While nearly each team has a top-flight quarterback playing in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, several running backs will be the ones helping their teams advance to next weekend.
The Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens wouldn’t have even made it this far if it weren’t for the outstanding performances of Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch and Bernard Pierce in the Wild Card Round.
So which running backs are going to step up in their respective games this weekend in the hopes of advancing to the conference championships games? Let’s have a look.
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
Going up against one of the scariest defenses in the league and with a young quarterback under center, it will be up to Frank Gore to win Saturday night’s matchup against Green Bay for San Francisco.
Gore finished the regular season with the 10th-most rushing yards in the league and scored eight times. In Week 1 against the Packers, Gore ran for 112 yards and one touchdown on just 16 carries. He would only surpass 100 yards on the ground two others times throughout the season.
During the regular season, San Francisco was 6-0-1 when Gore ran for at least 80 yards. The offensive line has done a fair job this year creating space for Gore to run, and he’ll need a lot of it at least one more time this year.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Running for nearly 1,600 yards and 11 touchdowns in his seventh year in the NFL, Marshawn Lynch had a career year in 2012. The opposing Falcons allow 123.2 yards on the ground per game, and you can bet that Lynch will hit that mark at the very least.
Lynch has yet to face Atlanta this season but has had success in almost every game that he’s played in. Lynch has reached the 100-yard mark 10 times this season and ran for at least 85 yards in all but two games. His is one of the biggest contributors to Seattle’s success in 2012 and is not ready for his season to end.
While the Falcons will have to try to contain quarterback Russell Wilson both through the air and on the ground, they may have a tougher time keeping Lynch under control. He has big-play ability each time he touches the ball, and one missed tackle could lead to a touchdown.
Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
The Patriots are usually not known for their ground game. But this year, Stevan Ridley has changed that. Ridley finished the year with 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns, putting him in the top 10 in both categories.
Ridley isn’t the type of running back who breaks a bunch of tackles for huge gains. His longest run of the season is only 41 yards, but he is extremely consistent. Each time he gets a carry, you can expect at least four yards. That may not be a lot compared to some of the other backs in the NFL, but it’s fantastic for New England.
The Houston Texans are going to try to disrupt Tom Brady’s passing game in order to have even the slightest chance of winning. That’s where Ridley comes in. He has to be able to take off some of the pressure off of Brady and run the Patriots into the AFC Championship Game.