Week 13 is normally when we start seeing the NFL playoff picture unfold. However, in 2021, we’re still unsure if there are even any good teams in the league. The NFL is so tightly knit nowadays that even the 0-10-1 Detroit Lions still have not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
There are some intriguing games on the slate for this Sunday/Monday, particularly the Monday Night game between Buffalo and New England, with the AFC East lead on the line. There’s also Chargers at Bengals — a game between two teams with absolutely no recent history (ancient history there is the 1981 AFC Championship Game better know as the Freezer Bowl), but sees both teams sitting in second place in their division trying to claw their way to the top. There is one other game that really butters me up though, and of course, it’s Ravens-Steelers.
Aside from this being a divisional matchup between the only two teams to have won the AFC North since 2016, but because of the narrative I’ve seen around this game online. Several betting sites have the Ravens (8-3) as three-point favorites on the road. Just three points. Given that the Steelers (5-5-1) have looked like inept goldfish on offense most of the season, it’d be easy to assume the Ravens will just make like Forrest Gump and run away with the victory.
Sure, it’s possible. If the Jaguars can beat the Bills and the Dolphins can dominate the Ravens, anything can happen. However, I think it’s less likely than most people realize. The Steelers are known for being a model of consistency. They haven’t had a losing record in the Mike Tomlin era, which started in 2007. Since Ben Roethlisberger took over the starting quarterback job in 2004, Pittsburgh has finished worse than second in the division only three times. They know how to win. More specifically, they know how to win against divisional opponents.
From 2013 to 2020, the Steelers were 33-14-1 in the division. In that span, they have not had a losing record against divisional opponents, and aside from when their undefeated season got blown up by Washington last year, the Steelers have been much better against their divisional foes after Week 10.
Plus, the Steelers are pretty good at bouncing back from harsh defeats. Since 2010, the Steelers have a record of 14-9 the week after suffering a loss of 10 or more points. While the Ravens have merely skated on by the hairs of their chinny chin chins, with three-point wins over the Vikings and Bears as well as a sloppy six-point victory and a two-possession loss to Miami headlining their last four games, the Ravens could be in for a letdown performance against a familiar foe.
Of course, there’s also the potential that Baltimore’s star cornerback Marlon Humphrey could miss the game. He did not practice on Thursday, and while it’s unlikely that illness will keep him sidelined until Sunday, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on. Humphrey is a definite game-changer against a Steelers’ passing attack that’s only had one consistent target all season, Diontae Johnson. Humphrey hasn’t missed a single defensive snap since Week 1, but his absence could swing the tide in Pittsburgh’s favor enormously.
Baltimore is the better team here, but late-season divisional matchups always bring out the craziest games. The Steelers might be inconsistent, but they’re no slouches. The Ravens have been very good against the run this year, allowing the second-fewest total yards on the ground, and forcing Roethlisberger to beat you has been a pretty good strategy for teams facing Pittsburgh this year. However, the Steelers always manage to impress in games where everyone counts them out, so I’m not going to count them out.
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