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N.F.L. Week 10 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread

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The N.F.L. is down to one unbeaten team (the San Francisco 49ers), and you will have to wait until Monday night to see it play. This week’s games do not offer a lot of must-see matchups, but viewers should be buoyed considerably by the expected return of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Here is a look at N.F.L. Week 10, with all picks made against the point spread.

Last week’s record: 6-7-1

Overall record: 72-61-2

Vikings at Cowboys, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Cowboys -3 | Total: 47.5

As the Cowboys (5-3) went through a three-game losing streak, it was easy to wonder if their strong start to the season had been a mirage. Instead, it appears those three losses, in which Dallas dealt with injuries on its offensive line, were the anomaly. Back at something close to 100 percent, the Cowboys have rolled to consecutive wins with a combined score of 74-28.

Dallas’s hallmark this season has been the big play. Led by Amari Cooper, who is expected to play this week despite a bruised knee, the Cowboys’ wide receivers have produced 31 receptions of 20 or more yards through eight games, which is just eight short of the 39 they had in 2018. Cooper and Michael Gallup have done a great job of generating yardage after the catch, and quarterback Dak Prescott has thrived in Kellen Moore’s offense without taking away much productivity from Ezekiel Elliott and the running game.

The Vikings (6-3) are, in many ways, a similar team. Kirk Cousins has made good use of his star wide receivers while Dalvin Cook has churned out a league-leading 894 rushing yards. Both teams have above average defenses and, according to The Upshot, both face an extreme change in their postseason chances depending on the outcome. A win will give either team a 76 percent chance of a postseason berth, while a loss will drop Dallas to 53 percent and Minnesota to 49 percent.

With a close point spread and evenly matched teams, going with the home team seems right, especially with wide receiver Adam Thielen expected to miss the game for Minnesota. Pick: Cowboys -3

Panthers at Packers, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Packers -5 | Total: 47

The Packers (7-2) started the year looking much improved on defense, but their enthusiasm has waned from week to week. They are still allowing fewer points per game (21) than they did last year (23.5), but their ranking in terms of total yardage allowed per game has declined from 18th in 2018 to 26th this year. Last week, those defensive shortcomings were evident as Green Bay was crushed after its offense pulled a disappearing act.

This week may not be any easier. Green Bay struggles to defend running backs, and the Panthers (5-3) have the most versatile and productive back in the N.F.L.: Christian McCaffrey, who is on a pace to make a serious challenge at Chris Johnson’s single-season record for yards from scrimmage (2,509, set in 2009).

It’s a mismatch made in fantasy football heaven, and even with the wild card of how Cincinnati’s offense will differ with Ryan Finley replacing Andy Dalton at quarterback, it still has the makings of a blowout. Pick: Ravens -10

Falcons at Saints, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Saints -13 | Total: 51.5

Teddy Bridgewater helped keep the Saints (7-1) in first place in the N.F.C. South while Drew Brees recovered from surgery on his thumb, but the team did not score at its normal rate — through eight games, it is 15th in the N.F.L. in points per game (24.4). That ranking could improve in a hurry. Over the next four weeks, the Saints face Atlanta (31.2 points allowed a game), Tampa Bay (31.5), Carolina (25.5) and then Atlanta again. Scoring 30 or more points in a win at home should be easy enough for New Orleans, but with Matt Ryan expected to be back for the Falcons (1-7), this game could be more of a shootout than a blowout. Pick: Falcons +13

Bills at Browns, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Browns -2.5 | Total: 40

The Bills (6-2) have been thoroughly outplayed only once this season (a Week 8 loss to Philadelphia). In the other games, Buffalo’s defense put on a show and its offense found a way to survive. The Browns (2-6), meanwhile, seem to find new dysfunction weekly. Their losing streak, which began in October, was understandable considering the opponents (San Francisco, Seattle, New England), but turned ugly when Brandon Allen and the lowly Broncos stretched it to four games. Cleveland has a ton of talent, but it does not appear that quarterback Baker Mayfield knows what to do with it. Pick: Bills +2.5

Cardinals at Buccaneers, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Buccaneers -4 | Total: 52

Over the last five weeks, the Cardinals (3-5-1) have established that they can beat bad teams (wins over Cincinnati, Atlanta and the Giants) and lose to good ones (New Orleans, San Francisco). The Buccaneers (2-6) are an interesting challenge as they are nowhere near as bad as the teams Arizona beat, but nowhere near as good as the teams that beat Arizona. Linebacker Shaquil Barrett and Tampa Bay’s defense can put a lot of pressure on Arizona’s Kyler Murray, but his Cardinals counterpoint, Chandler Jones, could play an even larger role, rattling Jameis Winston into the game-changing turnovers that the Buccaneers quarterback is famous for. Pick: Cardinals +4

Dolphins at Colts, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Colts -10.5 | Total: 44

You might think Las Vegas would ease up on the Dolphins (1-7) after they secured their first win of the season, but oddsmakers have instead made them double-digit underdogs to the Colts (5-3), even though there is ambiguity as to whether Indianapolis will have its starting quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, or if Brian Hoyer will have to start in his place. The Colts are a much better team than Miami, and should absolutely be expected to win, but the uncertainty of their quarterback situation makes a close game more likely. Pick: Dolphins +10.5

Lions at Bears, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Bears -2.5 | Total: 42

The Bears (3-5) have been reeling during their four-game losing streak. Mitchell Trubisky even asked for the televisions in the team’s practice facility to be turned off so he didn’t have to hear the criticism. A home game against the Lions (3-4-1) could be a huge morale boost, as Detroit allows an average of 424.1 yards of offense a game, which is 31st of 32 teams. But should Chicago fail to make something work with Trubisky or David Montgomery against a defense that porous, then the TV criticism would appear to have a point. Pick: Lions +2.5



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Why Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum stay loyal to Portland Trail Blazers

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The Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have no interest in joining the NBA’s player movement — even as the stars have seen their competitors demand trades and forge new allegiances.

“I don’t care what the trend is,” Lillard told USA TODAY Sports. “Players are taking control of the power and influence they have. I don’t have an issue with it because there’s been times in the league that players didn’t have that and players were taken advantage of and put in tough situations. So I understand it. But I play for a great organization. I play for a great coach. I love where I live. I have a great situation.”

LeBron James and Anthony Davis have teamed up with the Los Angeles Lakers. So did Paul George and Kawhi Leonard with the Los Angeles Clippers. After winning two NBA titles in Golden State with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Kevin Durant bolted this summer so he could play with Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets. After Chris Paul became decimated with injuries, the Houston Rockets traded him to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook to pair with James Harden.

As for Lillard and McCollum? They represent the rare stars who have resisted forging new alliances in different uniforms. Why do that when they have each other?

“Everybody has the right to make the decision that they feel is best for themselves, That’s the way the league has gone,” McCollum told USA TODAY Sports. “But I’m indifferent. I really just work on myself and work on how I can get better for our team.”

NO KAWHI, NO PROBLEM: How the Raptors have adjusted following Leonard’s departure

‘I’M TIRED OF REHABBING’: Paul George getting restless to finally make Clippers debut

Some needed context: Lillard and McCollum have yet to win an NBA championship, let alone appear in the NBA Finals. Yet, these two stars have not labored on a rebuilding team. As Portland coach Terry Stotts said, “There is that commitment, but I wouldn’t oversell it; they’ve been part of success.”

Ever since Portland drafted Lillard (No. 6 in 2012) and McCollum (No. 10 in 2013), the Trail Blazers have become one of five NBA teams to make the playoffs for the past six seasons. They won two Pacific Divisions. They advanced last year to the Western Conference Finals. Lillard and McCollum have talked openly with teammates about their confidence that Portland can win an NBA title this season.

As Portland’s 4-6 start indicates, though, Lillard and McCollum have encountered challenges. They sniffed three first-round exits. Despite holding double-digit leads in three of the four games, the Warriors swept Portland last year in the Western Conference Finals without a healthy Durant. The Western Conference remains loaded partly because of fluid player movement. Portland currently has a spate of injuries to Jusuf Norkic, Zach Collins and Pau Gasol. Even when Lillard scored a season-high 60 points last week against Brooklyn, the Blazers still lost.

And yet….

“They’d rather be a really important player on a very successful franchise than to go team up with other players just for the sake of making their lives easier,” Portland general manager Neil Olshey told USA TODAY Sports. “They know the challenges we face as a small market with player acquisition and retention. But they take the responsibility to help build an environment.”

Embracing Portland’s culture

Sure, Portland has become appealing partly because of how Lillard and McCollum play basketball.

They have both averaged at least 20 points in the last four seasons. Lillard delivered playoff daggers to eliminate Houston (2014) and Oklahoma City (2019) in the playoffs. McCollum set a franchise record for most points scored in a Game 7 when he had 37 points in a decisive win over Denver last season in the second round.

Those on the Trail Blazers do not just marvel on how Lillard and McCollum play, though. They also admire them for how they act.

“The culture often times in the NBA is often defined by your best player,” Stotts said. “Dame and CJ are very professional in their approach. We cater to being on time, being professional and being respectful of your teammates and co-workers. They are all about that.”

Lillard and McCollum have shown those qualities in different ways.

They empower teammates to arrive early and stay late by doing that themselves. They ensure that everyone keeps the practice facility and locker room areas clean without leaning on their equipment managers. They host team dinners. They embrace Stotts for critiquing them in film session in front of their teammates. As Lillard observed, “if you were a fly on the wall, you would see it’s real.”

“When you work hard and do things the right way and you’re one of the higher paid players on the team, I think it’s easier for other guys to follow in line and understand,” McCollum said. “It sets the tone for how everything goes. How we play, how we mentor and how we lead – it rubs off on everybody.”

It has rubbed off on the dynamic between Lillard and McCollum, who represent the rare star duo  who  do not seem threatened with each other’s greatness. They do not fight over touches. They do not fight over shots. They do not resent the other’s success, even if it overshadows their own.

“We’re in the era that teams like to put stars against each other. With us being the two best players on our team, it’s never been a competition,” Lillard said. “It’s always been a partnership and a friendship. I always appreciate that from him. Our friendship is always first.”

It has rubbed off on the coaching staff.  Stotts has often solicited feedback from Lillard and McCollum on the team’s playcalls, defensive schemes and spacing. No wonder Lillard called Stotts “an easy-going coach that gives guys a lot of opportunity.”

“They know the game and they’re out there on the floor. I think it’s important to involve them in things and I respect their opinion,” Stotts said. “When you got guys that know the game and are committed to it and care about it, how can you not take what they have to say into account?”

It has rubbed off on the front office. The Trail Blazers might face limitations that most small-market teams face. They have not been part of the major free-agency sweepstakes, and they lost All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge four years ago. Yet, the Blazers have remained competitive partly by acquiring complementary players in recent year, which includes Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Rodney Hood, Mario Hezonia, Anthony Tolliver and Gasol this season.  Olshey has made several moves and resisted others often after consulting with Lillard and McCollum.

 “That doesn’t mean they’re sitting in a room telling us ‘yay’ or ‘no’ to certain guys,” Olshey said. “What I try to do is shift the conversation to positional need, fit and skillset. These guys are on the floor and know what elements we’re strong in and lacking in. I take that feedback. They’re the ones out there playing the game.”

Showing loyalty

Lillard and McCollum did not need to spend as much time with Olshey to discuss their own futures. Shortly after the Blazers’ playoff-run ended last year, Lillard signed a four-year, $196 million extension that keeps him under contract through 2025. McCollum then agreed to a three-year, $100 million extension, and has an additional two years left on his deal.

“I just feel like there’s always a reward at the end. When you do things the right way and you do the work, you’re going to get the results,” Lillard said. “I really believe that. We’ve gotten the results. Even after failures, we come back and answer to it. We’re staying the course. That’s worth it to me.”

That has left the Blazers feeling grateful for keeping their All-Star point guards. Yet, they never sensed any sign that they were on the verge of ever losing them.

“I don’t think there was ever a seminal moment,” Olshey said. “It’s never gotten to the point with Dame and CJ where they were impending free agents and they played it out to maximize their leverage over the organization. Obviously, our goal was always to retain them for the extent of their careers and we did everything in our power to do it. But there were never hints or any fractures where we felt vulnerable with any one of them. That’s why it was so much easier to reward them with contracts at the first possible opportunity.”

Unlike some of their contemporaries, Lillard and McCollum signed at that first possible opportunity. When that does not happen, a star player could demand a trade. That has left NBA teams feeling pressure to make a deal so their star does not eventually leave for nothing.

“A lot of the people that are forcing things or using that power to do what they want regardless of who they might cross, put on the backburner or leave in a bad spot, I think that lines you up,” Lillard said. “At the end of your career and that power is gone and you’re no longer at the top of the top and you lose that power, how are you going to go out? What’s going to happen when they remember when you were pulling all of these (moves)? They might not (do anything), but that’s the stuff I think about when I’m looking at all of this stuff. It’s going to come back”

Lillard and McCollum both stressed they do not resent their contemporaries for either forming or joining super teams. Still, McCollum teased Durant on his podcast in the 2018 offseason for joining the Warriors, while Durant predicted McCollum would never win an NBA title if he stayed in Portland. McCollum considered the exchange to be “playful banter” and expressed support for Durant’s move last summer to Brooklyn. Still, the episode offered a window into both how McCollum and Lillard think through both success and failure.  

“You’re not going to succeed in everything that you do. There’s only one winner every year,” McCollum said. “Regardless of how much success I’m having or how much turmoil I’m having, you just figure out ways to continue to work. Your process stays the same and you just build on that.”

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 



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How to Watch: Cowboys Host Vikings on Sunday Night Football

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The Dallas Cowboys host the Minnesota Vikings on NBC’s Sunday Night Football in a game with playoff implications for each team.

The Cowboys enter the matchup in first place in the NFC East at 5-3, half a game in front of the Philadelphia Eagles, while the Vikings, at 6-3, are 1 1/2 games back of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.

The matchup will highlight two of the NFL’s top rushers, in Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott and Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook. Cook leads the league with 894 rushing yards, while Elliott is seventh with 741 yards.

Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and wide receiver Amari Cooper will be on the field for Dallas, while Minnesota wide receiver Adam Thielen will miss the game with a hamstring injury.

NBC Sports will have live coverage of the Minnesota Vikings vs. Dallas Cowboys beginning at 6:00pm CT on Sunday, November 10. Fans can catch all the action in spectacular high definition via NBC Sports online at NBCSports.com/Live, or through the NBC Sports app which is available on the Apple App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.





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Giants coach Pat Shurmur says Saquon Barkley is fine, will absolutely not be shut down

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The New York Giants’ season is spiraling out of control. After losing to the cross-building rival New York Jets on Sunday afternoon, the Giants are now 2-8. Given the current state of the roster, it does not look like things will be turning around anytime soon. This is a team with a bad offense and a bad defense, and those types of teams don’t suddenly start winning games late in the year. 

To make matters worse, star running back Saquon Barkley was banged up once again during the loss. Barkley had the worst game of his career with 13 carries for just one yard, and he was seen be several reporters entering the X-ray room following the game. Giants coach Pat Shurmur would say only that Barkley “got banged up a little bit today” when asked about it at his postgame press conference. 

Shurmur didn’t give much more information on Monday. All he would allow is that Barkley is “fine,” and that the Giants would “absolutely not” be shutting him down despite his injury issues in the midst of what looks like a lost season. 

“He is feeling much better,” Shurmur said before ruling out the idea of shutting him down for the remainder of the 2019 season, via Ryan Dunleavy of The Post. “He’s fine.” 

Barkley missed three games earlier this season after suffering a high ankle sprain, and he has not looked quite the same since returning to the field. After averaging 127.8 yards from scrimmage and 5.3 yards per carry over his first 18 career NFL games prior to the injury, Barkley has averaged just 87.3 yards from scrimmage and 2.6 yards per carry since returning form the injury (four games). The Giants have lost all four of their games since Barkley’s return to action, though they do get a bit of respite this week as they have a Week 11 bye. 

Given two weeks to heal, it’s possible Barkley could feel much better by the time they take the field against the Bears in Week 12, but it also seems like the Giants should be playing it safe with their star back. They’re not going anywhere special this season, and if Barkley isn’t fully healthy, it’s fine to sit him down until he is. 





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