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Pressure on Sanchez leads intriguing list of Week 15 storylines

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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With three weeks left to play, only one team has clinched a playoff spot, and all eight divisions are still up for grabs. Injuries remain a big part of the game and can profoundly impact the playoff hopes of teams, as witnessed last week when teams were forced to ask their backup quarterbacks to play. There will be more of the same this week. And, since a handful of teams may have been eliminated from the playoff chase, can those squads play spoiler? There are plenty of storylines to go around in Week 15.

1. A Mark-ed man

The New York Jets are 0-7 all time in Pittsburgh, have lost two games in a row, and coach Rex Ryan said that if Mark Sanchez plays badly he will be benched. Sanchez has the weight of the playoff world on his shoulders. In his last eight games, Sanchez has 10 interceptions and been sacked 19 times. However, Sanchez has been the victim of a bunch of dropped passes by his receivers. There is no way to the playoffs with another Jets quarterback, so Sanchez has to come through.

2. Why not Tebow?

The Arizona Cardinals are doing the right thing in letting John Skelton get valuable playing time. It's also great to see the Cleveland Browns announce that Colt McCoy is getting the rest of the season to prove that he's the right man for that team. Skelton and McCoy are both rookie QBs who were drafted after Tim Tebow, so why are the Denver Broncos waiting to get his career going? Forget "Wildcat" goal-line plays for Tebow, it's time to get him in for these final few games.

3. MJD for MVP?

Tom Brady is the probable most valuable player this season, but there is a case to be made for Maurice Jones-Drew if he continues to carry the Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC South division title, which can be clinched with a win over the Colts on Sunday. The last time the Jaguars played the Colts, Jones-Drew led his team to a win with 28 touches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. He has cracked the 100-yard mark six consecutive weeks to put the Jaguars into position to clinch the division. The Colts' defense is ranked 29th against the run. Expect to see Jones-Drew get 30 touches on Sunday.

4. A Giant pain for QBs

The New York Giants' defense has been knocking quarterbacks out of games all year. The latest victim was the Vikings' Tarvaris Jackson, who is now headed to injured reserve. Big Blue also knocked Matt Moore, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Todd Collins, and Shaun Hill out of games. Now, Michael Vick and his Eagles pay a visit with the top spot in the NFC East on the line.

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5. Brady is great, but there's more to Pats

Brady and the rest of the New England Patriots' offense is the hottest story in the NFL at the moment. In the last five games -- all wins -- the Patriots have averaged 39 points a game and looked unstoppable. What goes unnoticed is the progress the young defense has made. In the same five-game stretch, the defense has 10 sacks, 11 interceptions and has given up just one touchdown pass.

6. Measuring stick for interim coaches

Neither the Minnesota Vikings nor Dallas Cowboys have determined if their interim head coach will be retained next season. This week, the Cowboys host the Redskins, who won the first meeting. The Vikings host the Bears (at TCF Bank Stadium), who also won the first time around. Jason Garrett and Leslie Frazier get a chance to prove that they can do something that the former head coaches in Dallas and Minnesota, respectively, couldn't do earlier this season.

7. The spoilers

Teams eliminated from the playoff race that face off with teams still in the hunt get a chance to rain on their parade. The Bills (vs. Dolphins), Broncos (vs. Raiders), Lions (vs. Buccaneers), and Vikings (vs. Bears) all qualify as potential spoilers this weekend. Look for at least one of those teams -- likely two of them -- to come through and spoil a playoff bid.

8. West side not best side

This weekend, fans might get confirmation that the NFC West is going to be won by a sub-.500 team. The Seattle Seahawks host the NFC South-leading Falcons, while the St. Louis Rams host the Chiefs. This week, co-chair of the NFL Competition Committee, Rich McKay, was once again talking about re-seeding the playoffs.

9. Mystery of pass rushers

Teams spend millions of dollars trying to find pass rushers. Yet, without fail, guys fall through the cracks, get traded away for little compensation or bounce around the league looking for one more chance to prove that they can get to the quarterback. The Miami Dolphins' Cameron Wake leads the league with 14 sacks, the Tennessee Titans' Jason Babin has 10 sacks, and the Cleveland Browns' Marcus Benard has 7.5 sacks. All three of those players took strange paths to get to this point, and NFL personnel people have to look back and try to discover why that happened.

10. Eight rematch games

It has been clear over the past two weeks that more teams split division games than sweep them. There are eight rematch games this weekend, and as Eric Winston of the Texans said, "The 20-0 shutout we had over the Titans doesn't mean a thing this time." Look for five of the eight teams that lost the first time to win this week. There are no bigger rematch games than Eagles-Giants and Jaguars-Colts. The home teams won the first time around, but now must try to do so on the road.

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