UPDATE: Le'Veon Bell has been placed on season-ending Reserve/Injured and will miss the rest of the 2015 season. Isaiah Pead who played college football at University of Cincinnati has been signed in his place.
During the second quarter of Sunday's game, star running back Le'Veon Bell suffered a scary knee injury on the sideline as linebacker Vontaze Burfict took him down. According to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, Bell is expected to miss the rest of the 2015 NFL season with a badly torn MCL and other damage.
While it's a division rival, you never want to see this happen to a player on any team. The Steelers have looked as good as any NFL team over the past two seasons when they've had everyone healthy, and occasionally showed flashes of being a Super bowl contender. The Bengals know this as much as anyone after Pittsburgh came into Cincinnati and ran away with a 42-21 win last season.
However, that was a rare game for the Steelers in which they had the majority of their top players healthy. Just as was the case in that regular-season finale in Pittsburgh, which the Steelers narrowly won, we saw Sunday how much their offense drops off when Bell isn't playing. Bell finished second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage last season, and had gained 627 total yards through five games coming into Week 8. Since the Steelers drafted Bell in the second round out of Michigan State in 2013, they are 14-2 in games in which Bell carried the ball 20 or more times.
On Sunday, it looked like that script may play out after Bell helped lead the Steelers to an opening-game touchdown to put his team ahead 7-0. It was Antonio Brown who scored but Bell helped get the Steelers down the field. Once he left the game with his injury, the Steelers could only muster up three more points as their offense repeatedly stalled and got little action on the ground. Outside of backup DeAngelo Williams' 55-yard run, he gained just 18 yards on his other eight carries with Bell out.
As for the rest of the Steelers' offense, after that 80-yard opening drive, they would have seven possessions in which they gained less than eight yards. Pittsburgh managed to have 12 drives thanks to the Bengals offense constantly doing nothing and putting Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of his weapons back on the field, but more often than not, they did nothing without Bell.
At this point, Pittsburgh is facing tough odds to just make it to the playoffs given the rest of their schedule. They have home games hosting the Browns, Broncos, Colts, and Raiders and road games against the Seahawks, Ravens, Browns, and Bengals. Those teams are a combined 28-25, including Denver's and Cincinnati's 7-0 marks.
Regardless, the AFC North is now the Bengals' to lose as they can now focus more on getting one of those two first-round byes and maybe even the AFC's top overall seed.