What Five Running Backs Will Have the Biggest Impact in the Playoffs?

What Five Running Backs Will Have the Biggest Impact in the Playoffs?
© USA Today

The NFL season is now complete and the playoff Wild Card matchups are set. Now’s the time to dive into respective rosters and determine which team has the biggest advantage in those matchups as you get ready for your NFL betting.

The running back position becomes much more important during the playoffs, especially for those cold-weather outdoor games. A good running back can sustain drives and score points, which is even more of a priority during the playoffs when every possession is crucial. Who remembers when Marshawn Lynch busted off that huge 67-yard run in 2011 against the New Orleans Saints in an NFC Wild Card game, breaking nine tackles, some calling it the greatest run in NFL playoff history?

Those plays give a team a much-needed boost in playoff games, wear down opponents, control the clock, and establish a physical presence. 

Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills

As we’ve said before, quarterback Josh Allen, while leading one of the NFL’s ninth-best passing attack (3,892 total yards, 243 yards per game), also serves as the Bills' fullback, and that has its advantages and disadvantages. Who among you wants to see their $258 million QB leapfrogging over defenders, risking fumbles, or worse, injuries? 

Bills fans have had enough debate this season over the actual health of the elbow on Allen’s throwing arm, which he banged on a defender’s helmet in a Week 9 loss to the New York Jets. A lot of those throws were missing his trademark zip.

The Bills also had the league’s ninth-best rushing attack, with 2,142 total yards, and Allen had 746 of those (33rd in the NFL). 

That’s where Singletary comes in – 7819 yards this season, 26th in the league, 4.6 yards per carry and five touchdowns. With Allen’s arm health uncertain, and those weather conditions in Buffalo especially challenging this time of year, it’s time for the 5-foot-7, 203-pound man they call “Motor” to gear up. And the Miami Dolphins, who the Bills play Sunday, are pretty stingy against the run – fourth in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (103 yards). 

DraftKings has the Bills' favourites at -9.

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Hands up if you thought the Giants were a playoff team at the start of the season. Well, they are, capturing the No. 6 seed following their win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17. That puts coach Brian Daboll in line for coach-of-the-year.

A considerable part of their success was an entirely healthy season by Barkley, who finished with 1,312 rushing yards, fourth in the NFL. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry and had 10 touchdowns. 

The Giants are up against the Minnesota Vikings – 20th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, averaging 123.1 per game. This game has upset written all over it, with the opening point spread at Vikings -3.

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

A lot of the focus, maybe too much, is on Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, who is most definitely under the gun to show something this playoff season. He was terrible yesterday against Washington. There’s going to be big pressure on the 6-foot, 220-pound Elliott as well – one of the NFL’s best backs, a combination of size, speed, power and elusiveness, a workhorse back who finished the season with 876 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns – including TDs in nine straight games. Teamed up with Tony Pollard, the Cowboys had the ninth-best rushing attack in the NFL this season.

Dallas is up against Tampa Bay, a team that didn’t exactly set the world on fire with their run defence – 15th in rushing yards allowed per game (120.7) and total rushing yards allowed (2,052). The game’s in Florida. The opening spread is Dallas -3.

Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers

What a trade that was by the 49ers, to bring in McCaffrey from Carolina six games into the season. 

All he did in his 11 games with the 49ers was rush for 746 yards and a 4.7 average, with six TDs, salting his reputation as one of the top offensive forces in football (he also caught 52 passes over those eleven games, for 464 yards and four TDs). 

McCaffrey might have a field day against the Seattle Seahawks – third last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (2,554) for a 150.2 yards per game average. Only Chicago and Houston were worse.

The 49ers are already -9.5 favourites here.

Travis Etienne, Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags are one of the feel-good stories of the season, winning the AFC South and making the playoffs for the first time since 2017. 

Etienne Jr., at 5-10, 215 pounds, was a huge part of that, rushing for 1,125 yards, a 5.1-yard average and five touchdowns. Not bad after coming off a Lisfranc injury which cost him his entire rookie season (2021). 

Etienne started the season as a backfield tandem with James Robinson but progressively got a bigger workload. Then, Robinson was traded to the New York Giants. 

Jacksonville takes on the L.A. Chargers at home, so cold weather won’t be a factor. A late-season knee injury to left tackle Cam Robinson, done for the season, is a big factor, however. Robinson was a legitimate leader on what some thought was the best offensive line in the NFL.

Chargers are -2.5 favourites.