Bizarre holdout of Le’Veon Bell not affecting Steelers

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One thing has become pretty obvious about the bizarre holdout of Le’Veon Bell, and the resulting impact on the Steelers’ season: It’s not having much of an effect on the team he hoped would miss him terribly.

The easy thing to say about Bell’s decision to stay away from the team through the first nine weeks of the season is that he’s preserving himself for his run at free agency in 2019, when he will be a 27-year-old player in search of the biggest contract an NFL running back has ever received. Some team may well pay him handsomely. But the Steelers so far have saved more than $7 million (Bell’s missed pay: $7.68 million; James Conner’s entire salary this year; $578,000) by Bell not being on the team.

Through eight games—half a season—since Bell entered the league in 2013, the relative production of Conner versus Bell is just about a wash. There is one asterisk, as noted on Bell’s 2016 and 2013 totals. He was suspended for the first three games in 2016 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy; in 2013, he missed the first three games of the seasons with a mid-foot sprain. In each season, I chose to use the totals from his first eight games of the season (games four through 11).

The results:

Conner, 2018     189 touches, 1,085 yards, 5.74 yards per touch, 10 TD.
Bell, 2017           229 touches, 979 yards, 4.28 yards per touch, 5 TD.
Bell, 2016           208 touches, 1,136 yards, 5.46 yards per touch, 4 TD.*
Bell, 2015           Active for only six games.
Bell, 2014           183 touches, 1,086 yards, 5.93 yards per touch, 2 TDs.
Bell, 2013           169 touches, 711 yards, 4.21 yards per rush, 4 TDs*

On average, Bell’s first eight games of the four seasons: 197 touches, 978 yards, 4.96 yards per touch, 3.8 touchdowns.

Conner’s first eight games this season: 189 touches, 1,085 yards, 5.74 yards per touch, 10 touchdowns.

In essence, Bell has gambled $7.68 million to prove his worth. Other than keeping him fresher for free agency in 2019, which is certainly part of this, Bell has lost his gamble.

Editor’s Note: Read the rest of Football Morning in America here.

Tom Brady on why he’s better than ever in his 40s

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I sat with Tom Brady at his locker for seven minutes after the Patriots’ 37-31 AFC Championship Game victory, and I can tell you he was dazed. Slightly dazed. Three really crazy things happened in this game that he was trying to process, still, about 50 minutes after his ninth championship game victory.

“We’ll remember this one forever,” Brady said, equal parts incredulous and grateful as he sat on a wooden stool stamped with the Chiefs logo. “It’s one of the great wins in franchise history.”

• Brady converted three third-and-10 passes on the only drive of overtime: to Julian Edelman, Edelman again and Rob Gronkowski.

• The pass play to Gronkowski, which gave the Patriots a first down at the Chiefs’ 15, was not in the game plan. New England has run the Gronk slant before, but hadn’t planned to run it here, and the only play they called that wasn’t planned turned out quite possibly to be the biggest play of their day. As the 40-second play clock wound down, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called the play they hadn’t practiced during the week because the coaches saw a coverage deficiency by Kansas City safety Eric Berry on Gronkowski.

• “We just put in eight new plays in the game plan this morning,” Brady told me. At the team hotel, the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, the offensive players were greeted at the 11 a.m. meeting with the news that eight new plays were being installed for the game. That happens, but not every week, and not eight plays’ worth. They walked through the plays in a hotel ballroom, then ran four or five of them during the game—all for positive yards.

“Aren’t you a little shocked?” I asked. “All of it—converting three third-and-10s in overtime, making another Super Bowl in a league that pushes everyone to the middle, surviving Mahomes …”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s hard for me to imagine. Nine Super Bowls. I know. It’s ridiculous.”

One more thing I wanted to do with Brady. I had a chart … well, I’ll show you what I showed him in the jammed Patriots’ locker room, about his staying power in this game. Comparing Brady in the 14 postseason games he played in his twenties versus Brady in the five postseason games he’s played in his forties:

Brady smiled. “When you first started your job, compared to you now, are you better?” he said. “You have a lot more experience. That’s what this is. Experience. So I don’t think it is all that surprising. We have been fighting uphill all year. This game is hard to win. The next game is harder to win. This game, you just celebrate it for what it is. Then we go to work on the Rams.

“I never imagined any of this, believe me. This is beyond. I mean, who could ever imagine this? Nine Super Bowls? I just take it for what it is and enjoy it. I love my teammates. I love my coaches. I love my family. It takes a lot of people to support you for all of us. I’m just happy for all of us.”

And, apparently, it’s never going to end.

Read more from Football Morning in America by clicking here

Brady, Patriots underdogs at Chiefs on AFC Championship Game odds

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The Arctic blast expected at Arrowhead Stadium might seem like Tom Brady weather, but there are also some cold, hard facts with home and away trends at this stage of the game.

The Kansas City Chiefs, with NFL MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes behind center, are 3-point favorites on the NFL betting lines against the Patriots with a 56-point total in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

While the Chiefs are trying to advance to their first Super Bowl in 49 seasons, they are 8-1 straight-up in their last nine games as home favorites. The Patriots, who are underdogs with Brady as a starter for the first time since September 2015, are 2-7 against the spread in their last nine games in the championship round, and 3-5 SU and ATS on the road this season.

While the Patriots should never be counted out as long as Bill Belichick is scheming and Brady is slinging passes, away teams are 1-11 SU in the last 12 AFC Championship Game matchups and 1-4 ATS in the last five at betting sites.

The Patriots, 12-5 SU and 10-7 ATS, have a history that needs no ballyhooing at this point. In the present, New England had a negative net yards per play and point differential during the regular season, and were markedly worse at finishing off offensive drives with touchdowns and making third-down stops on defense.

Of course, a good team can overcome that for one afternoon, and Belichick and Brady will try to confuse the Chiefs by spreading the ball around multi-talented running backs Sony Michel and James White, slippery wide receiver Julian Edelman, and tight end Rob Gronkowski. At peak form, the Patriots seldom let pass rushers get near Brady, but the Chiefs had three sacks in their divisional-round game against the Indianapolis Colts, who allowed the fewest sacks in the regular season.

The reality that the best defense for the Patriots is a clock-consuming controlled offense, combined with the conditions, could limit scoring.

The Chiefs, 13-4 SU and 10-6-1 ATS, do offer some historically based hunches. Mahomes, whose regular-season passing rating was the best in NFL history by a 23-year-old quarterback, also had just the second 5,000-yard/50-touchdown season in league annals, joining Peyton Manning in 2013 when he beat the Patriots at home in the AFC Championship Game.

The Chiefs are also 3-1 ATS in their last four games against New England, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

Matchups-wise, New England loves to take away an opponent’s fanciest toy – otherwise known as wide receiver Tyreek Hill in this game – but Mahomes’ other preferred targets, Sammy Watkins and tight end Travis Kelce, could take advantage of the added focus on their teammate. The X-factor will be running back Damien Williams, who will try to take advantage of the vulnerability New England has shown, at least to this point, at containing runs up the middle and passes to the backs.

The temperature is expected to be in the 20s, but neither passer needed a glove on his throwing hand while playing in frigid weather during the divisional round. The total has gone UNDER in eight of the Patriots’ last 10 games, with an average combined score of 43.7 points. The total has gone UNDER in 11 of the Chiefs’ last 14 home games, with an average combined score of 45.86 points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.