NFL Playoff Schedule 2013: Ranking RBs Who Will Take Pressure off Signal-Callers

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 13:  Stevan Ridley #22 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against Danieal Manning #38 and Glover Quin #29 of the Houston Texans during the 2013 AFC Divisional Playoffs game at Gillette Stadium on January 13, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Quarterbacks might drive the league, but running backs could decide who makes it to Super Bowl XLVII.

At this stage, it's hard to have a one-dimensional offense and expect to win it all at the end of the season. The defenses are too good to be beaten by only a good passing game.

In addition, a steady running game can keep the opposing offense off the field.

Luckily, the Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens all have very good rushers who can help their signal-callers.

Here's the running backs who need to step up the most in order to help their quarterbacks.


4. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots

With Tom Brady at quarterback, it isn't really a necessity to have a stable running game. All season, he's been torching opposing secondaries, which is even more impressive when you consider how depleted his receiving corps has been.

Part of the reason he's been so good this year, though, is because of the performance of Stevan Ridley. He's almost tripled his rushing numbers from last year, with 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Not that it would stop him too much, but it's a huge boost for Brady that opposing defenses can't sit back and defend the pass all game. They have to respect Ridley and the Patriots' running game.


3. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons

Michael Turner had a great game against the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round.

2012 hasn't been a banner year for Turner. His 800 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns were the fewest during his time thus far with the Atlanta Falcons.

His struggles are to be expected, considering he carried the ball 300-plus times in three out of four seasons between 2008-2011. This year, he only rushed 222 times.

Against the Seahawks, Turner ran for 98 yards on 14 carries.

The weight of expectation on Matt Ryan is probably the most of any QB left in the playoffs, so it's necessary to help ease that. If Turner can repeat his performance of a week ago, the Falcons will be traveling to New Orleans.


2. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers

Colin Kaepernick had the best performance of any player in the divisional round. The deeper the 49ers get in the playoffs, the less the team should rely on Kaepernick.

It's only his first year as a starter. No matter what his confidence level is, history has not been kind to quarterbacks during their first year in the postseason.

Kaepernick made history against the Green Bay Packers. There's no way he'll be able to get the same kind of space past the line of scrimmage again.

Lost in the Packers game was how well Gore—who has long been carrying the offensive burden for San Francisco—performed. He carried the ball 23 times for 119 yards and a touchdown.


1. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

With one postseason, Joe Flacco is changing his career narrative. He was long regarded as a good quarterback who relied on his great defense and solid running game.

Part of the reason he did so well against the Denver Broncos in the divisional round was the fact that Ray Rice ran for 131 yards.

As good as Flacco has been so far, you don't want him to try to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Brady in the AFC Championship Game and possibly Ryan or Kaepernick in the Super Bowl.

Plus, the more Rice can get going this week, the more Brady is off the field and unable to carve up the Baltimore Ravens defense.


Playoff Schedule (Both games are on Sunday, January 20)

San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons, 3:00 p.m. ET

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots, 6:30 p.m. ET