How Le'Veon Bell's Injury Impacts the Steelers' Playoff Chances
We haven't really seen the real Steeler offense this season.
Martavis Bryant, coming off a big rookie campaign, missed the first four weeks of the season thanks to a suspension. Ben Roethlisberger was injured in Week 3 against the Rams, and he took four weeks off to heal. Le'Veon Bell missed the first couple of games with a suspension of his own, too.
It looks like we'll have to wait for 2016 to see the real Steeler offense.
Though Pittsburgh's backup running back, DeAngelo Williams, has been effective this season -- entering Week 8, among the 42 backs with 50 or more carries on the year, Williams was the 10th most efficient according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric -- losing Bell is a huge deal. Among all 200-plus attempt running backs last season, Bell ranked fifth in Rushing NEP, and because of his receiving ability, his 82.85 Total NEP was tops in the league. In fact, Marshawn Lynch, who ranked second in Total NEP, added 46.38 points for his team -- Bell was by far the best running back in the NFL last season when you consider receiving.
Bell's 2014 season was the sixth best one by a running back our data has ever seen.
Losing Bell is a huge deal.
Our algorithms think so, too. With a healthy Bell, the Steelers, after a Week 8 loss to Cincinnati, had 49.1% odds of making the playoffs. With the injury, that drops to 43.8%.
The good news for Steeler fans -- if you want to call it that -- is that, because they had a such a small chance to win the division and Super Bowl anyway, the injury impact isn't as huge of a deal from that standpoint. Their division-winning odds went from 1.8% to 1.3%, while their chance of winning the Super Bowl went from 1.7% to 1.1%.
Even still, a big dip in their playoff hopes matters, because teams can always get hot and go on a run on their way to lifting the Lombardi. Now if the Steelers want to do that, they'll have to overcome losing one of the -- if not the -- best running backs in the game.