Schefter's Blitz: Running still matters
It's a passing league. It's quarterback-driven. It's an aerial assault. It's all those things, true.
But as the 2013 season kicks off with its first full slate of Sunday games, let's not forget that running the football is no less important than it ever has been.
For all the talk about this being a passing league filled with great young quarterbacks, the best teams still want to run the ball.
San Francisco and Seattle, two of the NFC favorites to reach MetLife Stadium and Super Bowl XLVIII, ranked fourth and third in rushing last season.
Washington and Minnesota, two teams that advanced to the playoffs last season, ranked first and second in rushing.
New England and Houston, two of the AFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl, ranked seventh and eighth in rushing last season.
And five playoff-caliber teams -- Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Denver, Green Bay and Seattle -- each used second-round picks in the 2013 draft on running backs. The Bengals selected Giovani Bernard, the Steelers Le'Veon Bell, the Broncos Montee Ball, the Packers Eddie Lacy and the Seahawks Christine Michael. Each back could play a critical role in his team's advancing to, and through, the postseason.
More and more teams are sharing carries and splitting up running duties.
Teams typically are not drafting running backs in Round 1; they now are waiting until Rounds 2 and 3. Free-agent running backs, by and large, are not getting paid the way they once were. Running backs still on the street, unemployed, include Willis McGahee, Michael Turner, Cedric Benson, Beanie Wells and Jonathan Dwyer. More than ever, running backs might be devalued. But rushing attacks are not. They still are running strong.
• Super curse: Bad news for the Giants and Jets this season, Arizona next season, San Francisco in the 2015 season and Houston in the 2016 season. Those teams' seasons might be sunk before they even kick off. Since 2000, no team hosting a Super Bowl has qualified for the postseason. More often, the seasons are calamitous -- see the Saints last year. So while the Giants and Jets and their fans are wondering whether one of those teams could become the first team to play in a Super Bowl at its home stadium, it would be an accomplishment for either of those teams simply to make it to the postseason.
• Narrowing it down: It might be a good idea for prognosticators to pick Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans or Tampa Bay to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The reasoning is simple: In each of the past seven seasons, an NFC team from the division that played its nondivisional games against the AFC East during the regular season has advanced to the Super Bowl. Truth. Facing the AFC East in the 2012 regular season, San Francisco advanced to the Super Bowl. The Giants did it the year before, the Packers in 2010 regular season, the Saints in 2009, the Cardinals in 2008, the Giants in 2007 and the Bears in 2006. If history holds up, the AFC East will help position the lucky winner of the NFC South to make a Super Bowl run.
The Schef's specialties
• Game of the week: Atlanta at New Orleans -- Saints coach Sean Payton is champing to unveil all his mad-scientist offensive ideas in his first game on the sideline since 2011.
• Upset of the week: Carolina over Seattle -- The Panthers closed out last season with four straight wins and have a chance to carry it over to Sunday.
• Survivor pick of the week: Colts over Raiders -- How can one of Oakland's QBs trump Andrew Luck?
• Player of the week: Cowboys QB Tony Romo -- NFC East is lacking DBs to slow down Dallas.