After breaking down the NFC last week, it is time to discuss which AFC free agents will impact the 2020 NFL Draft. The Patriots await Tom Brady’s free agent decision while the rest of the division hopes to close the game and patch up their offensive lines. Tennessee’s incredible run came courtesy of a number of players that are not under contract for 2020. Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville all enter free agency with at least one major player it needs to bring back. The reigning Super Bowl champs have to figure out what they will do with Chris Jones. Meanwhile, Los Angeles might need to rebuild its whole offense. In the North, the Ravens have some difficult decisions to make regarding Matt Judon and Michael Pierce. The Browns, Bengals and Steelers all need reinforcements in the trenches. Catch up on all the major pending free agents ahead of the scouting combine! Listen to the latest episode now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. https://anchor.fm/theaftermath
In case you have not heard, Le’Veon Bell has not played an NFL snap this season.
Oh, who am I kidding? If you are a Steelers fan, follow an NFL-related social media account, or made the mistake of drafting him in fantasy and hoping for the best (guilty as charged), you know the whole story. Considered by many as the top running back in the league, Bell put up strong numbers again in 2017, getting over 400 touches and putting up a combined 1,946 years and 11 touchdowns for the playoff-bound Steelers, getting voted first team All-Pro for the second time in the process.
However, for the second straight year, the Steelers put the franchise tag on Bell, refusing to give him the long-term contract he believed he deserved. While I would easily jump at the opportunity to play ball for $14.5 million, the cash-strapped Steelers, who had given Antonio Brown a four-year, $68 million-dollar extension weeks before, decided to balk at giving the same money to Bell. Obviously taking offense, Bell very publicly bashed the franchise and demanded money worth his play. Pittsburgh did eventually make Bell an offer in July, willing to pony up $70 million over five years, but Bell turned down the offer, not wanting to play for less than his tag on an annual basis.
Fairly so, might I add – Bell was well within his rights to turn down such a gargantuan payday, because he might be worth more. At 26, Bell is still in his prime and will continue to perform at very high levels before even being considered an old running back. Not to mention that Bell is far more than his position on the depth chart – he has been the engine that makes the Steeler offense run for the last few years. He caught 85 passes last year for over 650 yards. Bell is rare breed. Very few receivers can keep up with those numbers, and definitely not while shouldering almost 1,300 yards rushing on top of it.
One of the few other players capable of putting up numbers like that is Todd Gurley. He has done it just once, in 2017, and luckily it was a contract year for him. The upstart Los Angeles Rams did pay their man, giving Gurley $15 million a year for his services. When healthy, Bell has put up those kinds of numbers ever since he came into the league – he deserves as much if not more than Gurley. Top flight receivers like Mike Evans and Odell Beckham, Jr., have been getting paid recently, too, getting $16.5 and $19 million a year respectively to go along with Antonio Brown’s aforementioned $17 million. For Le’Veon’s talents, he feels his contract should be in that stratosphere to play football.
However, Pittsburgh refuses to pay it, so they turned to the second-year player, cancer survivor and hometown hero from the University of Pittsburgh in James Conner, to take the reins in the backfield. While his hairstyle might be questionable (like a mop glued to the back of his shaven head), his play has been anything but. Project his numbers through five weeks for the entire season, and Conner, currently averaging over four yards a carry and almost 11 yards per catch, would get over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs. Those are the kind of numbers Pittsburgh would be happy to get from Bell, but instead of paying over $15 million for them, they only give Conner $578,000, and they have him under control for another two seasons after this one.
So could Bell play again with the Steelers this season? Maybe. Having both Conner and Bell on the field could give opposing defenses fits in game planning, especially since Bell is capable of lining up out wide and taking screens. The issue is Conner and Bell still play very similar games. Bell might be a bit more explosive, and Conner may pack a bit of a stronger punch at the point of attack, but both have shown that they can be factors in the running and passing games, all the while making defenses adjust and opening holes for Ben Roethlisberger to find the likes of Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster downfield. However, it would be hard to justify paying Bell for the rest of the season when he may not add significant value over just having Conner. Realistically, he should not stay in Pittsburgh.
Likewise, if Bell is going to leave in the offseason when the tag expires and officially become a free agent, the Steelers would be remiss not to get something back for him, and more than the third round compensatory pick Pittsburgh will likely get if he signs elsewhere. The problem about trading Bell this season, however, is the salary cap hit that comes with him. Bell is not officially under contract at the moment, but his franchise tag cap number would be about $10.3 million. There are not a ton of teams that have that much free space right now. The team looking to trade for him would likely need to sign him to a long-term deal to justify the trade as well.
So who can meet Bell’s demands? Here are the teams that could afford him for this season:
An interesting crew, to say the least, but unfortunately not too many places make sense. In fact, four of these teams signed new starting running backs this past offseason. The Browns, Titans, and Jets should be pleased with their new additions for now, so consider them out. The 49ers caught a bad break when their new guy, Jerick McKinnon, tore his ACL in the preseason, but Matt Breida has been a suitable replacement, and the 1-4 start would not justify making a brash decision when the division leader is 5-0 right now.
Let’s address the obvious ones, too. There is no way Pittsburgh deals Bell to Cincy. It would be insane to move him within the division. Denver has two rookie running backs it really likes in Freeman and Lindsay. The Bills would be a fascinating place for Bell to land, but that team is way more than just one piece away and likely not interesting in pursuing Bell anyway, especially since they are trying to shop their star running back already.
Philly has been heavily linked with this deal after restructuring Fletcher Cox’s deal to open up more cap room. However, the Eagles are also rumored to be pursuing a reunion with LeSean McCoy. McCoy fits more of what Philadelphia needs, which is a one-year rental that is at least somewhat familiar with the system. The assumption is that at 30 years old, McCoy will cost a lot less for the Eagles to acquire as well.
The Colts and Texans make some interesting suitors. Both live in the AFC South, where the Jaguars and Titans are both tied rather unconvincingly to the division lead at 3-2. At 2-3, the Texans are still very much so in the hunt. However, Deshaun Watson does not look as explosive this season in his return from a knee injury of his own, struggling to keep possession with nine turnovers on the season. Lamar Miller was injured in Week 5 and has been unconvincing in a Texans uniform otherwise. Alfred Blue provided a decent target out of the backfield in his stead, but neither is a kind of bell cow you can hand or dump the ball off to and let the magic happen. $16 million is a large sum to pay when Miller is still on the books through the end of next season, but Bell could add some relief to the Houston offense and open up their playbook a bit.
As for Indy, take everything I just said and amplify it. Sure, the Colts are off to a 1-4 start, but they are only two games back with well over half the season to go. The offense may look like its purring, but take deeper look into the stats and you will see there is room for improvement. Andrew Luck is averaging almost 50 pass attempts per game, but has under 1,500 passing yards for the season. His 6.09 yards/attempt ratio is 32nd in the NFL right now, only ahead of the magnanimous crew of Tyrod Taylor, Nick Foles and Sam Bradford, all of whom have since been benched. Meanwhile, not a single Colts running back is averaging more than 35 yards per game. 35!!! Le’Veon Bell could vastly improve the 29th ranked rushing attack in the league, as well as provide a dynamic safety blanket for the oft-pressured Luck. Those two together could single (double?)-handedly carry Indianapolis to the postseason. Maybe them playing defense could help, too, because I doubt it would hurt.
Another interesting tidbit is that the Texans and Colts have the same assets to offer back to Pittsburgh as well. In 2019, both teams are sitting on two second round picks after making moves in last year’s draft. With the Colts getting the Jets’ pick in the Sam Darnold trade, and the Texans shipping Duane Brown to Seattle for their 2nd rounder, the Steelers may be willing to part with their formerly-beloved star in exchange for that pick maybe paired with another player or a lower round pick.
Personally, I think it make a lot of sense for the Colts to go after Bell. They can offer him whatever contract he wants basically with their ample cap space. Their offense is already fairly strong and adding Bell would only make it more threatening. Plus, Bell is an excellent pass blocker, which coupled with his mere presence in the backfield will protect Luck from opposing rushers. Even with two rookie running backs, Indy could add a franchise player for well under his usual trade value. If the Colts think they still have a shot this season, do not be surprised if they make a play for one of the best players in the NFL before the deadline in Week 8.
Until then, I’ll dangle Bell on my own fantasy trading block and hope someone bites.
It has been a wild couple of years in sports in terms of ending title droughts. In 2016, Cleveland won its first championship in any sport in over half a century and the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year curse by winning the World Series. In 2017, the Houston Astros won their first ever World Series title. 2018 has already seen the Philadelphia Eagles win a long-awaited championship and the Washington Capitals finally bring home the Stanley Cup. Some of the most historic title droughts in all of sports have ended in recent years, begging the question of which cities remain the most tortured for a title. Here is my top ten.
Teams: Lions (NFL), Pistons (NBA), Red Wings (NHL), Tigers (MLB),
Last title: 2008
It has only been a decade since a Detroit team has won a title, but the history of sports success in the Motor City is not a great one. The Lions have famously (or infamously) never won a Super Bowl, or even appeared in one. They also hold the NFL record for most consecutive playoff losses. Baseball is a little more promising because the Tigers have won before, three times actually, but the last World Series victory came in 1984. The Pistons have had some great teams, but have also been one of the worst run NBA franchises in the last ten years. In the NHL, the Red Wings represent the true bright spot. Detroit has hoisted the Stanley Cup twice since the turn of the century. It hasn’t been that long for Detroit, but it might be a while before one of these four teams wins another title.
Teams: Colts (NFL), Pacers (NBA)
Last title: 2006
Only two teams reside in Indianapolis and the Colts have won a title. The Peyton Manning era is still one fans could look back on proudly, but for a long time the Colts were one of the most tortured franchises in the NFL. They have resumed that post since then. For a city as crazy about basketball as Indy, zero NBA titles is a real bummer as well. The Pacers have only reached the NBA finals once in franchise history losing to the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. Both the Colts and Pacers have been competitive in recent years as well, but always end up faltering in the playoffs, leaving a bitter taste in fans’ mouths.
Teams: Hurricanes (NHL), Hornets (NBA), Panthers (NFL)
Last title: 2006
It has also been 12 years since Charlotte has won a title, but they get the edge for having three teams as opposed to Indy’s two. The Hornets have been one of the worst franchises in NBA history. It has been 30 years since the Hornets were founded and the team has never so much as won a division title. Football has treated fans a little better, as the Panthers did reach the Super Bowl back in 2003. They came agonizingly close to beating that Brady guy, but Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winner as time expired to beat Carolina. The Hurricanes are the only team in Charlotte to win a title. After losing in the 2002 Stanley Cup final, Carolina broke through in 2006 to lift the cup. Still, just one title between three teams over the past 30 years is a poor return.
Teams: Predators (NHL), Titans (NFL)
Last title: N/A
If you also lump in the Memphis Grizzles, the Tennessee would likely move up a few spots on this list. Seeing as Memphis and Nashville are on opposite sides of the state though, it did not seem too fair. Both teams moved to town in 1997, but the Predators came close to bringing home a title in 2017. On the other hand, the Titans made the playoffs in 2017 for the first time in nearly ten years. What holds Nashville back is how new of a sports city it is. It has only had pro teams for 20 years, so the lack of a title is not totally shocking. Only one appearance in a finals setting is more than enough to qualify for this list though.
Teams: Bengals (NFL), Reds (MLB)
Last title: 1990
Oh, where to begin with Cincinnati. For one, the Bengals have been a punch line in the NFL for quite some time. Head coach Marvin Lewis took over in 2003 and has taken the team to the playoffs seven times in his tenure. He is also 0-7 in the postseason. It has been 27 years since Cincy has won a playoff game, the longest active streak in the league. The Bengals weren’t always this way though. In the ’80s, Cincinnati made it to two Super Bowls, both times losing by less than a touchdown to the Joe Montana led 49ers. The Reds haven’t been a whole lot better. Since winning the World Series in 1990, Cincy’s baseball team has only made the playoffs four times. With the Bengals looking like an average team and the Reds in the middle of a rebuild, it could be a while before Cincinnati celebrates another championship.
5. San Diego
Teams: Padres (MLB), Chargers (NFL)
Last title: N/A
Technically, there is only one pro team still in San Deigo, but to not include the struggles of the Chargers in evaluating the drought this city has gone through would be unfair. I actually think the fact the Chargers left makes life as a fan in this city even more torturous. Boasting one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, San Diego never managed to reach a Super Bowl. Its lone appearance was a blowout loss to the 49ers in 1994. Even during the early 2000s, it seemed like the Chargers would finally break through, but never managed to reach the Super Bowl. For the Padres, opportunities for postseason success have been few and far between. In 49 years as a franchise, the Padres have made the playoffs just five times, including two different losses in the World Series. San Diego has long awaited a title and now will have an even tougher time securing one with only the Padres left in town.
It has been 17 years since the largest city in Arizona brought home a sports championship. The Cardinals came agonizingly close in 2009 before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild Super Bowl. The Suns haven’t been good in years, but still remember the days of Charles Barkley and Steve Nash fondly. Neither of the ever managed to bring home a title. The Coyotes have never made it to a Stanley Cup final, much less won one. That leaves the Diamondbacks, who won the cities last championship in 2001. It is the only title in the city’s history. The Cardinals won an NFL Championship in 1947, but that was actually while the team was located in Chicago. Only one title between four teams is tough for fans to swallow and it does not seem like any of them are close to a title for a least a few more years.
Teams: Hawks (NBA), Falcons (NFL), Braves (MLB),
Last title: 1995
Between the Hawks, Falcons and Braves, Atlanta has only brought home one title in the history of sports in the city. The Braves broke through in 1995, which isn’t really that long ago, but this city definitely knows what it is like to want a title. The Hawks have never made it to the NBA Finals while in Atlanta. The 2016 Falcons made it to the Super Bowl and blew the largest lead in the history of the game. It marked the second time the Falcons lost in the championship. Looking at the Braves, they lost four other World Series during the ’90s. Had it not been for that World Series in ’95, Atlanta might very well top this list.
Teams: Bills (NFL), Sabres (NHL)
Last title: N/A
Western New York is home to one of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports. The aptly named “Bills Mafia” provides a fun home field advantage whenever the Bills are hosting. Sabres fans have suffered through many years of woeful play on the ice, but still support the team nonetheless. Between these two franchises, Buffalo has appeared in six different championships, winning none of them. The Bills came up short in four consecutive Super Bowls! Talk about torture for fans. The Sabres made two different runs to the Stanley Cup final over the years, but fell short in both. It was the NHL team who made Buffalo’s last championship appearance in 1999. Up until last year, the Bills hadn’t even been to the playoffs since 1999. What holds Buffalo back from the top spot is the fact that the city only has two teams.
21 years ago was the last time a team from the Twin Cities won a title. Minneapolis is home to some of the most tortured fan bases in sports. On one hand, you have the Vikings. The Purple People Eaters lost four Super Bowls from 1969 to 1976. The Vikings have never made it back to the big game since their loss in ’76. It seemed like they would in 1998, with a historically good offense, only to lose in their first playoff game that year. Then there are the Timberwolves. Minnesota finally broke the second longest playoff drought in NBA history in 2018 after 13 years of failing to qualify. In a league where more than half the teams make it to the postseason, that is quite a feat. The Wild haven’t been in town long, but like the Timberwolves, have never even reached the finals. The Twins are the only team in town with a title, but have not returned to the World Series. While Minneapolis has won a title, none of the teams in the city have even reached the championship stage in the 27 years since. This city is starved for a title and well-deserving of the top spot on our list.
Football is back!!! It has been too long that we’ve had to wait to watch the best sport in America. Matt and myself continued our tradition by picking the winner of every NFL game. You can see those here and here. Now we move on to the playoffs.
For a refresher of who I had in the playoffs, here our how the conferences finished the year.
Wildcard (3) New England over (6) New York
(4) Pittsburgh over (5) Kansas City
(3) Dallas over (6) Minnesota
(5) Seattle over (4) Atlanta
The Jets were lucky to make the playoffs thanks to a really easy schedule. Their luck completely runs out against division rival New England. The Pats may have lost a lot of their defensive talent but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have enough to handle the Jets. Pittsburgh’s ground game will rumble them through Chiefs defense. LeVeon Bell is a stud and Ben Roethlisberger will probably light it up versus a young KC secondary. Dallas proves to be too much for this young Minnesota team. The offensive line keeps Romo clean for way too long. Seattle might be a wildcard team but it doesn’t matter. They will run Atlanta out of their own building.
Divisional (1) Indianapolis over (4) Pittsburgh
(2) Denver over (3) New England
(1) Arizona over (5) Seattle
(3) Dallas over (2) Green Bay
We get some absolutely fantastic matchups in the second round. Pittsburgh’s patchwork secondary folds under the wieght of Andrew Luck and company. Manning vs. Brady returns to the playoffs for another round. Manning gets the better of Brady in this one as that same Patriots defense fails to hold up against Denver’s diverse passing attack. The better matchups are actually in the NFC though. Arizona and Seattle face off as the two best teams in the conference. Arizona’s steady offensive play and smothering defense proves to be too much for a shaky Seattle o-line. Dallas finally gets its revenge at Lambeau and finally we can all put the Dez catch talk to bed.
Conference Championships (1) Indianapolis over (2) Denver
(1) Arizona over (3) Dallas
Sure it is kinda lame to have the two number one seeds going on but they both deserve it. Peyton returns to where he began and falls against his replacement. Luck and his new veteran friends Frank Gore and Andre Johnson defeat the Broncos once again and Manning must once again consider retirement. People think I am too high on Arizona but the Cardinals were undefeated last year in games that Carson Palmer started. A revamped offensive line with Mike Iupati means that they keep him clean and defeat Dallas.
Super Bowl Indianapolis over Arizona
This is probably Carson Palmer’s best shot at a ring. However, that isn’t enough for them to overcome Andre Luck and the Colts. Luck is primed for a huge season in a contract year and some new weapons. The Colts are crazy deep at wide receiver and the defense gets Robert Mathis back. Arizona will be tough to beat with a great defense. However, the running game just isn’t enough to keep that potent Colts offense off the field enough. Luck wins his first of what I’m sure will be many Super Bowl appearances.
So that’s it. The whole season predicted from start to finish. Check out Matt’s playoff picks here and enjoy your season!
by Matt Luppino
What are we talking about?!?!? Somewhere, Jim Mora is displeased, but I’m going to do it anyways. As a reminder, here are my playoff teams from each league based off of my predictions posted yesterday.
Wild Card (3) New England over (6) Buffalo
(5) Kansas City over (4) Pittsburgh
(6) Philly over (3) NYG
(5) Arizona over (4) Atlanta
Rex Ryan will bring a tough defense to Foxborough, but pissed off Tom Brady should be able to easily dispatch of them. I like the potency of Kansas City’s offense against a weaker and less experienced Steelers defense, especially Jamaal Charles in the cold weather of Pittsburgh. If the Giants struggle to get a pass rush on Sam Bradford, I could see him picking apart that secondary with ease while being more successful in covering the Giants. The Cardinals defense will be tough on Matt Ryan, and if Carson can avoid mistakes, he should punish Atlanta, even at home.
Divisional (1) Denver over (5) Kansas City
(2) Indianapolis over (3) New England
(1) Green Bay over (6) Philadelphia
(2) Seattle over (5) Arizona
I don’t like picking all of the bye week teams, but I feel good on most of these picks. Once again assuming Peyton is still Peyton, I can see him performing well against the Chiefs at altitude to grind out a tough win. In a rematch of the famous Deflategate game, we might see an even more pissed off Colts team than just simply pissed off Tom Brady, and I see Andrew Luck finally besting him to move on; should be a good game though. Sam Bradford has little playoff experience, and most of that Packers team, especially Aaron Rodgers, has plenty; I see Green Bay, at Lambeau, outclassing the Eagles. As for the NFC West matchup, it is also a toss-up, but I see the Seahawks defense as more dangerous against Carson Palmer than Atlanta, allowing them to move on at a raucous CenturyLink Field.
Conference (2) Indianapolis over (1) Denver
(2) Seattle over (1) Green Bay
After Peyton bested Luck in Indianapolis during the regular season, I see Luck repaying the favor in Denver. The new experience on the Colts team will pay off, and (bonus prediction) Peyton Manning will retire without the elusive second ring he went to Denver for. In the NFC, this is a tight matchup in a rematch of last year’s NFC championship. In another close game, I see Seattle’s rushing attack being more explosive than Green Bay’s in a likely showdown on Lambeau’s frozen tundra, sending the Hawks to their third straight Super Bowl.
Super Bowl Indianapolis over Seattle
My initial takeaways from this game being in San Francisco: 1) it should be warmer, which is better for passing than colder temperatures; 2) it is very close to Stanford, making a large pocket of the fans pro-Luck; and 3) San Francisco HATES Seattle with passion. So in a pro-Indy environment, where Luck has the ability to pass effectively, I see him besting the dreaded Legion of Boom, scoring enough to keep Russell Wilson and Beast Mode at bay, and winning his first Super Bowl ring, 31-23.
And with that, let’s welcome back football. In the highly unlikely event that all of these predictions are right, I told you so. Check out Chris’ picks here, and have a great season everyone. Go Tampa!