NFL Picks: Week 10

Playoff picture begins to take shape

     Heading into week 10, there are already seven different teams* with just two or fewer losses, almost all virtual locks to make the playoffs. After adding the division winners from the NFC North, East and AFC South (the three divisions lacking a standout team), only one playoff spot is up for grabs in each conference. Teams like the Bengals, Colts, Packers, Seahawks, Jaguars and others will be competing in an extremely tight battles for the last wild card slots, races that may very well be decided in week 17.

The Le’Veon Bell Saga is coming to an end, one way or another

     Le’Veon Bell’s prolonged absence from the Steelers has been a season-long mystery for fans, as well as for the Steelers organization. Bell and his camp have released effectively no new information, but his holdout isn’t overly surprising: players hate the franchise tag. Von Miller explicitly stated that he would not play under the franchise tag during contract negotiations in the summer of 2016, and Eric Berry echoed similar sentiments the following offseason. It’s a tool that is unique in North American professional sports, giving front offices the ability to unilaterally decide that a veteran cannot play for a different team. And while Miller and Berry received record-breaking contracts, Bell and Pittsburgh are likely parting ways this offseason. Bell will not play this week and must show up by Nov. 13 in order to be eligible to play this season. If he does not, we will almost certainly see him in a new uniform next time he takes the field.  

Carolina Panthers (+3.5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Thursday Night Football)

     The best game of the week comes on a Thursday, with the 6-2 Panthers heading into Pittsburgh playing extremely well, but somehow still in second place in the NFC South. And in a shocking scheduling anomaly, Carolina won’t host the first-place Saints until Week 15, before heading to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for a week 17 showdown that will likely crown the NFC South champion. In the interim, Carolina can continue to distance itself from the competition, as the young talent continues to emerge. The Panthers have spent high picks on offensive skill players like Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel, and DJ Moore in the past two drafts, and it’s clear Cam Newton has more weapons than ever. Meanwhile, the Steelers have been winning games without Bell. At 5-2-1, they sit at the top of the AFC North with Cincinnati and Baltimore right below. And while youngster James Conner has filled in admirably for Bell, I think his fantasy football contributions are inflating his perceived value on the field. Pittsburgh ranks below average in rushing yards per attempt and per game, and Conner has fumbled three times in only eight games. I expect both teams to move the ball effectively, but Ben Roethlisberger will need to avoid turnovers against a Panthers defense that excels at taking the ball away. Pittsburgh’s best defensive asset has been its ability to sack the quarterback, but Newton gets sacked fewer times than almost anyone in the NFL. This is a favorable matchup for Carolina, and I think the team can steal one on the road.

The pick: Panthers 28, Steelers 27

*New England, Pittsburgh, Carolina, New Orleans, LA Rams, LA Chargers, Kansas City

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