The National Football League’s top rusher DeMarco Murray will lead Dallas against Detroit as the playoffs kick off this weekend, but Steelers star running back LeVeon Bell has lost his fitness battle.
Murray led the league with 1,845 rushing yards, but he and the rest of the Cowboys offense will face a formidable Lions defense led by Ndamukong Suh, who will appear after his one-game ban was overturned on appeal.
The Steelers had hoped to have Bell — whose 1,361 rushing yards were second in the league — for Saturday’s matchup with arch-rivals Baltimore.
But the team confirmed Friday he would be sidelined after hyperextending his right knee in a victory over Cincinnati last Sunday.
That leaves the Steelers relying on rookies Josh Harris and Dri Archer, and recently signed journeyman Ben Tate.
“I feel like we all have made sure we did the things we needed to do all week so we can help out our team,” said Harris, who came in for Bell after he was hurt against the Bengals.
“As soon as they ask me to play, I am going to do all I can to make sure I can do it all.”
Cincinnati will visit Indianapolis on Sunday and the Steelers will host the Ravens on Saturday in American Conference first-round games, with New England and Denver having byes and awaiting the winners.
In the National Conference, Arizona will visit Carolina on Saturday while the Cowboys entertain Detroit on Sunday.
Defending Super Bowl champion Seattle and Green Bay earned first-round byes and await the winners next week.
Bell, who was injured when Bengals safety Reggie Nelson tackled him low after a third-quarter reception, has no structural damage in his knee, so if the Steelers advance he could return this post-season.
In the meantime, he’s been lending his expertise in practice to Harris, Archer and Tate.
“It’s a big opportunity for all three of us,” Archer said. “We are more than happy to step in.”
It’s the same opportunity Suh thought would be denied him after he was suspended by the league for one game on Monday for stepping backwards twice upon the leg of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a game the previous day.
Suh won an appeal of the punishment, claiming numb feet prevented him from feeling his rival star’s leg beneath his cleats as he stepped back.
– Whole new season –
Carolina routed Atlanta to win the NFC South division last week and become only the second team with a losing record to qualify for an NFL playoff berth.
The Panthers’ reward for their fourth win in a row was a home playoff game but they will be tested by an 11-win Cardinals squad that will be led by third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley.
Arizona lost Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to injuries but have matched the club record for wins.
“It’s a whole new season now,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “We’re all 0-0 and we’re in the tournament. We’re going to get ready for this playoff game. We’re not planning on being one-and-done.”
The Colts will be without offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus, who was placed on injured reserve with a groin injury.
Joe Reitz will replace him among the protectors of Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck against the Bengals’ defensive unit.