SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes lends his expertise to help you find an upset and a lock heading into Week 10 of the NFL.
A quick glance at items of interest as NFL Week 10 rolls on …
Michael Thomas. The production that Thomas has had as the primary wide receiver target for Drew Brees (70 catches, 880 yards, five TDs) is even more impressive when considering the Saints have been challenged to establish a complementary wideout. Regardless of the coverage and defensive schemes, Brees just keeps connecting with Thomas – whose rise as an elite player in his three NFL seasons is fortified by dedicated, professional work habits.
His franchise-record 211 yards and game-sealing, 72-yard TD in the big win against the Rams last weekend further illustrated his impact. Good idea, Sean Payton, to add a hungry Dez Bryant to the mix. Too bad it appears Bryant is done before he ever got started, with what is feared to be a torn Achilles tendon, another of the injuries (Ted Ginn, Cameron Meredith) that have depleted the wideout options. With a potential shootout looming at Cincinnati, Brees has other premium options in the passing game, such as running back Alvin Kamara. But to keep the flow going, the Saints (7-1) are going to need Thomas to keep beating the schemes designed to take him away.
Jason Garrett. It’s rather remarkable that the Cowboys have maintained such dynamic appeal. They are still the NFL’s top TV draw, with annual meltdowns – and a potential beatdown from the similarly desperate Eagles on Sunday night at the Linc — featured in prime time. The Cowboys are the most valuable franchise in sports, lead the NFL in merchandise sales and in overall attendance. Yet they are on the verge (3-5) of another deflating campaign. And so used to it.
In nearly 23 years since the franchise’s last taste of Super Bowl glory, Dallas has won two playoff games. No, that’s not all on Garrett (0-2 playoff record), but the pattern of uninspiring mediocrity continues on his watch – so much so that Cowboys legend Troy Aikman, mindful of the intensifying heat on Garrett, suggests a “complete overhaul” of the organization. Sure, Jerry Jones, on his sixth coach since Jimmy Johnson, has heard that theme before amid the franchise’s funky culture for winning … and vibrant culture for making money. But maybe even Jones wonders: How much longer can my franchise remain so popular, with these sorry results?
Bill Belichick vs. Malcolm Butler. As expected, in the days leading up to New England’s visit to Tennessee, the Patriots’ coach shed no new light on his Super Bowl LII benching of Butler (in a setback where they could have used more coverage). But at least Butler – who joined forces with former Patriot Mike Vrabel, the new Titans coach – can prove a point with his performance. It won’t be easy, with Josh Gordon and likely Rob Gronkowski needing to be covered, and with Tom Brady slinging the rock. But it’s a test both ways as Tennessee has the NFL’s best red-zone defense, with a 31.8-percent TD rate. Brady gave Butler the truck he won as MVP of Super Bowl XLIX, which was sealed by the crafty cornerback’s goal-line interception.
Next man up
Josh McCown. Sure, over the course of a 16-game season, he’s been here before. Yet McCown (73 career starts) will step in for the first time this season, as Jets rookie franchise quarterback Sam Darnold nurses a foot injury and Buffalo visits. What if McCown lights it up? No controversy. The Jets are committed to Darnold for the long haul. Yet given growing pains for Darnold, who has thrown an NFL-high 14 interceptions while operating behind a spotty O-line, there is no reason to rush him back.
MORE: NFL Week 10 matchups to watch: Will Golden Tate burn Cowboys in Eagles debut?
MORE: USA TODAY Sports’ Week 10 NFL picks
Saquon Barkley. The big-play running back is like the consolation prize for another season that has gone off the rails for the Giants (1-7). Barkley has a shot at achieving the rare feat of hitting the 1,000-yard mark for both rushing and receiving, which validates the talent that moved the G-men to draft him No. 2 overall, but makes you wonder whether all of that production is being wasted. Nonetheless, the production offers hope. And Barkley, second in the NFL for yards from scrimmage (1,016) and for percentage of his team’s TDs (33.2 percent), heads into Monday night’s game at San Francisco carrying a streak of three consecutive games with at least nine receptions.
If the playoffs were today …
The Chargers would be a team you don’t want to play. Los Angeles (6-2) will be hard-pressed to overtake the Chiefs for the A-West title, but with a five-game winning streak, it has established positioning for the AFC’s top wild-card slot – and that will be a tough out. Amid a banner season from Philip Rivers (19 TDs, three INTs), they have rocked with big plays. The yardage on his last eight TD passes, over four games: 30, 12, 55, 75, 29, 45, 13, 44. Big plays. Perhaps by January they’ll have Joey Bosa in the flow, too. With Bosa yet to play this season due to a foot injury, the Chargers have gone heavier on blitzes to help generate a rush good for 15 sacks during the winning streak.
Stomach for an upset
Jaguars at Colts. With Andrew Luck’s comeback looking better by the week, Indianapolis (3-5) has a Top-10 offense again and has won consecutive games for the first time since 2015. That’s part of the reason the Colts are favored at home against their division rival. Another reason has been the meltdown of the defending AFC South champions. The Jags still have a No. 2-ranked defense (by yards), but they’ve also been undone by Blake Bortles’ turnover issues. Yet look who’s poised to return: Leonard Fournette, who has started just two games this season (and finished none) due to a lingering hamstring injury. If he can handle a full load, the formula for Jacksonville changes for the better.
Did you notice?
The Texans (6-3), on a bye this weekend while leading the AFC South, are the first NFL team to follow an 0-3 start with a six-game winning streak since the 1970 New York Giants.
Stat’s the fact
In his six games since returning, Carson Wentz has passed for 300 yards three times – and the Eagles are 0-3 in those contests. When Wentz hasn’t hit the 300 mark, the Eagles are 3-0.