the NFC's playoff picture but have yet to guarantee themselves a playoff berth. A difficult and tricky match against the Rams—who will be playing to clinch the NFC West division title—looms large. The Rams were embarrassed by the 49ers back in Week 10, having lost the first of two meetings by a convincing final score of 31-10. Rams head coach Sean McVay understandably won't be doing the 49ers any favors in what qualifies as a massive spot for both franchises.
The tension and intensity will be palpable. Should the 49ers fail to secure a trip to the postseason by defeating the Rams, Sean Payton's New Orleans Saints could leapfrog San Francisco for the final playoff spot with a victory over the disappointing Atlanta Falcons. The surging 49ers are a more competitive team than the Saints are in their current state, but that matters little in the grand scheme of things. New Orleans should receive an opportunity to shatter the hearts of the 49ers faithful.
BEN ROETHLISBERGER PUTS BOW ON NFL CAREER WITH BIG PERFORMANCE VS. RAVENS
Sunday's scenes from Heinz Field were truly special and historic as longtime Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger likely played his final game in front of Pittsburgh's passionate and rambunctious home crowd. Roethlisberger wept as he exited Heinz Field for seemingly the final time in his illustrious 18-year career.
Roethlisberger will get at least one final opportunity to suit up as a Steeler in Pittsburgh's regular-season finale against their heated rival Baltimore Ravens. Pittsburgh's playoff hopes are still hanging on by the slimmest of threads, but this game is largely expected to serve as Roethlisberger's final professional showing unless several results around the league go their way, paired with a Steelers victory.
Although we're not bold enough to forecast a Steelers playoff berth, we do foresee an excellent Roethlisberger performance against a horrid and injury-riddled Ravens secondary. The Ravens are allowing a league-worst 281.7 passing yards per contest and have been truly embarrassed in recent weeks. In Week 16, Joe Burrow lit them up for an unheard of 525 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh's passing offense have struggled throughout 2021 but should have every opportunity to take advantage of a wounded and underperforming Ravens secondary. Look for Roethlisberger to close out his career in impressive fashion Sunday.