*Pre-editor post (forgive any typos)
Carolina drove right down the field and scored a TD on the opening drive, and I was thinking…”Boy, this is going to be a good game. Carolina sent a message early!” The Steelers scored on a 75-yard TD on their very first play following that -- and was soon leading the game 31-14 at the half and were pulling players in the second half of a 52-21 joke…and the game wasn’t as close as the 31-point win might lead you to believe.
That makes five wins in a row for the Steelers, and…man, do they miss Le’Veon Bell (insert eyeroll here). We’ll get into the latest Le’Veon stuff in a moment. The Steelers are now 6-2-1 and nearing full control of the AFC North title (again) and are sneaking into the first-round bye conversation all of a sudden.
We project the Steelers 11-4-1 to the finish, as of now, with a projected Week 15 beatdown of the Patriots. Even beating the Patriots, they’re not likely to see New England fall to 5 losses/11-5-0, in order to elevate the Steelers to a #2 seed. If the Steelers can climb to 12-3-1, they might get past the Pats…but the path to 12 wins is unlikely given their remaining schedule. They will probably be the #3 seed that whacks the #6 seed…and then may be heading to Foxboro in the second-round. How great would that be? They are so due to take out the Patriots…
Carolina drops to 6-3 and is still a near lock to be the top wild card in the NFC. This loss just makes winning the NFC South and getting to the #2 seed very difficult for them to get by New Orleans. Not impossible, but they need the Saints to stumble soon…like in the fairly cold Paul Brown Stadium at Cincy this week.
Fantasy Player Notes…
-- We got three things to worry about concerning James Conner (13-65-1, 1-8-0/1) from this game, and two are illegitimate…and one is not. I know how much you like to worry about things, so here goes…
1) Le’Veon Bell is in Pittsburgh…oh, no! And he might have been playing basketball…oh, the horror. James Conner is cooked for sure, now! What? The Steelers said they expect him back to the team next week…we’re all doomed!!
Here’s where I think we’re at with this soap opera, and as you know…I’ve been the only analyst right about this all along/since August, so lend me your ear/eyes…
Le’Veon Bell does not want to play football this year and mess up his free agency push in 2019. I don’t care if he bought insurance for such an event. He is in a feud with the Steelers and has been for two years and made his move this year because the opportunity lent itself to it. The Steelers’ management is his enemy – didn’t deem him worthy of a long-term deal like the other top guys on the team, so ‘screw ‘em’. And I say, “Good for Le’Veon taking a stand.”
We’ll discuss the new CBA loophole angle/news in a moment. If there is nothing to the CBA loophole that allows Bell to sit out this year and still be a free agent in 2019, then the following is going to play out:
Bell knows he won’t be a Steeler ever again after this season, so he has no interest in helping them…they will be his on-field enemy in 2019. Why help the people who didn’t want him bad enough in 2018? It does not help his value to get back onto the field. With Conner playing so well, if Bell comes back and splits or struggles or the team starts losing – Bell’s 2019 contract value diminishes. He’s already got the valuation issue on the table that the Steelers are as good without him as they are with him. He does not really benefit by playing in 2018…nor does he want to be a lame duck player.
The Steelers’ management knows all this. Bell didn’t come back right before the season started…or after a week into the season…or right before the BYE week…or last week. So many times Bell could’ve come back to steal a paycheck – he hasn’t. It’s personal. He’s being smart. He’s not doing the greedy or vengeful thing (coming back for an extra paycheck). He’s doing the principled thing – you (Steelers’ management) don’t think I’m worthy of a big deal after all I’ve done here…I’m not reporting until the last second (or ever).
The Steelers management knows he’s serious…seriously ticked and principled/steadfast. Do they really want Bell back in the locker room or on the field? A guy completely against the organization, who is only thinking of himself (rightfully so, but NFL ownership HATES when the players have power) – why insert him into the game, the locker room or in front of the media? They won’t.
Bell will never step foot on the field or in the locker room for Pittsburgh, I predict. I believe there have been negotiations going on to either make Bell inactive all season or cut him. The Steelers are trying to do so for as little money as possible. Bell holds all the cards, and he knows it. The Steelers’ management has nothing to lose trying to play the media and Bell by ‘welcoming him back’ – that’s a threat to Bell, like the Steelers are going to call his bluff – Bell knows they don’t want him anywhere near the team right now. They’re just trying to make Bell blink and take less money to not play. Bell doesn’t have to. He is trying to make the Steelers blink. If the CBA loophole news is real…the Steelers get off scot-free and Bell gets what he wants – not playing.
Pittsburgh can put Bell on the ‘Commissioner’s exempt list’ for two weeks if he does report…they can do this and try to get the player to agree to less money to do so. Bell has no reason to agree to less money. That’s what this is all about right now – Pittsburgh threatening to make him play and Bell going ‘OK, I dare you to put me back on the team…because I know you won’t.’
The Steelers will probably make Bell inactive or put him on the exempt list for two weeks while management keeps veiled threatening to make him come to practice and suit up and face his teammates, etc. Eventually, some deal will get worked out for Bell to just ‘go away’ and not play…a deal favoring Bell.
If this does go down to a ‘no one blinks’ situation, and they make Bell report to the team just to mess with him…it will be after his two weeks on the exempt list, maybe he is eligible to play around Week 14, but they’ll not activate him. They’ll make him workout, report to meetings. He’ll show up and sleep at the meetings or not take notes/pay attention, etc., and it will be a mess.
You’re getting James Conner through Week 14, worse case…but highly likely you get Conner unencumbered by Bell all FF-season. The Steelers do not need or want Bell back…nor does he want to play. Eventually, they’ll agree on how to settle that for both.
Now, today, comes news that Bell’s agent may have identified a loophole pertaining to Bell’s specific situation…one where he can sit out and not play a down this year and still be a free agent in 2019. The Sunday football shows will be all over the reality (or not) of this. To me, it just shows that Bell has no intention of playing for the Steelers by any means necessary…and Pittsburgh has no reason to want to bring him back.
Whether by loophole or choice – Bell is not playing for the Steelers this season, and the Steelers don’t want him at this stage…as I’ve said for a while now…an August 2018 concept that literally may win us fantasy titles this year.
2) Conner has a concussion and maybe that speeds up the Steelers signing Bell!?!?!
First, no. Didn’t you just read what I wrote.
Second, Conner has 10 days to work through it. He’ll be fine.
Third, it would be Jaylen Samuels-time if Conner went down…because see item #1 above.
3) The thing you should fear, as a James Conner owner, is the one thing you’re not – Jaylen Samuels (5-7-0, 3-22-1/4). Not redraft fear…dynasty/keeper fear.
Jaylen Samuels is too good to just sit on the bench for the next 3 years. You see flashes of it every time he gets pushed into the game. He’s going to make a hell of an RB-duo with Conner in 2019-2020-2021. Whether Samuels gets 25% or 33% or 50% of the touches – he’s a threat to the James Conner 2018 story from happening again clean in 2019.
We’ll be talking a lot about what to do with Conner this offseason…when we get there.
I’d argue Samuels is the better fit/RB for the Steelers but is too green (right now) for a 2018 takeover/split. Samuels is more Le’Veon-like than Conner is. If Conner was thrust in and matched Le’Veon’s production this season…Samuels would too.
It’s a fantasy-dynasty threat (for Conner) when your backup is as-good or better than you are.
-- Christian McCaffrey (14-77-1, 5-61-2/5) had two TDs his first 6 games of this season. He had two TDs his last 6 games of 2017 season…4 TDs in 12 games. He’s not been a TD producer, which is not his fault…Cam usually takes the short stuff TDs.
When McCaffrey scored 2 TDs in his Week 7 game (one of them a ricocheted pass off someone else/the intended target), I was selling that production hot.
He’s only scored 5 TDs the two games then…7 TDs in his last three games.
8 TDs his first 22 NFL games…7 TDs his last 3 NFL games.
I’m pretty sure he’s not going to keep this pace up…but I wish I was selling now with him even hotter. Nothing against CMC, but he doesn’t get 100+ yard games and he’s not a big TD guy because of the offense – I’ll sell that super high every time. I’m not dumping, I’m looking to trade up. Hopefully, many of you couldn’t make a deal and have been ‘stuck’ with him the past 2 weeks.
Seeing the deals people made, the players they got for McCaffrey last week and the week prior in deals – you haven’t even taken a hit (Kamara, Mk Thomas, Kelce in multiplayer deals).
Can I just add…why is McCaffrey in the game with 5-8 minutes left, down by 38, taking handoffs and goal line work? The stupidity, the sheer lack of business sense of NFL head coaches knows no bounds. What a ‘thing to build on’ for the offense to cut the loss from 38-to-31 against the Steelers 4th-string defense late in the 4th quarter. I’m sure that late TD with your 1st-team at-risk playing for no good reason will be the tipping point the players look back on as the hoist the Super Bowl trophy…gimme a freaking break.
I treat my ‘good tableware’/china with more respect and selectivity in usage than NFL head coaches do with literally the keys to their franchise. Cam was right out there to for some reason…
-- Speaking of coaching stupidity…
The Panthers best weapon for weeks has been Curtis Samuel (1-1-0, 4-18-0). So, it only makes sense, in a game you’re getting whacked in – to NOT get him the ball early and keep pushing him more in the downfall. No, get McCaffrey more wear and tear. Don’t work the instant TD in a bottle (Samuel) to try to get back in the game quick.
This is why we cannot trust Samuel in redraft yet. Norv Turner is success adverse and always has been. They care more about getting ‘sleepy’ D.J. Moore (1-5-0, 4-20-0/5) going than watching Samuel score TDs at a historic rate per touch. Jarius Wright starts for this team…Samuel doesn’t.
-- Eric Reid (9 tackles) deliberately went after Ben Roethlisberger’s head as Ben ran from the pocket later into this blowout. As Ben surpassed a 1st-down run and as he slid to the ground…Ben was fully down flat on a feet-first slide when Reid came flying in a hundred miles and hour and still clipped Ben’s head with his shoulder(pad). Reid was ejected and complained about it after the game.
Eric Reid is going to self-fulling prophesy his way right out of the NFL soon. He’s taking cheap shots every week it seems. He’s fighting with Malcolm Jenkins about who the purest protester. He’s becoming a menace who hides behind ‘they hate me for my flag stance’ every time he does something in-the-wrong. His act is tired and he’s not that great a player to keep putting up with this. Who wants to work with this guy? Whether you agree with him or not on protests is meaningless…who wants all this drama in the football workplace?
Enjoy the lawsuits he’ll file for years ahead because no team wants him in the NFL because he’s a distraction and loose cannon…but he’ll sue that it’s because of his politics.
-- Now, the Steelers defense is cooking. Six games in-a-row holding an opponent to 21 or fewer points in a game. Tied for 1st in the league in sacks and #3 in defensive TDs.
Bortles-Keenum-Rivers-Carr the next 4 weeks…it’s a nice stretch.
You have to bail Weeks 15-16…NE and NO.
-- Fantasy Playoff Notes for these two teams…
The Steelers should be all-systems-go Weeks 14-16…OAK-NE-NO. That’s a lot of offense coming, for sure. Worries Week 14 will be half a James Conner (or Ben or Brown or JuJu) if they blowout the hapless Raiders.
Carolina has the all-clear, pretty much, as well – CLE-NO-ATL in Weeks 14-16. No limitations or worries on the surface for their offense. I wouldn’t want their defense…but I wouldn’t have wanted them ever this season.
Snap Counts of Interest:
23 = Conner
18 = Samuels
10 = Ridley (most of them at the very end)
34 = J James
25 = McDonald
49 = DJ Moore
29 = J Wright
19 = C Samuel