Take 5: Los Angeles, Le’Veon, no LeBron



New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) is sacked for a loss by Dallas Cowboys defensive back Kavon Frazier (35) during the first half on Sept. 16 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Jim Cowsert/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

By The Pitt News staff

As the NFL season nears its halfway point, Los Angeles’ two teams seem to be destined for a cross-city clash, while the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell continues to divide public opinion. In other news, the NBA regular season officially got underway Tuesday, ushering in a new LeBron-less era in the Eastern Conference.

Battle for Los Angeles

We’re six weeks into the NFL season, meaning it’s become easier to separate the contenders from the pretenders. There are a few franchises in the mix that could hoist the Lombardi Trophy come February, but two stand out that would create an interesting narrative in the league — the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers. A Super Bowl matchup between these two teams would become prominent in NFL lore and likely be dubbed the “Battle for Los Angeles.”

Both the Rams (6-0) and Chargers (4-2) have started their seasons in the right direction. The Rams currently possess the best record in the NFL and are the Super Bowl front-runners at the moment, as they have the league’s No. 1 offense in yards per game led by quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley.

The Chargers, meanwhile, sit at second in the AFC behind the dynamic Kansas City Chiefs (5-1). Philip Rivers is in the middle of a career year at the age of 36 and Melvin Gordon is finally producing to the potential that he was drafted with, having scored nine touchdowns so far. This explosive offense, along with a solid defensive core, could see the Chargers meeting their LA counterpart in Super Bowl LIII.

Picture this — a matchup between the veteran Rivers and the highly touted Goff, both on a quest for their first Super Bowl ring. A battle between star-caliber running backs Gurley and Gordon and a war between stout defenses. There’s a real possibility that we will see an all-Los Angeles Super Bowl matchup come February in Atlanta.

— Tyler Moran, Staff Writer

Time for a new beast of the East

LeBron James’ decision to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference paved the way for a much more interesting Eastern Conference. While LeBron has given the world countless highlight plays and historic moments in the last eight years of pure domination, there are several benefits of a LeBron-less East.

LeBron led both the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers to four straight finals, but now the East is wide open for several teams for years to come. The star-studded Celtics and the young but talented 76ers are two obvious contenders. Toronto has been good for several seasons now and traded for two-way monster Kawhi Leonard this offseason and there is finally no LeBron to crush the Raptors’ Finals dreams. Milwaukee is a dark horse and the “Greek Freak’s” out-of-this-world athleticism alone gives them a shot. The point is, it will be nice to see a new team and new faces like Gordon Hayward, Ben Simmons and Leonard get their shot at taking down the Warriors, whom they’ll presumably face in the finals.

“Finals LeBron” will certainly be missed. However, his switch to the Western Conference gives other players and franchises opportunities that were forbidden fruit until this year. The East is now up for the taking for years to come — teams may rotate winning the conference from year to year or a new dynasty could emerge in LeBron’s wake. Needless to say, LA-Bron changed the course of NBA history, making the dynamics of the East exponentially more intriguing.

— Nick Carlisano, Staff Writer

Steelers shouldn’t ring the Bell

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a bye week this week and it’s likely that running back Le’Veon Bell, who has held out the first six games of the season, will return before the team’s next game. Bell is holding out due to a contract dispute with the team and the organization has actively been listening to trade offers for him. Members of the Steelers, primarily the offensive linemen, have voiced their displeasure with the star running back.

In Bell’s absence, former Pitt running back and 2017 third-round pick James Conner has carried the load out of the backfield for Pittsburgh. He has far exceeded expectations, posting numbers comparable to those Bell posted through the first six games last season.

So, should the Steelers play Bell? The answer is no — not because Bell lacks talent or to penalize him for holding out, but rather because it could be a smart business decision. Pittsburgh should rest Bell and keep him healthy while continuing to field trade offers as teams grow increasingly desperate as the grueling NFL season rolls on. Despite a rough start to the season, the Steelers have shown they can succeed without Bell, winning three of their last four games and beating a tough Cincinnati team this past week.

Bell’s decision to hold out was his own and he certainly had the right to do it. But with his time in Pittsburgh effectively over at the end of this season, the Steelers need to look to get something for him and trade him to the highest bidder, which they can only do if he remains healthy.

— Andrew Kelly, Staff Writer

A Giant hole at quarterback

With the New York Giants beginning the season 1-5, there’s room for improvement in several areas. However, the quarterback position, which is currently in a stranglehold by two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, is the main source of their struggles.

In some areas, Manning’s stats don’t look that bad, including a 68.7 completion percentage, four interceptions and a 90.9 passer rating. However, he currently sports a QBR of 42.8, a yards per completion of 10.5 and just six touchdowns. Altogether, the 38-year-old is on pace for one of the worst seasons of his 15-year career.

Last year, the Giants had immense trouble moving the ball down the field, in large part because of injuries to Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard and the lack of a quality running back. But with OBJ and Shepard both healthy again and the acquisition of star running back Saquon Barkley via the draft, the weapons are present for Manning — yet the offense ranks 27th in the league in points per game with 19.7.

The Giants need to get a new quarterback sooner rather than later. They could let this season play out, get a top-five pick and draft someone like Dwayne Haskins or Will Grier to take over the helm — but there’s a better idea. Call up the Indianapolis Colts and trade for Jacoby Brissett. With a 2017 Colts team that lacked talent everywhere, Brissett was able to muster four wins, compiling 17 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. With him, the Giants could use their top-five projected pick on an offensive linemen.

— Michael Nitti, Staff Writer

Justification for Bell’s crusade

One might look at Le’Veon Bell’s career earnings and scoff at the notion of a holdout for more money after the Steelers reportedly offered him a $70 million contract. But when you take a deeper look into how running backs are paid and used, it’s easy to see how Bell is trying to stand up for himself.

In Bell’s absence, James Conner has stepped up and produced at an All-Pro level. Through the first six games, Connor has amassed 710 total yards and seven touchdowns. But despite Conner’s wonderful production, his third-round draft slot limits his contract to roughly $3 million over four years. On top of being one of the lowest-paid running backs, he is touching the ball roughly 20 times per game, or 300 touches over a season.

If Bell gets paid by another team and Conner produces at a prominent level for the remainder of his contract, Bell’s reasons for holding out will make a lot more sense. While Conner is not Bell, he is comparable in production. Again, if Bell and Conner are on separate teams next year and both produce at high levels, one will be paid well over $10 million while the other is paid less than $1 million.

Bell isn’t trying to be greedy — he’s just trying to get his worth for past, present and future production. He’s also standing up for other players who are outperforming their contracts and proving that sometimes a running back can control his career, too.

— Sami Abu-Obaid, Staff Writer