SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers should be on upset alert against the 11-loss Raiders Sunday.
Alarmist? Sure. But San Francisco is far from an ascending team at the moment.
With so much swirling around head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was unwilling to quell the buildup of rumors about his pending future in his Monday presser, San Francisco is ripe to play another bad game given all that's going on at its Santa Clara headquarters.
"Nobody that’s for us was happy about losing the game, losing a big game," Harbaugh said. "We’re still not happy about it. Our job is … my job, let’s talk about my job. My job is to get it right. That’s what we’re attacking today without excuse. Onward to the Raiders."
The Raiders have nothing to lose and everything to gain against their Bay Area counterparts. The 49ers, and Harbaugh, have everything on line. A loss before their trip to Seattle Dec. 14 would effectively destroy their playoff chances, and could entice CEO Jed York to pull the plug on Harbaugh's tenure early, if all the ugliness going on behind closed doors is as bad as what's being reported.
CSN Bay Area reported Tuesday the clash of personalities between Harbaugh and the front office may have hit a tipping point in recent weeks.
From the report:
"It’s no secret Harbaugh can be a difficult personality. One source told CSNBayArea.com that general manager Trent Baalke and Harbaugh have clashed on occasion, but it never escalated into a situation in which either man felt as if he could not work with the other. But that changed a couple weeks ago when an undisclosed incident or series of interactions occurred that irreparably tore at the trust that must exist between a coach and general manager. (The source would not disclose the specifics of the disagreement.)"
The common belief is the 49ers are more likely to trade Harbaugh to another team for draft picks. Ironically, the Raiders are reportedly the favorite to land Harbaugh after the season. But Harbaugh would have to sign off on any trade, and that might complicate things significantly. Why would Harbaugh want to start rebuilding with a new team if that team has to give up draft picks for his services?
All this is likely making it difficult for San Francisco's players to keep their eyes on the prize - winning Sunday - in order stay alive for the following week in Seattle. Sunday has all the makings of a trap game.
Before Thursday, all eight of the 49ers' losses dating back to 2013 have come on back-to-back weeks. Simply: their losses in the last two-plus seasons have come in pairs. That odd streak would increase to 10 with a loss Sunday after losing to the Seahawks on turkey day. San Francisco never lost back-to-back games under Harbaugh in his first two years as head coach.
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Yes, the Raiders are coming off an embarrassing loss of their own, falling 52-0 on the road to the Rams Sunday. But the 49ers have played inferior teams in recent weeks coming off lopsided losses and found themselves getting strong efforts from their opponents.
-Week 9: The 49ers lost to the 2-5 Rams, 13-10, a week after the Rams took a 34-7 shellacking from the Chiefs on the road.
-Week 11: The 3-6 Giants were three yards away from taking the lead against San Francisco late in the fourth qurter Nov. 16, and lost 16-10. The previous week, they were pushed around in Seattle, falling 38-17.
-Week 12: Even a struggling 3-7 Washington team took the 49ers to the brink, losing just 17-13, a week after an embarrassing 20-point home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If that trend continues, a struggling, yet prideful, Raiders team will be energized and give San Francisco all it can handle in the Black Hole Sunday coming off their 52-point loss in St. Louis.
"The best thing for us now is to turn all of our attention and our focus to what lies ahead, and that's this bloodbath that we're about to have against the 49ers," Oakland defensive lineman Justin Tuck told reporters this week. "Big rivalry game. Everybody in this area has been waiting for this game for a long time.
"That's the best thing that could have happened after a loss like that, is to have this type of game where all of your attention has to be focused on the 49ers."
San Francisco, who has scored fewer than 20 in five of six games, is a bloated 8-point favorite against the one-win Raiders. The endearing features of Oakland's season have come few and far between. Head coach Dennis Allen was fired and replaced by interim Tony Sparano in late September after starting 0-4, coming off last year's 2-14 finish.
Perhaps the most encouraging development for the Raiders has been rookie quarterback Derek Carr, who has shown flashes of becoming a long-term solution. But it remains to be seen if Carr would prevent the Raiders from taking a quarterback early in next year's draft, or trade their likely top-3 pick to address other areas with acquired of draft picks.
Carr's 74.4 passer rating ranks 26th among the league's 28 quarterbacks that have taken at least half his team's snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. A winning performance against the 49ers' fourth-ranked defense could go a long way when it comes to his evaluation in the offseason.
"I think he’s a fine player," Harbaugh said of Carr. "He’s handled his business. He’s done a fine job in the role."
The numbers, along with the record, don't reflect kindly on Oakland. It ranks dead last in scoring and third-worst in scoring defense.
"There’s no bad teams in the National Football League. The NFL has done a great job making each game a test. And they’ve exceeded in expectations in that regard," Harbaugh said.
The 49ers aren't out of the playoff race, yet. At 7-5, winning their remaining games would put them in good positioning at 11-5. Their toughest test, without a doubt, is their game in two Sunday's up in Seattle, where Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick haven't won since Russell Wilson was drafted.
And given their dispiriting performance on Thanksgiving, it's hard to imagine San Francisco's offense picking itself off the mat and winning in CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks, Lions and Cowboys are all one game ahead of San Francisco in the playoff standings at 8-4. Three of Dallas' four remaining games are on the road (Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington) with their one remaining home game coming against the 8-4 Indianapolis Colts.
Detroit, boasting a 6-2 conference record that will loom large in tie-breaker scenarios, finishes with two home games against Tampa Bay and Minnesota, then travels to Chicago and Green Bay.
The NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals have lost two straight and are leaving the door open for either the 49ers or Seahawks to win the division. They host Kansas City Sunday, then take on their three division rivals to finish the season, including a trip to Levi's Stadium Week 17.