(Rankings will be updated throughout the week)
RB Player Rankings – Playoffs Week 2
New Orleans @ San Francisco – Saturday, Jan. 14th – 4:30pm ET (FOX)
Denver @ New England – Saturday, Jan. 14th – 8:00pm ET (CBS)
Houston @ Baltimore – Sunday, Jan. 15th – 1:00pm ET (CBS)
New York Giants @ Green Bay – Sunday, Jan. 15th – 4:30pm ET (FOX)
Running Backs (Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 11 - 03:51PM CT)
1. Arian Foster (@ Bal – Sunday, 1:00pm ET) – Foster should be used to the utmost this Sunday—both in the running game and as a consistent receiver out of the backfield—with the Ravens being as good as they are in shutting down opposing quarterbacks. Not that they don’t sport a tremendous rush defense as well, but with Houston still trotting out rookie QB T.J. Yates, my guess is the Texans brain-trust will turn to a run-dominated game-plan for this weekend. Baltimore will undoubtedly be ready for it, but because Arian ran so dominantly against a Bengals team that was likely expecting it as well last weekend, it’s hard for me to go against him.
2. Ray Rice (vs. Hou – Sunday, 1:00pm ET) – The top two running back spots are pretty interchangeable this weekend as either guy could go off and change the game on any given play. Houston, however, has as good of a rush defense as anyone in the league as evidenced by their complete domination of Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott last weekend (13 combined carries for 25 yards). Houston’s pass defense is ALSO one of the NFL’s best, so look for Baltimore to use their running game quite a bit this Sunday and bet on Rice touching the ball around 25 times. With that sort of play, he should be able to rack up some nice fantasy stats.
3. Frank Gore (vs. NO – Saturday, 4:30pm ET) – If the 49ers want to win this game, Frank Gore is going to have to have the game of his life and I expect coach Jim Harbaugh will give him every chance in the world to do it. With the Saints high-flying offense in full swing right now, look for the ‘Niners to try and slow things down by streaming a steady dose of Gore right down New Orleans’ throats from the first series on. If San Fran’s defense can keep this game close, Gore should be able to come up with some real nice fantasy numbers by the time the final whistle blows.
4. Willis McGahee (@ NE – Saturday, 8:00pm ET) – Back in Week 15 when these two teams first met, Willis McGahee and Lance Ball combined for 134 rushing yards and one TD on just 18 carries. McGahee was forced from the game for a while after hurting his hamstring in the first quarter and ended up with just seven carries on the day, but he was well on his way to an outstanding performance rushing for 70 yards in his limited playing time. Even though QB Tim Tebow looked phenomenal in his first playoff game last weekend, the Broncos know they can’t solely depend on his arm to beat the Patriots. Because of this, Willis should see a good 20-25 touches out of the backfield, enough to get him 100-plus total yards and possibly a touchdown.
5. Darren Sproles (@ SF – Saturday, 4:30pm ET) – It continues to amaze me that the NFL’s best 250-pound athletes usually have no problem bringing down the Adrian Petersons of the football world, but still can’t seem to get their arms around a 5’6”, 190-pound jitterbug named Darren Sproles. Since the Saints will likely be passing the ball more than they normally do against this suffocating 49ers rush defense, look for Sproles to be used much like he was last week against the Lions—which means plenty of targets out of the backfield with a handful of sneaky runs thrown in. I don’t see him putting up two touchdowns again, but 85 total yards and a score could be in the mix.
6. Ahmad Bradshaw (@ GB – Sunday, 4:30pm ET) – Despite the fact that Bradshaw was outplayed by Brandon Jacobs in last week’s win over the Falcons, he should still see the bulk of the work against the Packers this Sunday. Because the Giants got out to a lead versus Atlanta, they were able to use Jacobs as both a punisher and a clock-killer. That won’t happen this time around. If the Packers get out to a lead, which is more likely than not, New York will have to pass the ball to get back in the game—a situation which means a whole lot more of Bradshaw and not so much of Jacobs.
7. Stevan Ridley (vs. Den – Saturday, 8:00pm ET) – Denver has a stronger rush defense than most give them credit for as they allowed the fourth-least amount of rushing TDs to opposing running backs this season. They do, however, surrender quite a bit of yardage on the ground. This is exactly why I have Ridley ranked above both Green-Ellis and Woodhead this week—because Ridley gets New England the yards. Even though the rookie is pretty much surrounded by aging veterans (the Patriots were the eighth-oldest team coming into the season), Stevan saw the most action out of the backfield in each of the Pats last three games averaging 70 yards a game on 5.4 yards per carry.
8. Brandon Jacobs (@ GB – Sunday, 4:30pm ET) – Jacobs looked like a beast out there in the game against the Falcons last weekend and I expect him to carry his angry play over into the divisional playoff game this Sunday. In their first matchup with the Packers back in Week 13, Brandon ran for 59 yards and a touchdown on only eight carries, numbers I could see repeating themselves this time around as well. Don’t expect much more, however, with Jacobs rarely seeing the field on passing downs and this game looking more like a shootout than anything else.
9. BenJarvus Green–Ellis (vs. Den – Saturday, 8:00pm ET) – The Law Firm’s numbers have been trending downward for quite some time now and though he’s still the goal-line back in the Pats offense, he likely won’t see more than 10 or so touches this Saturday. In their first matchup about a month ago, BJGE ran for only 17 yards on 10 carries against the Broncos front seven, though he did make up for the poor stat-line with a one-yard TD plunge late in the fourth quarter.
10. James Starks (vs. NYG – Sunday, 4:30pm ET) – The Packers have done well to give James Starks’ ankle injury time to heal as of late, and it seems the rest has done wonders for the young running back. He’s finally returned to practicing fully with the team this week and should be a full go for Green Bay on Sunday. With that being the case, I expect the coaching staff to use the superiorly-talented Starks over Ryan Grant for most of the game, especially in passing situations (which is pretty much every play with Aaron Rodgers under center).
11. Pierre Thomas (@ SF – Saturday, 4:30pm ET)
12. Danny Woodhead (vs. Den – Saturday, 8:00pm ET)
13. Ben Tate (@ Bal – Sunday, 1:00pm ET)
14. Chris Ivory (@ SF – Saturday, 4:30pm ET)
15. Ryan Grant (vs. NYG – Sunday, 4:30pm ET)
16. Kendall Hunter (vs. NO – Saturday, 4:30pm ET)
17. John Kuhn (vs. NYG – Sunday, 4:30pm ET)
18. Lance Ball (@ NE – Saturday, 8:00pm ET)
19. Ricky Williams (vs. Hou – Sunday, 1:00pm ET)
20. D.J. Ware (@ GB – Sunday, 4:30pm ET)
21. Brandon Saine (vs. NYG – Sunday, 4:30pm ET)
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