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Will Le'Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant bans sink Steelers?

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The Steelers reached the playoffs last year despite losing Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell for a combined 15 starts.

The 2016 season hasn't even begun and Pittsburgh has already lost game-changing wideout Martavis Bryant to a year-long suspension and Bell for another four games if Friday's league-imposed ban on the running back ultimately sticks.

The double-whammy diminishes an attack that otherwise would roll into September with the potential to break records and devastate defenses. Assuming Bell's punishment holds, what's next for the talent-stripped Steelers?

DeAngelo Williams steps into the spotlight -- again


There is no replacing Bell. His patience as a runner, paired with his incredible vision and cutting ability make him an ultimate weapon in the AFC. The Steelers have found ways to unleash their star back all over the field to milk the most out of Bell's running and pass-catching magic. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has even talked about the team employing more two-back sets with Bell and backup DeAngelo Williams, with Le'Veon saying: "There are definitely going to be packages where me and 'D-Lo' are going to be out there at the same time."

Instead, Pittsburgh is back where it was for much of last year, forced to roll with Williams as its lead back for the first month of the year. In hindsight, signing the ex-Panthers back looms as one of general manager Kevin Colbert's most cunning moves. While he lacks Bell's sheer athleticism, Williams was sensational last season as a 200-carry workhorse who plowed through teams at 4.5 yards per carry with 11 touchdowns on the ground. Behind Pittsburgh's sturdy line, there's no reason to think 'D-Lo' can't get the job done until Bell returns from his exodus in Week 5.

Keep in mind that Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman combined for 183 yards against Cincinnati in January's insane wild-card tilt. The Steelers will survive on the ground barring further disaster.

Bigger role for Ladarius Green


Losing Bell as a pass-catcher is ugly. Losing the marvelous and acrobatic Bryant completely strips away a difference-making element of Todd Haley's offense. As a result, Pittsburgh's remaining playmakers must pick up the slack, including Green, the newly added tight end tasked with filling the role that Heath Miller played for more than a decade. We love Green in this offense. The former Chargers pass-catcher is a one-time Making the Leap candidate now operating outside the shadow of Antonio Gates. Instead of slowly meshing with this attack, though, Green is on the hook to become a central cog from Week 1 onward.

Career year from Antonio Brown?


All the injuries in Pittsburgh made Brown the epicenter of this offense in 2015. His 136 catches, 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns look even more amazing when you consider that a sluggish, ineffective Michael Vick and the untested Landry Jones combined to start five games. If Roethlisberger can stay healthy, Brown is set up for another monster campaign. He's in the prime of his career and a future Hall of Famer: He's up to the task and ready to fry double teams on a weekly basis.

Pittsburgh's defense must pick up where it left off


The Steelers finished last season with the 21st overall defense, but their late-season surge helped the team finish 11th in points allowed. Excellent work by inside linebackers Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons down the stretch gives hope to a unit that played some of its best football in January. The Steelers have been viewed all offseason as a team that will tumble into weekly shootouts -- with an offense powerful enough to come out on top -- but Pittsburgh's defense needs to do its part over the first four weeks of the year against the Redskins, Bengals, Eagles and Chiefs.

Apologize to fantasy owners


Just kidding. Fantasy owners are wholly irrelevant in this real-world equation, but Bell was widely seen as a top-three running back in those vicarious circles, a rating set to take a hit with Friday's news. That said, Bell will still be snatched up as a first-rounder in most leagues. Meanwhile, Brown remains a platinum pick, while Big Ben's production through the air promises to gush out each Sunday no matter who's on the field. 

This is still a playoff team


Gregg Rosenthal argued on Thursday's Around the NFL Podcast that Bryant's year-long absence might be a bigger factor for Pittsburgh than New England losing Tom Brady for four weeks. Throw in Bell's ban and the Steelers have plenty to overcome out of the gate.

Pittsburgh fans are losing the chance to watch what could be one of the great offenses of this century. Still, four games can be overcome. The NFL season is a long, grueling voyage and the Steelers showed us last season just how resilient they can be under coach Mike Tomlin. With so many of the same parts in place, Friday's events don't change my final opinion: This team will be there in January, one way or another, like they always are.

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