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Is the timing of Le’Veon Bell’s supposed return because of the bye, or the Bengals?

If Bell plans to play for the Steelers at all, the Week 17 matchup against Cincy is unavoidable, but Week 6 is a different story.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this month, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Le’Veon Bell plans to return to the Steelers this season, most likely during the Week 7 bye. While it makes sense for Bell to report at that time in order to cash a weekly check without having to participate in a game, it also coincides with the Steelers coming off of one of their match ups with the Cincinnati Bengals. And Le’Veon has quite a history with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Since coming into the league in 2013, Le’Veon Bell has missed four complete games against Cincinnati, as well as leaving two other games with season-ending injuries. To put it into perspective, Bell has only completed 45% of the possible games against the Bengals. It all began in Week 2 of 2013 when LeVeon had yet to begin his regular-season career due to an injury. This particular game is the last time the Steelers have been defeated in Cincinnati, falling 20–10.

In week 15 of Bell’s rookie season, the Steelers defeated the Bengals at Heinz Field 30–20. In the game, Le’Veon rushed for 57 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown. He also added 50 yards receiving on five catches.

In 2014, Leavy on Bell appeared to be quite the Bengals slayer when in their week 14 matchup he rushed for 185 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. He added another 50 yards on six catches and a receiving touchdown as the Steelers won 42–21. But three weeks later in Pittsburgh, Bell faced his first season-ending injury at the hands of the Bengals. With 8:22 left in the third quarter and the Steelers leading 10–20, Bell was tackled after a 19 yard reception by Reggie Nelson. On the play, Le’Veon’s knee was injured, causing him to miss the following week’s play off defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.

The very next time the Steelers faced the Bengals was in Week 8 of 2015. This game was the infamous Vontaze Burfict tackle which ended Bell’s season. Subsequently, this was also the last time the Bengals have defeated the Steelers.

Of the next six matchup‘s against Cincinnati, Bell missed the first three. Two of those came in 2015 with one being the 18-16 playoff victory at Paul Brown Stadium. In the three games that Bell has played, he has only recorded one touchdown.

There are other factors with the Bengals that could factor in Bell’s decision. Since his last injury, both Antonio Brown and Ryan Shazier have suffered season (and possibly career) ending injuries against Cincinnati. Additionally, in Week 7 of last season, Bell carried the football 35 times for 134 yards. If he is concerned about being “overworked,” this would be a prime example.

Does the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be coming off a game against the Cincinnati Bengals before for Le’Veon Bell supposedly reports back to the team mean anything? Maybe. It could also mean that he is reporting because of the bye week. There’s really no way to know.

The last thing that I want to imply that Le’Veon Bell is scared of Cincinnati. I don’t think that’s the case at all. But the history of injury and workload– his two major concerns as to why he has not reported since he didn’t get a new deal- is something that Bell most likely considered. Unless Le’Veon goes out of his way to speak about the subject, I doubt we ever get an answer. But if the Steelers would be playing the Bengals in Week 8 instead of Week 6, it might have made for a very interesting decision from Le’Veon Bell’s camp.