Welcome to NFL Week 15

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:41 PM ET

Ken Fidlin, Dan Bilicki and Randall the Handle look ahead to Week 15 in the NFL, and look back at the week that was:

STORYLINES

1. Harbaugh’s 49ers Seeing Red

The San Francisco 49ers are in some jeopardy of losing their first-round playoff bye and it’s largely because of their inept red-zone offence. The Niners may be 10-3, tied for second in the NFC with New Orleans, but they have accomplished that in spite of having the NFL’s worst TD percentage inside their opponents’ 20-yard-line.

San Francisco lost its third game of the year Sunday by a single point to the Arizona Cardinals after settling for three first-half field goals on drives that ended inside the Cards’ six-yard-line.

The offensive meltdown in Arizona didn’t only occur near the goal line. San Francisco had two first downs in the entire second half. Alex Smith averaged 4.9 yards-per-attempt.

Perhaps this was just an overdue slip-up from the 49ers. A post-division title letdown without Patrick Willis. We tend to think the offence is regressing a little after two losses in three weeks.

2. Packers go for perfection

The Green Bay Packers are three wins away from a perfect 16-0 season and the indications are that they are not going to take their collective foot off the gas pedal.

This weekend in Kansas City, they can clinch home field advantage through the NFC playoffs but are expecting to keep playing to win in their last two games at home against Chicago and Detroit. “We don’t play scared,” declared head coach Mike McCarthy after Sunday’s win against Oakland. In 2009, the Indianapolis Colts got to 14-0 through Week 15, then rested key players in Week 16, losing to the New York Jets. In Week 17, the Colts got blown out by Buffalo. In the playoffs, they made it to the Super Bowl, but lost to the Saints.

“Nothing’s going to stop this train,” said defensive back Charles Woodson. “That’s our thought. We understand guys are going to go down. No excuses.”

3. Can the Titans stay alive with Jake Locker

The Titans probably need to win their final three games to make the playoffs and that means they may have to win at least one of those games with rookie quarterback Jake Locker at the helm. Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that Matt Hasselbeck’s calf injury isn’t too serious, but early signs indicate it will be a stretch for Hasselbeck to return this week against the Colts. Kerry Collins apparently had a similar injury last year for the Titans and missed two games. The Titans are “confident” Locker can lead the team.

Locker’s performance against the Saints was a mixed bag, but he made some plays running the ball that Hasselbeck simply couldn’t make. The Titans offence didn’t look particularly worse with Locker behind centre, just different. Hasselbeck has done an outstanding job getting the Titans to seven wins. His signing has worked out perfectly for the team. Having Locker available off the bench after a year of learning is an ideal situation for the team.

4. We hear this chap Tebow is good at football

Brian Urlacher should know better. A veteran guy like him should understand that belittling Tim Tebow’s astonishing run of dramatic victories only feeds the monster. But Urlacher just couldn’t help himself. After his Bears had been Tebowed Sunday, losing 13-10 in overtime after blowing a 10-point lead in the last few minutes of regulation, Urlacher was asked what he thought of Denver QB Tebow and delivered a backhanded compliment: “He’s a good running back,” said the Chicago linebacker. Of course, Tebow turned the other cheek and responded, genuinely, “Coming from a really good player, that means a lot.” It’s just another slight in a season of them. Next up for Denver? Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Wonder what diabolical torture Tebow and pals have prepared for them?

5. What will the Giants do with their new lease on life?

Down a dozen with five minutes left against Dallas, the Giants’ season was all but over. So, too, could have been the tenure of head coach Tom Coughlin. But Tim Tebow isn’t the NFL’s only miracle machine. Eli Manning has a fine magic touch at times, and he was able to pull this game out. “I don’t like being in this situation,” Manning said. “It’s becoming a habit and a bad habit, but we find ways to overcome it. It’s a fun way to win, but I’d like to have a lead and try to hold on to one for once.” Now New York has a tenuous hold on first place in the NFC East. They face Washington, the Jets and Dallas again. If the Giants can survive, they could very well be a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.

SAY WHAT?

“It’s a defeated feeling today. I can’t even put it into words how bad this hurts, especially being in it until eight seconds left. We just had so many opportunities. I can’t even put a word on how much this hurts.”

— Bengals’ DB Chris Crocker, after the Houston Texans pulled out a 20-19 victory in the last minute.

STOCK RISING

Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants, DE

In a shootout that cried out for someone, anyone, to make a defensive play, Pierre-Paul had a statement game Sunday against the Cowboys. The raw talent had two sacks (one of them resulted in a safety), forced a fumble, made two other tackles for Dallas losses and then, with the Cowboys trying to tie the game in the dying seconds, he blocked a Dan Bailey field goal. A star is born.

STOCK FALLING

Marion Barber, Bears, RB

With Matt Forte out with a knee injury, it was Barber’s time to step up. Against the Broncos, Barber failed miserably. Holding a three-point lead, just over two minutes remaining with a chance to run out the clock, Barber inexplicably ran out of bounds, giving Denver one more chance to tie. They did. In overtime, with the Bears driving, Barber’s fumble cost Chicago the winning Matt Prater field goal.

HYPE WE’RE BUYING

This is the year of the Raven. Baltimore, with four straight wins and six of its last seven, is poised to take the AFC North title, so often dominated by the Steelers. Joe Flacco has come of age as a quarterback and Terrell Suggs has quietly taken the mantel from Ray Lewis on defence. They have balance on both sides of the ball and they control their own destiny to become the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the first time in their 16 years.

HYPE WE’RE NOT

The myth of NFL parity. Never in recent memory has there been such a disparity in the wealth of talent throughout the NFL. The only thing that keeps up appearances is the strength of schedule. There are 13 teams with five wins or fewer. Jacksonville is awful, yet they can hang 41 points on an even uglier outfit from Tampa. Indy is 0-13. The Packers are 13-0. Where’s Paul Tagliabue when you need him?

BILICKI’S FANTASY MATCHUPS

DREAM MATCHUP

Green Bay at Kansas City

In case you haven’t noticed by now, the Packers are a runaway offensive juggernaut. Even if Greg Jennings — who injured his knee during Sunday’s game — is out for any period of time, Green Bay has the weapons at receiver to still pour it on. They also have their running game moving the ball very effectively: Their three backs carried the ball at a 6.6 yards per carry clip against Oakland. It also warrants mentioning that the Chiefs just canned their coach Monday.

NIGHTMARE TIME

Pittsburgh at San Francisco

This Monday nighter has defensive slugfest written all over it. Both sides are at the top of most defensive rankings and shouldn’t disappoint here. The Steelers have a better chance at putting up decent numbers since San Fran could have troubles covering their two speedy receivers, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Expect this one to be a grind with plenty of rushing attempts.

RANDALL’S WEEK 14 RANTS

1. Chicago’s Marion Barber needs to be taken out to the woodshed. Fumbling while in field-goal range, in overtime no less, is deplorable but it pales in comparison to Barber’s complete mental breakdown when going out of bounds with under 2:00 minutes to play. The Broncos would have received the ball in their own zone with approximately 12 seconds to play, down three points. Instead, Tim Tebow and a seemingly divine intervention were given 53 seconds to tie the game and ultimately win it in overtime. Just another miracle victory for Denver and a disaster for those that had the Bears on the moneyline.

2. Speaking of upsetting moneyline losses, how do the refs not flag the Lions for facemasking on quarterback Joe Webb in the final seconds of a game with the Vikings on the doorstep of an upset? The stripes make all sorts of marginal holding and pass interference calls but miss a blatant infraction like that?

3. We see it repeatedly and the 49ers were guilty of it on Sunday but can someone please explain how teams incur a delay of game penalty after a timeout?

4. The Titans could have, probably should have won and covered. Those that backed Tennessee can thank offensive co-ordinator Chris Palmer. It is astonishing that the Titans would run the ball at midfield with no timeouts and 48 seconds to play. Such brilliant play calling ate up 21 precious seconds and forced rookie QB Jake Locker to mad scramble with only seconds left down around the Saints’ goal line. Go figure.


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