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Le’Veon Bell Suspension Could Have Silver Lining for Steelers

It’s looking more and more like we can just chalk up an 0-2 start for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015.

Unless the Steelers figure out a way to win without Le’Veon Bell, that is.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bell likely will be suspended for the first two games of the season under the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Bell was arrested last year for marijuana possession and driving under the influence.

Since the Steelers chose Bell with the 48th pick of the 2013 NFL draft, they’re 0-4 without him. He was voted by his teammates as the Steelers’ most valuable player in 2014.

Bell’s value was painfully apparent when a hyperextended knee kept him out of the AFC wild-card game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. The Ravens won a playoff game at Pittsburgh for the first time, beating the Steelers 30-17. Bell also missed the first three games of 2013 with a foot injury, and those were the first three of four straight losses to start the season.

The Steelers need a Bell suspension like the Heinz Field turf needs a monster truck rally.They have the NFL’s toughest schedule in 2015, according to CBSSports.com. It includes road games against both Super Bowl XLIX participants, the Patriots and Seahawks.

As the Super Bowl champions, the Patriots will host the 2015 season opener on Thursday, Sept. 10. The tradition of the defending champs opening the season at home on a Thursday night began with the Patriots in 2004, and the Steelers are prime candidates to be the guests on Sept. 10 when the Patriots unfurl their championship banner at Gillette Stadium.

The NFL looks for marquee matchups in these games, and there’s always been a natural buzz surrounding Steelers-Patriots games since these teams faced off in the AFC championship game in 2001 and 2004. Furthermore, eight of these 11 Thursday-night openers have been interdivisional games.

The home team has won 10 of those 11 games (the Ravens played at Denver in 2013 after winning the Super Bowl the previous year and lost) and the Steelers have never beaten Tom Brady at Foxboro. The last time they tried, they allowed a franchise-record 55 points in 2013.

Imagine the Steelers trying to beat a Brady-led Patriots team at New England without Bell.

If Bell is suspended, they might be off the hook.

If the Steelers go to Foxboro next season with Bell on the sidelines, they would be heavy underdogs. The NFL wouldn’t want to kick off the 2015 season with such a mismatch in prime time.

Rex Ryan making his debut as the Buffalo Bills head coach against his buddy Bill Belichick would be a more gripping way to break ground on a new season.

Another reason a Bell suspension decreases the chances of the Steelers being the Patriots’ Week 1 opponent is it would kill the LeGarrette Blount storyline. Blount infamously walked off the field before the end of the Steelers’ win at Tennessee last season because he didn’t get any carries. The Steelers cut him. The Patriots signed him two days later and now Blount has a Super Bowl ring.

The TV networks covet any Steelers-Patriots game to begin with. These two franchises have combined to win six Super Bowls in this century. Their last nine meetings have been showcased either in prime time or in the late-afternoon time slot. Add in the fact that it will be Blount’s first game against the Steelers since the incident in Tennessee, and this game takes on another level of intrigue.

It loses its sizzle, though, if Bell is in street clothes.

So unless the NFL and its TV partners drop the ball, the Steelers’ game at Gillette Stadium will be scheduled after Week 2 if Bell is suspended for two games. That means the Steelers will have Bell’s services when they visit the Patriots.

It wouldn’t be the first time an impending suspension has affected the Steelers’ schedule.

In the spring of 2010, Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games under the NFL’s personal-conduct policy after he was accused of, but not charged with, sexual assault. The suspension later was reduced to four games, but the 2010 NFL schedule was released right around the time the suspension was handed down, and none of the Steelers’ first six games were in prime time. Think that was by accident?

All six of those games were scheduled for 1 p.m. The NFL didn’t even want to put the Steelers on the late-afternoon stage without Roethlisberger.

The Steelers’ bye in 2010 came in Week 5. Had Roethlisberger’s suspension remained at six games, he would have returned in Week 8. And wouldn’t you know it, the Steelers were scheduled for three straight prime time games starting in Week 8.

The Steelers played five prime-time games that year, and likely will be scheduled for five in 2015 coming off their first playoff berth in three years.

To make the playoffs a second year in a row, it would help if the Steelers can win a game without Bell, and maybe even beat Brady in New England.

But don’t expect them to have to do both in the same game.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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