The NFL kicks off Week 16 later this weekend, with Thursday Night Football officially a wrap for the season. Week 16 gets going with a Saturday double-header, then 12 games on Sunday, and finally a Christmas Day doubleheader to close out the week.
The San Francisco 49ers return to action on Sunday as part of the afternoon slate of games when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 49ers have won three straight and four of five, and now sit at 4-10 after an 0-9 start. The Jaguars are 10-4, having won three straight and seven of their last eight. Jacksonville leads the AFC South by two games, and clinches the division this weekend with a win or tie, or a Titans loss or tie.
We’re back with a look at Week 15 NFL power rankings around the media, and I’m sticking with the look at our media sources for both the 49ers and Jaguars. Last week, the 49ers hosted an 8-5 Tennessee Titans team that while firmly in the playoff hunt, has not been playing particularly great of late. They were ahead of the 49ers in all power rankings, but it was not a huge margin.
This week, even as the 49ers continue their climb up power rankings, they face a Jaguars team that is getting some Super Bowl buzz. The Jaguars beat the Seahawks in Week 14, and then thumped the Houston Texans in Week 15. The Titans were a test for the 49ers, but the Jaguars are a significantly bigger test with that top notch defense. It’s still a winnable game, but it will be a great test to see where the 49ers development is going heading into the 2018 offseason.
Jaguars: There are a handful of teams with better records than the Jacksonville Jaguars, but no team is playing better football right now.
The Jaguars already have a defense that’s staking its claim as one of the NFL’s all-time greatest units. On offense, they’re the team with the most rushing yards in the league. But how do you stop Jacksonville if Blake Bortles suddenly starts playing well?
In three games in December, Bortles has 903 passing yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s somehow been better than literally everyone.
With Bortles tearing up opposing defenses, the Jaguars are averaging 438 yards per game in December and holding opponents to 292.
Inconsistency has been a problem for Bortles, so it could all come crashing down in a second, but the Jaguars deserve the top spot in the power rankings for now.
49ers: Three wins in a row for the Jimmy Garoppolo-led Niners! As it turns out, having a quarterback makes a difference.
Jaguars: Earlier in the season, Jacksonville was mainly relying on their defense and run game to win. But now even Blake Bortles is playing well. They’re a legit Super Bowl contender.
49ers: Marquise Goodwin has been a nice revelation for the 49ers since Jimmy Garoppolo took over at quarterback. Goodwin has 24 catches for 319 yards in Garoppolo’s three starts. Goodwin is an incredible athlete who seemed underused at the University of Texas and by the Buffalo Bills too. The 27-year-old was a nice offseason find for the 49ers.
Jaguars: Let’s be very clear: If Blake Bortles plays anywhere near the level he has played at for three weeks (903 yards, seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 128.6), the Jaguars can absolutely win a Super Bowl. There’s no weakness if Bortles plays like this. Now, do I believe Bortles will plays like this in January? No. But it’s impossible to ignore what he has done lately.
49ers Last Week: 23
Points in MMQB Power Poll: 171
Highest-Place Vote: 17th
Lowest-Place Vote: 23rd
Last Week’s Result: Win vs. Tennessee, 25-23
Week 16 Opponent: vs. Jacksonville
Jaguars Last Week: 7
Points in MMQB Power Poll: 340
Highest-Place Vote: Fourth
Lowest-Place Vote: Ninth
Last Week’s Result: Win vs. Houston, 45-7
Week 16 Opponent: at San Francisco
49ers: It's amazing what having a franchise signal-caller can do for your football team. Jimmy Garoppolo has given the San Francisco 49ers confidence across the team. He's also changed the offense's efficiency.
One thing we know about Kyle Shanahan is that he can dial up big, aggressive pass plays as long as he has a quarterback who can move in the pocket and throw off bootlegs. He can do it better than any play-caller in football, and Garoppolo is exactly the type of quarterback he needs. We saw that as he led San Francisco's comeback drive against the Tennessee Titans.
The 49ers are still missing some pieces, but the ship is heading in the right direction.
Jaguars: The Jaguars are the best team in the NFL when Blake Bortles is able to make routine throws. That's what he did against Houston, and Jacksonville dominated.
This is one of the greatest defenses I've ever seen. Jacksonville has a chance to lead the league in sacks, turnovers and points allowed. No team has ever done that in the history of the league.
The key to a deep playoff run will be Bortles' ability to hit open receivers downfield. Defenses are going to dare Jacksonville to beat them with the pass until Bortles starts proving people—myself included—wrong about his ability to be a franchise quarterback.
49ers: They are 3-0 with Jimmy Garoppolo playing quarterback. He is their future.
Jaguars: They are a playoff team as of right now, but they want a lot more than that. That defense is special.
49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo has officially ruined the next few years for every GM who doesn't happen to possess a franchise quarterback. The former Patriot pulled a Montana for the 49ers on Sunday, taking the football at his own 25 with a minute and change and pushing the offense into field-goal territory in three plays. If the final drive was Montana-ish, the numbers were Steve Young-y: 31 of 43 for 381 yards with a touchdown, no picks and a passer rating well north of 100. Now every fan base will be screaming for its team's brass to trade for whomever the hot backup is next season, or pay Kirk Cousins a king's ransom, squared, this offseason.
Jaguars: If you had any doubts about the viability or legitimacy of the Jaguars, I hope you at least caught the highlights of the Texans game on Sunday. The defense was its usual stubborn self, allowing Houston a grand total of seven points. Ever so under-the-radar-y, though, Blake Bortles is playing quality football. On Sunday, the least respected multi-year starter in football enjoyed another multi-touchdown, interception-less outing. That's three straight games now that Bortles, who went 21 of 29 for 326 yards and three touchdowns against Houston, has pulled that feat off. Bortlesmania. #Swaguars
49ers: The future is bright with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB. The three straight wins with Garoppolo as the starter have raised expectations for next season. It always seemed like a near certainty that the Niners would franchise-tag Garoppolo this offseason if they couldn’t re-sign him first. But if anyone had any doubts about that, they should be erased. Garoppolo cannot be allowed to leave.
Jaguars: The Jaguars may be the one team capable of preventing the expected Steelers-Patriots rematch in the AFC championship game. They can play rugged defense and run the football, and they could face the Steelers in what could be a competitive conference semifinal. But the problem remains: Can QB Blake Bortles, even with his recently improved play, be trusted in games of consequence?
49ers: Sure they’re 4-10, but the 49ers are 3-0 with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm and are bound to give the Jaguars fits in Week 16.
Jaguars: Blake Bortles no longer looks like a guy who won a contest to be an NFL quarterback, as the Jaguars QB has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games. But will he make plays in the playoffs?
49ers: The Niners are writing a tale of two teams and seasons. The way Jimmy Garoppolo and the young defense are playing now is a good sign for the team's near future under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch.
Jaguars: The Jaguars might be the real threat to the Patriots in the AFC, with the defense causing so many problems and Blake Bortles growing in confidence and efficiency. Their newness to the playoff party might, in fact, be an asset.