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Le'Veon Bell 3-Game Suspension Could Cost Steelers AFC North Title
The Pittsburgh Steelers knew that star running back Le'Veon Bell was going to be suspended for probably a game or two to start the 2015 season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, but the team got some bad news on Thursday with the news that Bell would be out three games -- and that very easily could be the difference between the Steelers winning the tough AFC North and having at least one home playoff game or being a wild-card team.
In February, Bell received 15 months on probation in a first-offender's program stemming from his arrest last August on marijuana possession and DUI charges with former teammate LeGarrette Blount. Interestingly, Blount only got a one-game ban. However, he faced only a marijuana possession charge and had that dismissed earlier this year after completing 50 hours of community service. The NFL's substance abuse policy mandates a minimum two-game suspension for any player who is convicted or admits to a violation of the law and maximum of four games. Blount wasn't technically convicted.
Bell, 22, was the NFL's second-leading rusher this season, gaining 1,361 yards and scoring eight touchdowns. He also was Pittsburgh's second-leading receiver with 83 catches for 854 yards. Bell set the Steelers' franchise record with 2,215 yards from scrimmage in 2014, which ranked second overall in the NFL. Bell accounted for 32.8 percent of Pittsburgh's yards from scrimmage in 2014, the fourth-most by any player in the past two years and the highest by a Steeler in the past 10 seasons.
Pittsburgh badly missed Bell in its playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, using a platoon of rookie Josh Harris and free agent Ben Tate. The team did sign former Carolina Panther De'Angelo Williams this offseason but he's quite past his prime.
Bell will be eligible to take part in all the Steelers' offseason programs including training camp and the preseason. Bell won't be allowed in the Steelers practice facility from the final preseason game until Sept. 21. He will make his season debut come Week 4. The NFL is expected to release its schedule by the end of the month.
At home the Steelers will have their normal AFC North matchups against the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. The Steelers will also host the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.
On the road the Steelers will take on AFC North rivals Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland. The team will have some long road trips against the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams.
Many believe that Pittsburgh might open the season at Super Bowl champion New England in the NFL Kickoff Game. And you have to figure the Steelers have at least one AFC North game among those first three.
The Steelers will play the Vikings, Jaguars, Packers, Bills, and Panthers in the preseason. It's five games because Pittsburgh plays Minnesota in the Hall of Fame Game.
Pittsburgh is +1500 on Sportsbook.ag to win the AFC title.
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