Power Ranking the Best Running Backs in the NFL Divisional Round
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In January in the NFL, the running back position gets increasingly more important. As the weather gets colder and the field conditions worsen, having a reliable running game is essential.
There are eight starting running backs remaining in the postseason. More than eight players will carry the ball this weekend, but only eight starters remain.
Some are unproven players who weren't even in the NFL earlier this season, while others are perennial Pro Bowlers looking to lead their respective team to a Super Bowl.
Let's take a stab at power ranking all eight starting running backs in the NFL Divisional Round.
8. DuJuan Harris, Packers
DuJuan Harris has been a pleasant surprise, but he faces a tough 49ers defense.
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When this season began, Dujuan Harris was selling cars in Florida. Now, he's the starting running back on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Harris has played in five games with the Packers, starting the last three. Since taking over, he's been the team's most effective runner, scoring three touchdowns and averaging 4.6 yards per carry in the regular season.
But Harris faces his toughest test yet in the 49ers front-seven. The Packers didn't even try to run the ball against San Francisco in the season opener, but with Harris running hard, it's safe to say the Pack's running game is in better shape now than it was early in the season.
7. Michael Turner, Falcons
Turner could struggle against the Seahawks run defense.
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Turner has been one of the most consistent runners in football since coming over from San Diego. He's built like a truck, he's tough, and he has deceptive speed.
But by all accounts, the 2012 season was Turner's worst since joining the Falcons. He's still an effective player around the goal line, recording ten touchdowns in the regular season. But his 3.6 yards-per-carry average was the lowest in any single season of his career.
His 19 receptions in the regular season were a career-high, but the emergence of Jacquizz Rodgers could continue into the playoffs. He's a more dynamic player right now.
6. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
Moreno has been solid filling in for Willis McGahee.
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Moreno got his opportunity when Willis McGahee went down with an injury in the middle of the season. And in six starts, Moreno has been solid for Peyton Manning and the Denver offense.
In five of Moreno's six starts, he's carried the ball at least 20 times and gained at least 69 yards. Those aren't flashy numbers, but they show the Broncos' commitment to running the football. And with some success on the ground, the Broncos can open up the field in the passing game.
Against the Baltimore Ravens this week, Moreno has a shot to be a real X-Factor for Denver. Baltimore's run defense has struggled even with Ray Lewis in the lineup, so Denver could test that area of the Ravens defense this weekend.
5. Stevan Ridley, Patriots
Ridley gives the Patriots a balanced offensive attack.
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When running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis left the Patriots for Cincinnati last offseason, the door opened for second-year pro Stevan Ridley to take over as New England's starting running back.
As the starter, Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. Against some teams, the Patriots opted to use Shane Vereen and/or Danny Woodhead in the backfield, but Ridley has been used as the traditional, between-the-tackles runner.
Ridley will face a Texans defense that is strong up front, but does have holes in the secondary. It may not be a very big week for Ridley, as the Patriots figure to be a pass-heavy team against that leaky Houston pass defense.
4. Frank Gore, 49ers
Frank Gore dominated Green Bay in the season opener.
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Frank Gore has been the model for consistency as an NFL running back. Gore has eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in every season that he's started at least 14 games.
He torched the Green Bay Packers in week one, carrying the ball 16 times for 101 yards and a late touchdown. Since then, the Packers' defensive front is playing much better, and the Packers are coming off two consecutive weeks in which they prepared for Adrian Peterson.
With the Green Bay defense focused on the run, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be forced to make plays downfield. Still, Gore remains one of the safest bets among all running backs to find the end zone this week.
3. Ray Rice, Ravens
Ray Rice is one of the best running backs in the league, but he faces a tough test in the Broncos.
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Rice was uncharacteristically ineffective last week against the Indianapolis Colts. On paper, it looked as if the Ravens would be able to run the ball with ease against the Colts' weak run defense.
But instead, Rice fumbled twice and allowed rookie Bernard Pierce to steal the spotlight in the backfield. In all likelihood, Rice will return as the team's go-to runner this week against the Denver Broncos. Baltimore has a strong offensive line, and Rice is one of the best running backs in the game, so it'd be foolish to count this running game out.
However, the Broncos defense is for real. And if Peyton Manning is able to build a comfortable lead for the Broncos, Rice could be in for a quiet afternoon.
2. Arian Foster, Texans
Foster should be the focal point of Houston's offense against New England.
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Foster has the wheels that make the Houston Texans offense move. Quarterback Matt Schaub has been inconsistent over the past several weeks, but Foster has been his usual steady self.
Against the Patriots in week 14, Foster carried the ball 15 times for just 46 yards, although he did find the end zone. New England clearly focused on shutting down the run, and they certainly did that. Rushing out to a comfortable lead didn't hurt things either.
This Divisional Round matchup figures to be more of the same between Houston and New England. If the Patriots rush out to an early lead, Foster likely won't receive as many carries. But if the Texans can hang around for a while, it could be the Arian Foster Show.
1. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Lynch should get plenty of touches against Atlanta.
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Watching Marshawn Lynch run the football is something special. He runs angry, he runs violent, and he's a very powerful man. And playing indoors this week against the Atlanta Falcons, Lynch will be on a fast track with bad intentions.
This season was Lynch's best as a professional, totaling 1,590 yards on the ground and 12 total touchdowns in the regular season. Even when teams stack the box and think they have his progress stopped in the backfield, Lynch is capable of breaking tackles or bouncing the play to the outside.
Russell Wilson has been a godsend for this franchise at quarterback, but Lynch remains the "go-to guy" of this offense. He could be in for a very big day against the Falcons this weekend.