Week ten in the NFL sees one of the season’s most talked-about off field issues finally reach its conclusion…
Le’Veon Bell’s gap year
At last, the saga is over. Le'Veon Bell had until 9pm GMT on Tuesday to report to the Pittsburgh Steelers, sign his franchise tag and make himself eligible to play for the rest of the season. He didn't, so he isn't.
It brings to an end an episode of 'Will He, Won't He?' that has been running since pre-season, when Bell first embarked upon a contract holdout that has seen him surrender $14.5million in guaranteed salary, in the hope of signing a more lucrative long-term deal.
It's not clear what happens now. Bell’s franchise tag for next year would be worth the kind of money usually reserved for quarterbacks. Releasing him into free agency would be a money saver but would also mean losing one of the best running backs in the league for nothing.
The most likely scenario is that the Steelers use something called a transition tag, allowing them to match any contract offer that Bell signs with another franchise, either with a view to restoring him to the team or trading him. Which way they go probably depends on what happens on the field this year - with James Conner filling in at running back, Pittsburgh are on a five-game win streak and heading for the playoffs.
Saints go marching on
The Steelers were not alone in putting up a 50+ point offensive showing this weekend. Drew Brees’ MVP challenge picked up further steam as the New Orleans Saints won for the eighth game in a row, thumping the Cincinnati Bengals 51-14.
Brees led the Saints to touchdowns on all five of their first half possessions, and scores on nine consecutive drives. With Brees, along with the likes of Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Mark Ingram, firing on all cylinders, the Saints now lead the league in points per game - a remarkable statistic given the praise that the explosive Chiefs and Rams offenses have drawn this year.
‘Dangerous’ Mayfield damns Falcons
Last week I wrote about how the Atlanta Falcons were looking like contenders to make a late wildcard run, after three wins in a row. Naturally, this week they lost 28-16 to the Cleveland Browns, a team without a permanent head coach.
In my defence, I could not account for Baker Mayfield ‘waking up feeling dangerous’, which was the reason he gave for leading the Browns’ best display of the year, with a career-best three touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Tom Brady’s finished... again
Brady didn’t have a single touchdown pass for the first time this season. Though he didn’t throw an interception either, he’s already just one shy of the eight he gave up last year, and his average QB rating is the lowest it’s been since 2013. It’s difficult to argue with the view that Brady is slowing down, and at 41 he has every right to.
What is easier to argue with, is the idea that the kind of Brady off-night we saw on Sunday means he has no chance of winning a sixth Super Bowl ring in a few months’ time. Barring a calamity, the Patriots will still win the division. From there, it’s knockout football, one-off duels.
Worry you might, about how the Titans defense got at Brady this weekend, or how the Jaguars did in week two, but don’t forget that ‘past it’ Brady is the only man to have gotten the better of Patrick Mahomes this season, and he put Aaron Rodgers away last week too. Not a team in the land wants to play the post-season Patriots.
An aesthetic nightmare
Mahomes had his least productive passing yardage game of the year in the Kansas City Chiefs’ 26-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals but still threw for touchdowns 30 and 31 of the season.
With six games to go, Mahomes now needs to average four TDs per game to equal Petyton Manning’s all-time regular season record of 55 – a feat which looks unlikely, even if he has managed it five times already. A shame, but not as much of a disappointment as the NFL sanctioning this ridiculous kit clash on Sunday.