A ripple effect from the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers Week 12 game being postponed multiple times bestows upon Week 13 a Monday doubleheader.
Leading off the day, quarterback Alex Smith and the Washington Football Team (4-7) will face Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers (11-0) at 5 p.m. ET from Heinz Field in a game aired on FOX. Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills (8-3) will then face Nick Mullens and the San Francisco 49ers (5-6) on Monday Night Football on ESPN, set to kick off at 8:15 p.m. ET from Glendale, Arizona's State Farm Stadium.
Changes in schedule and changes in location have tossed and turned these squads, but three division leaders and myriad playoff implications are at hand.
Here's what to watch for in the Monday doubleheader:
A tale of two comebacks
There has been no more unbelievable and uplifting comeback tale this year than that of Smith. And there has been no more successful comeback story than that of Roethlisberger. Having emerged from a potential life-threating leg injury suffered in 2018, Smith's return to the field has been a triumph, but he's now looking to take it a step further by leading Washington to an NFC East crown. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, has rallied from a severe elbow injury and has quarterbacked the Steelers to the franchise's greatest start at 11-0 -- the best run to start an NFL season since the 14-0 Carolina Panthers of 2015. Roethlisberger's averaging 254 yards per game and completing 67.5% of his passes with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. Only Roethlisberger, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers have 25-plus TDs and less than 10 interceptions. He also happens to be 4-0 in his career versus Washington and 4-1 in head-to-head matchups with Smith. But Smith, who's 2-1 as a starter in 2020, seems to have proven just about anything is possible.
Pass rushers in force
Quarterback are in peril in this one. Washington (36 sacks) comes to Pittsburgh tied for second in the league in sacks, with the Steelers (41) sitting at No. 1. With a rush led by Montez Sweat (six sacks), Ryan Kerrigan (5.5 sacks), Tim Settle (five sacks) and Chase Young leading the way (4.5), Washington is one of four teams boasting four players with at least four sacks. Young, the 2020 NFL Draft No. 2 pick, leads all rookies in the sack department, but it's another former first-rounder, the Steelers' T.J. Watt, who leads the NFL with 11. Watt's 33 QB hits and 17 tackles for loss are also tops in the NFL and further reason many believe Watt's headed for AP Defensive Player of the Year recognition. However, this will be the Steelers' first game since Bud Dupree was lost for the season with an ACL tear. Dupree's eight sacks are second on the Steelers, so Pittsburgh will be looking for somebody else to step up. Monday would seem to be the right setting for that as there's no shortage of pass rushers at play.
High-scoring rookie campaigns collide
In a season rich with rookie success, Washington running back Antonio Gibson and Pittsburgh receiver Chase Claypool have emerged as the two most prolific scorers among the 2020 class. Heading into Monday, Washington has won two straight to force a tie in the loss column atop the NFC East with the Giants and Gibson has been a catalyst with four touchdowns over the past two weeks. So far, Gibson's scored 11 touchdowns, with TDs in five straight games. The dynamic Claypool, meanwhile, has found the end zone 10 times (eight receiving, two rushing), which leads the Steelers. According to NFL Research, Monday will be just the fourth time since the 1970 merger that two rookies with 10 or more touchdowns will face off, though the Week 13 matchup is the earliest of them all.
Diggs, Allen an instant success in Buffalo
The maturation of Allen has been the Bills' most prevailing storyline and for good reason. Allen's tallied 29 offensive touchdowns (22 passing, six rushing, one receiving) and the former first-rounder is having what is easily his most impressive season so far. It's difficult to imagine it would've played out such as this without the addition of Stefon Diggs. Diggs is on pace for his best season statistically so far and -- leading AFC receivers in fan votes -- his first Pro Bowl selection. Having already hauled in 80 catches for 945 yards and four touchdowns, Diggs has a shot of hitting 1,000 yards for a third straight season on Monday and to continue zeroing in on his second career 100-catch season -- and the second in Buffalo history (Eric Moulds; 100 catches in 2002). Allen's having his best season, Diggs looks to be doing the same and that's hardly a coincidence.
Is 49ers rushing attack on road back?
It was a long run -- pun intended -- of success for Kyle Shanahan's offense during which it seemed as if just about any back inserted into the offense could lead the rushing attack to success. However, after mounting injuries to Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Jeff Wilson, there were some lean times -- particularly in losses to the Seahawks, Packers and Saints in which the Niners averaged 52 yards on the ground as a team. Mostert and Wilson returned in the 49ers' 23-20 defeat of the Rams, and though the numbers were hardly astounding, the 112 yards on the ground was more than double what the offense had been producing. With Mostert and Wilson back, the 49ers are headed in a better direction and it bodes well for San Fran against a Buffalo defense ranked 25th against the run.
Will geography be an issue?
The 49ers are traveling to their new home and the Bills are returning to the scene of a crime. Monday Night Football will emanate from the Arizona Cardinals' home venue, State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Due to Santa Clara County COVID-19 restrictions, the Niners have become nomads and will play their Week 13 and 14 home games at their NFC West rivals' homefield. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they're 1-5 at State Farm since 2014. While it's a huge ordeal and undertaking for the Niners, it's also created a return trip to Arizona the Bills likely would have rather avoided. Buffalo is back at State Farm for the first time since Week 10 when it lost to the Cardinals, 32-30, on the "Hail Murray," which saw DeAndre Hopkins haul in a game-winning Hail Mary from Kyler Murray over three defenders. Though that's recent history, if it's possible, some more distant history favors the Bills. This will be the first game since Week 12 of 2014 in which an NFL team has hosted a home game at a venue not its own. That game saw the host Bills best the Jets at Ford Field in Detroit. Unfortunately for the 49ers, "home teams" are 1-4 in the five games since 1970 in which a team hosted a game at another team's venue. Then again, that aforementioned Bills win over the Jets was Buffalo's last victory on Monday night, as it aims to erase a four-game losing streak on MNF.