It sounds like the two best teams in the AFC will both be without a star player during the first four weeks of the 2016 season. We already knew that the Patriots would be without quarterback Tom Brady for the first quarter of the season, and today we learned that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is also facing a four-game suspension.
A number of outlets have reported it, but ESPN’s Dan Graziano was first with the news. Graziano reports that the suspension is a result of a missed drug test rather than a failed one and that an appeal is ongoing.
This would be the second year in a row in which Bell missed time due to a suspension, as he was suspended for the first two games last year for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Obviously, having to play without Bell in the first four games is a blow to the Steelers’ offense, which is expected to be one of the best in the NFL this year. The Colts will face Pittsburgh in 2016, though it won’t be until week 12 on Thanksgiving Day - meaning Bell will have been back for several weeks by that point. So while the Colts aren’t directly impacted by this news (as the Redskins, Bengals, Eagles, and Chiefs are), it still could have AFC playoff implications. The Bengals and Ravens could both push Pittsburgh in the AFC North, making it even more crucial that Bell will miss a game against Cincinnati. So, while we’ve yet to see any team on the field, if Bell’s suspension causes Pittsburgh to stumble a bit to open the season, it could shake up the AFC playoff picture by allowing a team like Cincinnati to win the division - in which case the Steelers would be a wild card. So if the Colts were to win the AFC South, it would be possible that the Steelers would have to travel to Indianapolis for the wild card round. Again, it’s all hypothetical, but my point is that just because Bell doesn’t miss the game against the Colts doesn’t mean that it’s not worth noting due to the AFC playoff implications.
With all of that said, the Steelers should be fine in Bell’s absence. Unfortunately, they’ve had to play extensively without him in the past two seasons (due to suspension and injury), so they’re used to it. Furthermore, they have Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown leading the way, plus DeAngelo Williams returning at running back. They should be fine, but make no mistake: losing one of the best running backs in football for the first four games of the season will certainly hurt a team entering 2016 with Super Bowl hopes.