Le’Veon Bell’s options, NFL power rankings and more

NFL


Come Tuesday afternoon, Le’Veon Bell will be forced to make a final decision, putting the Pittsburgh Steelers on the proverbial clock.

Things change fast in the NFL, especially when millions upon millions of dollars are on the line.

Heading into weekend, sources told FanSided that the Pittsburgh Steelers expected Le’Veon Bell to report to the team prior to Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline to do so. Privately, ownership didn’t want Bell to come back into the fold after missing the first 10 weeks of the season, worrying he could become a distraction to a team that has won five straight games.

Now, it appears the Steelers will get their wish, with the report from Adam Schefter of ESPN that Bell will continue his holdout throughout the end of the 2018 season.

If Schefter’s report is proven accurate this week, the Steelers will no longer be worrying about how to incorporate Bell back into a lineup that has watched James Conner blossom. The second-year man has been a revelation, rushing for 771 yards and 10 touchdowns on 4.8 yards per carry, to accompany 39 receptions for 387 yards.

Bell, 26, skipped training camp and all of the preseason a year ago when given the franchise tag, but showed up in the days leading up to Week 1 before posting an All-Pro season. The same was expected to happen this year when tagged once more, but Bell decided to dig in, and it appears we’ve seen his last game as a Steeler.

Moving forward, Pittsburgh has three options once we reach the offseason. The Steelers can apply a third franchise tag, which would cost more than $25 million. They can also apply the transition tag at roughly $14.5 million, which would allow teams to negotiate with Bell, but also afford the Steelers a chance to match any offer.

The third and most likely option is that the Steelers allow Bell to go into unrestricted free agency, something that would result in his departure and a compensatory pick — probably a third-round choice in 2020 — coming back to Pittsburgh.

In retrospect, Bell is going to cost himself $15 million in lost wages should he miss the remainder of the campaign. He’s already forfeited $8.5 million and seems content to leave the rest in Pittsburgh’s coffers, believing that interested teams in free agency will value the wear-and-tear he didn’t put on his body this season.

The question is whether Bell can make up that $15 million on the next deal. The former Michigan State star is betting on a bidding war to drive his price up, something that would ultimately net him more than most teams believe him to be worth.

However, while Bell is undeniably great, he’s also a running back with a history of injuries and suspensions. It’s not going to be a slam dunk that teams are lining up to break his proverbial door down, especially when some of the league’s best backs are youngsters from the mid-rounds of the drafts, a la Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara.

Quietly, Pittsburgh was hoping Bell would stay away, and now it appears he will.

The Steelers believe they can win the Super Bowl with Conner in the backfield, a belief that is about to be tested full-throttle with no safety net.

As for Bell, his moment of truth will come in March, when teams will call with figures that either justify his decision, or leave him wondering went so terribly wrong.

Power rankings

Top 10 skill position groups in the game

1. Kansas City Chiefs (Kelce, Hill, Hunt, Watkins)
2. Los Angeles Rams (Gurley, Cooks, Woods, Kupp)
3. Atlanta Falcons (Jones, Sanu, Ridley, Freeman, Coleman)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (Brown, Smith-Schuster, Conner, McDonald)
5. New Orleans Saints (Thomas, Kamara, Ingram)
6. Minnesota Vikings (Thielen, Diggs, Rudolph, Cook)
7. New York Giants (Beckham, Shepard, Barkley, Engram)
8. Los Angeles Chargers (Allen, M. Williams, T. Williams, Gordon)
9. New England Patriots (Edelman, Gordon, Michel, White, Gronkowski)
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Jackson, Evans, Brate, Howard)

Quotable

“We had a phenomenal week of practice. No one expected us to come out and lay an egg. We laid an egg. We got our ass kicked. It’s simple, man.”

– New York Jets safety Jamal Adams on his team’s 41-10 loss to the Bills

If this doesn’t get Todd Bowles fired, nothing will. Just a deplorable effort all the way around from the Jets in their own building.

Podcast

Catch Matt Verderame and Josh Hill every week talking all things NFL on the Stacking The Box podcast. New episodes go up every Sunday night and can be downloaded at iTunes!

Random stat

Khalil Mack registered two sacks on Sunday against the Lions, giving him seven on the season, despite missing two games. The Raiders have totaled eight sacks as a team this season.

Info learned this week

1. Chiefs, Chargers continue ascending in AFC picture

The Los Angeles Chargers have the second-best record in the AFC at 7-2. Incredibly, they are only the fifth-seed as things stand with the Chiefs pacing the conference at 9-1.

In the next few weeks, the race could considerably tighten.

Kansas City and Los Angeles both won over inferior opponents on Sunday, but now their roads diverge. The Chiefs will play on Monday night against the Rams in a showcase for the league before enjoying a late bye week, while the Chargers draw the Broncos and Cardinals at home for their next two tilts.

Should Kansas City lose to the Rams and Los Angeles handles business, both teams would be 9-2 going into Week 13. In other words, don’t sleep on the Chargers, who are very much in the mix for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

That said, Los Angeles will have to finally beat Kansas City to earn it. The Chiefs have beaten the Chargers in nine consecutive meetings, including a Week 1 affair at Stubhub Center. The rematch will take place on Thursday Night Football come Week 15, perhaps deciding whether the AFC playoffs go through sunny Los Angeles or frigid Kansas City.

2. Titans hand Patriots stunning defeat

The Tennessee Titans kept their season alive last Monday by beating the Cowboys. They starting revving the engine on Sunday, though, burying the Patriots 34-10 at Nissan Stadium.

Marcus Mariota and the offense did its job, rolling up close to 400 yards while scoring four touchdowns and only settling for two field goals. Derrick Henry rushed for 58 yards and two touchdowns, while Corey Davis went for seven receptions, 125 yards and a score. Tennessee also rattled Tom Brady throughout with a relentless rush, something evidenced by its blitzing of him on a Hail Mary attempt to end the first half.

New England’s loss drops the Patriots to 7-3, and while the AFC East is a sure bet, home-field advantage is slipping away. Bill Belichick’s group is accustomed to having a bye week in the Wild Card round, something it has enjoyed each season since 2009. If the season ended today — breaking news, it doesn’t — the Patriots would be the third seed.

A fun note as well is Belichick’s record against former assistants and players. The Hoodie is 9-7 including playoff games, but only 4-7 if you omit his perfect 5-0 mark against Bill O’Brien.

3. John Harbaugh likely out of Baltimore at season’s end

The Baltimore Ravens have enjoyed John Harbaugh as their head coach since 2008, bringing him in alongside rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. Now, with Flacco’s time winding down and Lamar Jackson’s beginning soon, the Ravens are reportedly moving on from Harbaugh after Week 17.

Harbaugh, who won double-digit games five times with Baltimore and Super Bowl XLVII back in 2012, has apparently run his course with a franchise looking to hit the reset button.

At 56 years old, Harbaugh will likely have a new job almost immediately if he wants one come January. It’s expected that the Broncos, Jets, Browns and Buccaneers will have vacancies, and in a year where trendy coordinators are hard to come by, Harbaugh should be a hot commodity.

4. Eagles title defense dies quietly against Cowboys

Philadelphia is the champion, but its grip on the Lombardi Trophy won’t be extending into 2019.

The Eagles lost at home on Sunday night in a 27-20 derision the Cowboys, putting both clubs at 4-5. Washington now sits two games ahead of both, and while the Eagles get the Redskins twice before the season ends, they also have road dates with the Saints and Rams along with a home tilt against the Texans. In other words, the schedule and their own deficiencies will be too great to overcome.

As for Dallas, the Cowboys continue the charade of being a playoff contender, next traveling to Atlanta for a loser-leaves-town match with the Falcons.

5. Packers stay afloat in NFC playoff race with win

Green Bay desperately needed to beat the Dolphins on Sunday at Lambeau Field. Mission accomplished.

The Packers rolled to a 31-12 win over the overmatched Dolphins, who watched Aaron Jones rush for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Aaron Rodgers didn’t throw for 200 yards, but it was more than enough to improve Green Bay’s record to 4-4-1, keeping it alive in the ever-evolving NFC playoff picture.

The Packers are still on the outside looking in, but only trail the sixth-seeded Vikings by a game while sitting 1.5 games back of the Panthers for the fifth seed. Now, Green Bay travels to Seattle for a Thursday night date with the Seahawks. Seattle is 4-5 after losing to the Rams at the L.A. Coliseum, making the contest a must-win on both sides.

History lesson

The All-America Football Conference existed fro 1946-49, competing with the NFL for the best pro football going. Ultimately, the AAFC agreed to merge with the NFL, admitting the 49ers, Colts and Browns. Those three teams have become pillars of today’s game, accounting for seven Super Bowl wins and six NFL championships.

Parting shot

When is something going to substantially change for the Bengals?

After starting 4-1, Cincinnati has regressed to 5-4 and a fight for the sixth seed in the AFC playoff picture. The Bengals had opportunities to show they belonged with the upper crust of the NFL with contests against the Saints, Steelers and Chiefs over the last month. They lost all three by the combined score of 124-45.

Cincinnati may end up sneaking into the playoffs, mostly because the AFC has a major drop-off after Pittsburgh, Kansas City, New England and Los Angeles. The Bengals already have five wins and play the Browns twice along with the Broncos, Raiders and Ravens once. Even a 4-1 record against that group may get the job done.

But what does that prove? The Bengals are 0-5 in the postseason since drafting Andy Dalton in 2011, and it’s hard to envision a win this time around. Cincinnati has almost no path to a seed higher than sixth, putting it on a collision course to play the Patriots, Steelers or Texans come January. It would be a decided underdog in any of those matchups, particularly the former two.

Cincinnati has employed Marvin Lewis since 2003. It has stayed cheap in free agency and resolute in Dalton’s corner. For years, the Bengals have just slogged along, too talented to bottom out but too full of holes to compete for championships.

At this juncture, results have become predictable with fans becoming apathetic … and they have every right to be.





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