Top storylines for NFL Week 10

Week 10 around the NFL offers us only a handful of games between potential playoff contenders. But the simple fact that we’re talking about playoffs leads us to believe that we’re getting to the meat of the NFL schedule.

Can the Jacksonville Jaguars continue their upward trajectory against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday? How will the Dallas Cowboys react to yet another turn in the Ezekiel Elliott case? Meanwhile, there’s certainly going to be some drama unfold between two bad teams in Santa Clara.

These are among the top storylines for NFL Week 10.

Bucs call on Fitzmagic to save season

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick

With Jameis Winston now sitting the next two games due to a shoulder injury, the free-falling Buccaneers will turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick to help save a lost season. Tampa Bay sits at 2-6 on the season and has lost five consecutive games. This comes on the heels of a surprising 2016 campaign that saw the squad win six of its final eight games.

There’s little doubt that the Bucs won’t be playing postseason football in January. This doesn’t mean the team can simply shut it down for the final eight games. That’s where Fitzpatrick and his veteran experience comes into play. In limited sample size this season, he’s played better than Winston. Can Fitzmagic actually help this squad gain momentum in the second half of the year? It starts this week against a surprising New York Jets squad

The Jaguars roar to relevancy

Even with Leonard Fournette sidelined each of the past two games, Jacksonville has turned an uneven start to the season into contention in the AFC. It has won these two games by a combined 43 points, yielding a grand total of one touchdown in the process.

The Jags’ dominant defense, led by the boisterous Jalen Ramsey, gets all the play here. But we should focus on just how much better Blake Bortles has performed under center for the first-place team. He completed 24-of-38 passes for 259 yards without an interception in a blowout win over a good Bengals defense last week. With Fournette back in the mix after being a healthy inactive last week, the Jags have a chance to move to 6-3 on the season against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

Jets look to remain alive in playoff race

At 4-5 on the season, the Jets have won twice as many games as most people figured they would all season. Todd Bowles and Co. are also coming off an impressive 34-21 beat down of the Buffalo Bills last week. Despite this, the Jets still find themselves in last place in the AFC East and two games back in the loss column when it comes to the conference’s wild card race.

It’s in this that New York needs to find a way to run together a few wins in a row. The team’s three-game losing streak prior to last week looms large here. Though, with an outing against a disastrous Buccaneers squad on Sunday, the Jets could potentially remain relevant in the AFC Playoff picture. This is a surprising November game for a team most figured would be bottom feeders in 2017.

Winning without Zeke

Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant need to get it right.

For now, it looks like the Dallas Cowboys will be without Ezekiel Elliott until their Week 16 game against the Seattle Seahawks. This comes as a federal court in New York ruled in the NFL’s favor on Thursday, reinstating the running back’s six-game ban. Short of some miracle happening in the courts here soon, Elliott will have to sit out those games.

This means that the combination of Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden will have to shoulder the load for a 5-3 Cowboys team moving froward. Behind one of the best offensive lines in the game, we can expect some level of success on the ground. Remember, McFadden himself put up north of 1,400 total yards as the Cowboys’ primary ball carrier back in 2015.

The first test for these two former Pro Bowlers will come Sunday against an Atlanta Falcons defense that ranks in the bottom half of the NFL stopping the run. It should give us a good idea of where the Cowboys’ rushing attack stands sans Elliott.

McAdoo’s swan song?

It’s more than simple rumors suggesting that Ben McAdoo might not be long for the New York Giants’ head coaching job. Reports from respected NFL people over the past few days suggest that McAdoo has lost his locker room and the players simply aren’t playing for him. At 1-7 on the season, that makes a ton of sense. And it’s readily apparent that division itself is widespread in New Jersey right now.

Even if the Giants want to deny that they’re going to make an in-season move, a loss on the road to the winless San Francisco 49ers could very well change the dynamic here. The fact they they’re underdogs in the first place isn’t good. Now, if they embarrass themselves against a bad team a week after losing to the Rams 52-17, that could be the end of McAdoo’s short tenure as the team’s head coach. It’s certainly something to watch Sunday afternoon.

Paxton’s time in Mile High?

Broncos fans might need an intervention if they have to watch much more of Brock Osweiler under center. The veteran just isn’t a starter-caliber quarterback in today’s NFL. That came out in droves in his first start for the Broncos since 2015 last week. He threw two picks and completed just half of his passes in a disastrous 51-23 loss to Philadelphia. It led to some pretty hilarious reactions on social media.

For the Broncos, this is anything but hilarious. Remember, Osweiler took over for an ineffective Trevor Siemian last week. The two have now combined to throw 10 touchdowns compared to 12 picks on the season. It has Denver at 3-5 and in the midst of a four-game losing streak. Paxton Lynch might not be the answer here, but it’s time the Broncos give the 2016 first-round pick an opportunity to prove himself. Now that he’s nearing his way back from a season-long shoulder injury, that could potentially come Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Captain Kirk delivers

Last week’s performance against the Seahawks in Seattle was nothing short of extraordinary for Kirk Cousins. He led the Washington Redskins back with a game-winning touchdown scoring drive in the final minute of the game — pretty much saving Washington’s season in the process. Cousins was able to do this despite missing multiple starting offensive linemen as well as receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed to injury.

It won’t be any easier this Sunday against an elite Minnesota Vikings defense on the road. Then again, Cousins’ Week 9 performance also came on the road against one of the best defenses in the NFL. At 4-4 on the season, Washington currently finds itself one game out of playoff positioning in the NFC. A win against a first-place team within the conference would be absolutely huge. That’s where Cousins and his importance to the squad comes into play.

Is Marshon Lattimore NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year

We’re not talking Defensive Rookie of the Year. No, we’re talking the best defensive football player in the game. That’s just how darn good Lattimore has been for the up-and-coming Saints this season. He’s recorded 31 tackles, eight passes defended, two interceptions and a forced fumble. The Ohio State standout is also giving up an absurdly low 34.0 passer rating on the season.

This has him as Pro Football Focuses top-graded corner in the NFL heading into Week 10. It also has the Saints’ defense playing absolutely tremendous football as this team looks for its sixth consecutive victory Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. How Lattimore performs against new Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game between two surprising teams.

Jimmy’s story

Will he or won’t he? That’s the biggest question in San Francisco heading into the 49ers’ Week 10 game against the hapless New York Giants. Will Jimmy Garoppolo — just recently acquired from the New England Patriots — make his debut with the team? When San Francisco acquired Garoppolo ahead of the trade deadline last week, initial suggestions were that the team might sit him for the remainder of the season. That was replaced this week with head coach Kyle Shanahan refusing to fully commit to rookie C.J. Beathard as the team’s starter for Sunday (more on that here).

With north of 20 players currently on injured reserve and no real offensive line to speak of, it might make sense for the 49ers to hold Garoppolo out. Then again, the team is 0-9 on the season and is facing a Giants defense that was embarrassed by the Rams last week. In order to bring some excitement to Santa Clara and potentially take advantage of a disastrous Giants team, maybe San Francisco does give Jimmy some action Sunday. Only time will tell on that front.

Time to showcase Brett Hundley 

Brett Hundley makes his first start in NFL Week 7

It might not be on the level of the Browns, 49ers or Giants, but these Green Bay Packers are a hot mess right now. They have not won a single game since Aaron Rodgers went down with a season-ending injury. Tight end Martellus Bennett was released this week after allegedly failing to disclose a shoulder injury.

Meanwhile, the Packers now find themselves at 4-4 and more likely to earn a top-10 pick than vie for a playoff spot late into the season. The team now needs to transition from a contention outlook to actually showcasing young quarterback Brett Hundley. That means opening up the offense, giving him an opportunity to succeed and seeing what the UCLA product brings to the table.

The importance of this is two-fold. First off, it will enable Green Bay to understand if it has a legitimate backup behind Rodgers. Secondly, there’s a chance the young quarterback could draw interest on the trade market this upcoming spring. For a team that’s struggled adding talent on both sides of the field, draft pick assets are important. This should start Week 10 against the Chicago Bears.

Teddy’s return

No matter who we support on Sundays, this has to be considered a feel-good story. Out since suffering a serious knee injury that could have cost him his life in August of 2016, Teddy Bridgewater will suit up for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Bridgewater won’t be starting. Instead, that job will go to Case Keenum with Sam Bradford now on injured reserve. Even then, it’s a tremendous story simply that Bridgewater has been able to, through hard work and dedication, get himself back on the field.

From a team-wide perspective, this could also very well be a boon. At 6-2 on the season, Minnesota is vying with Philadelphia for the top seed in the NFC. And while Keenum has played well as a stopgap option, there’s little doubt Teddy provides more upside under center. It will be interesting to see what comes of this throughout the remainder of the season.

Steelers coming out of a bye

At 6-2 on the season, Pittsburgh is tied with New England for the best record in the AFC. Despite some struggles from Ben Roethlisberger, this team still has a legit shot at a top-two seed in the conference. It’s also coming off a Week 9 bye.

The Steelers have lost their last three games coming out of a bye, yielding an average of nearly 32 points per game in those three outings. There’s no real rhyme or reason to this. It’s just an interesting tidbit. Taking on a last-place Colts team on Sunday, that should change. Though, it will be interesting to see if this recent pattern repeats itself.

Times changing in Los Angeles

First-year Rams head coach Sean McVay has his team playing absolutely tremendous football. At 6-2 on the season, they are right in the thick of both the NFC West division race and the top seed in the conference. A victory Sunday against the injury-ravaged Texans would match the Rams’ best win total for any season since 2006. That’s just some amazing stuff right there.

It starts with Todd Gurley’s domination on the ground and an impressive defensive performance under future Hall of Fame coordinator Wade Phillips. Gurley has put up over 1,000 total yards with 10 scores on the season. Meanwhile, the Rams’ defense ranks in the top 10 in points against.

Los Angeles should be able to take care of business against Tom Savage and the Texans at home this week. If that were to happen it would be the latest chapter in a book that could ultimately conclude in an NFC West title.