Defenses may win championships, but the running game controls the game clock and helps elite defenses stay fresh to dominate the opposition.
These three running backs can take over the game when they are called upon. When they can keep their offense on the field, it allows their strong defense time off the field to stay fresh.
They will carry their teams into the AFC and NFC Championship games with a big game this week.
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice
Rice had his third straight year where he rushed for over 1,000 yards with a career high in touchdowns (12). However, Rice is just as dangerous coming out of the backfield as a receiver, catching 76 passes for 704 yards and three touchdowns.
This year, Rice had four games where he scored multiple times, which resulted in four Baltimore victories in which they outscored their opponents 124-74.
Earlier in the year, against Houston, Rice went off for 101 rushing yards and 60 receiving yards. He was kept out of the end zone, however, because of his 161 combined yards, the Ravens easily beat the Texans 29-14.
Rice will dominate again this Sunday, and will carry the Ravens into the championship game.
San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore
Gore has seen his production dip significantly since Week 9 when he rushed for 107 yards on 19 carries. Since that game Gore has not rushed for over 100 yards, only gaining over 80 yards twice in eight games.
However, when Gore has had a week off in between games, he has gone off on the opponent in the following week. Against Cleveland after the bye, he rushed for 137 yards with a touchdown.
New Orleans, just like Cleveland, gave up an alarmingly high amount of yards per carry to opposing running backs this year. The Saints ranked 29th in the NFL, giving up on average five yards per carry.
With the week off, Gore will be able to rip off some big gains, which will allow the 49ers defense time to rest to keep the high-powered Saints offense off of the board.
New England Patriots: Stevan Ridley
The Patriots rookie has come on strong in the final three weeks of the season. Ridley has carried the bulk of the Patriots' rushing attempts, and has been New England’s hottest running back.
Against the Broncos a mere three weeks ago, Ridley was able to rip 65 rushing yards on only 11 attempts, which breaks down to 5.9 yards per carry.
During the Wild Card Round, the Broncos gave up 121 rushing yards on 17 carries to Steelers backup running back Isaac Redman. Redman was able to torch the Broncos defense averaging 7.1 yards per carry, and had his longest run of 32 yards.
This week, Ridley should be able to have the same success as he did in their first meeting. New England will be able to turn to Ridley to help open the passing game for Tom Brady.
New England beats Denver this weekend to move onto the AFC Championship game next week.
These three teams will move onto the championship round next week, and will have to get the same performances from these running backs to make it to their ultimate goal, the Super Bowl.