Week 13 will mark the first chance this season for a playoff berth to be clinched (both Philadelphia and Minnesota can do it). But the NFL playoff picture is still very much in flux, with no team technically eliminated as we reach December.
A handful of teams are comfortably positioned to make the postseason, but there are a lot more still scratching and clawing to earn a playoff spot come January.
This is the RB Index, of course. So when it comes to the postseason chase, I'm zeroing in on running backs who can help save their teams' seasons.
Here are five running backs I expect to step up down the stretch run:
Barkley hasn't been the impact player in the last month that we saw early in the season, and his slowdown has impacted the Giants. New York has lost three of its last four contests, with Barkley averaging 20.3 carries and 66.5 rushing yards per game in that span. That's a big difference from Weeks 1 through 7, when he averaged the same amount of carries (20.4) but was far more efficient (103.7 rushing yards per contest). Sitting third in the NFC East, New York is hanging on with all its might to the sixth seed in the NFC, with Washington (7-5), Seattle (6-5) and Atlanta (5-7) waiting to take advantage if Big Blue continues to struggle.
The Giants must do everything they can to get Barkley going, with four of their last six games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Commanders. Their two other games are no cakewalk, either, including a trip to Minnesota in Week 16, followed by the Colts coming to MetLife Stadium the following week. This is a tough schedule, one that could leave the Giants on the outside looking in if Barkley can't produce.
It's not all on him. Hopefully, rookie tackle Evan Neal, whose absence since suffering an MCL sprain in Week 7 has coincided with Barkley's downturn, returns soon. In the meantime, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka needs to find creative ways to use his star running back, employing screens and bootlegs or lining him up in the slot. Barkley is exceptional with the ball in space; he just needs to get there.
It's not outrageous to think the Panthers (4-8) could win the NFC South, given that they're only 1.5 games behind the division-leading Bucs (5-6). The Panthers head into a Week 13 bye after a victory over Denver in which Foreman had 24 carries for 113 yards and Sam Darnold threw just 19 times. This is how Steve Wilks' team can get it done against its remaining opponents (at Seattle, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Detroit, at Tampa, at New Orleans). The Panthers put themselves in winnable situations when Foreman gets going. The offense extends drives, giving a defense that hasn't allowed more than 15 points per game over the last three weeks plenty of rest. In that span, Foreman has averaged 22 rushing attempts, second-most in the NFL among qualified players. If Foreman can chug out something like 25 carries -- not touches -- per game, the Panthers may surprise teams with their physicality and ability to close out contests down the stretch.
The 5-7 Falcons continue to hang around in the NFC South despite quarterback Marcus Mariota's less-than-stellar play. Atlanta currently sits in second place behind the Bucs (5-6) and can certainly take control of this lackluster division. The key to going on a run is Patterson. He's one of the most dynamic players with the ball in his hands, a versatile weapon who can run between the tackles or serve as a mismatch in the pass game against linebackers and safeties. Since returning from a knee injury in Week 9, though, Patterson has averaged fewer than 10 carries and two catches per game. He's the type of player that can get the Falcons back to the top of the NFC South.
The Falcons have multiple players they can lean on in the run, with Patterson, Mariota, Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley all ranking in the top 25 in the league in yards per carry (min. 60 carries). But Patterson has the best mark (5.2 yards per carry) among that group, and I'd like to see Arthur Smith use his Swiss Army knife more often.
Stevenson has developed into a do-it-all player for the Patriots' offense. He led the team in both targets and receptions in last week's loss to the Vikings, and no one on the roster has logged more carries (151) or catches (50) than Stevenson this season. But while I appreciate his development into a reliable pass-catching option, he's most important to the Patriots right now as a catalyst for the run game. Getting Stevenson, who's averaging 4.5 yards per attempt, involved early and often to open up the play-action game with Mac Jones is how the Patriots (6-5) could punch their ticket to the postseason. Need proof? New England is 5-0 when Stevenson has at least 15 carries in a game this season and 1-5 when he has 14 or fewer. He has had to split carries with Damien Harris this season, but with Harris expected to miss Thursday night's game vs. Buffalo, Stevenson's workload should increase.
Pete Carroll's teams traditionally do a good job sticking to the run, but they've done just the opposite over their last two games (both losses). The Seahawks' offense has thrived when it leans on Walker, a physical, downhill runner who's put together one hell of a case for Offensive Rookie of the Year so far. But the unit has struggled when the run game has stalled.
- Walker in Weeks 6-9 (4-0 record): 22 carries and 106 rush yards per game (4.8 yards/carry)
- Walker in Weeks 11-12 (0-2 record): 12 carries and 21.5 rush yards per game (1.8 yards/carry)
The Seahawks have watched their NFC West lead slip away and now sit on the outside looking in. I expect offensive coordinator Shane Waldron's unit to get back to pounding the rock against the struggling Rams (Waldron's former team), who could be without star defensive tackle Aaron Donald. It's the perfect get-right opportunity for Seattle.
Top 15 running backs
Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2022 season. His rankings are based on this season's efforts alone. Here is MJD's list heading into Week 13.
2022 stats: 11 games | 200 att | 1,039 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 12 rush TD | 17 rec | 152 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Chubb reclaims the No. 1 spot in my rankings after his game-winning, 3-yard TD run in overtime against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. He was back to being the focal point of Kevin Stefanski's offense, logging a season-high 26 carries for 116 yards, including that OT score. The effort lifted Chubb over 1,000 rush yards for the fourth straight season, making him the first Browns player since Jim Brown to accomplish that feat. Most importantly, the Browns have won every game this season when Chubb has at least 20 carries; they'd be wise to remember that even now, with Deshaun Watson under center.
2022 stats: 11 games | 247 att | 1,048 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 10 rush TD | 21 rec | 278 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Henry was held in check by the Bengals in Sunday's loss. His 17 carries for 38 yards was his lowest output since Week 2, but he led the Titans in receiving yards (79) on three receptions. Most of Henry's receiving output came on a 69-yard screen play, in which he fumbled at the goal line but teammate Treylon Burks recovered to record the score. Luckily, the mishap didn't hurt the Titans, just Henry's fantasy owners.
2022 stats: 11 games | 216 att | 1,159 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 9 rush TD | 40 rec | 325 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
In a blink of an eye, Jacobs sealed the Raiders' overtime victory on a blazing 86-yard touchdown run where he reached 20.43 mph on the play (his fastest speed as a ball-carrier in his career), per Next Gen Stats. This game was all about Jacobs, as he had several big gains and became the 10th player since at least 1940 to have 300 or more scrimmage yards in a game. He won't practice much, if at all, this week due to a calf strain; hopefully he's able to play Sunday, because the Raiders need him against the division-rival Chargers.
2022 stats: 11 games | 128 att | 554 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 7 rush TD | 80 rec | 497 rec yds | 5 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Ekeler had a quiet game on the ground in Los Angeles' road win, rushing for only 20 yards on five carries. Through the air? That was a different story. He led the Chargers with 11 catches and turned those opportunities into 60 yards, including a 1-yard TD with 15 seconds remaining in the contest. Ekeler's 80 receptions in 2022 are the most by a running back through a team's first 11 games of a season in NFL history; he's on pace (123) to surpass Christian McCaffrey's 116 in 2019.
2022 stats: 11 games | 136 att | 761 rush yds | 5.6 ypc | 6 rush TD | 23 rec | 244 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Pollard cooled off on Thanksgiving against the Giants, totaling 60 yards on 18 rushes. He still looked powerful and quick when he did have space to work. We will see Pollard on a national stage again for Sunday Night Football in Week 13 against a Colts team that just allowed 172 yards on the ground to the Steelers.
2022 stats: 11 games | 224 att | 992 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 7 rush TD | 35 rec | 223 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
While he did punch in a 1-yard score, Barkley will want to flush Week 12 from his memory bank. He totaled 52 yards and dropped a Daniel Jones pass on fourth-and-1 late in the third quarter. The pass wasn't perfect, but the mistake felt like the nail in the coffin for the Giants.
2022 stats: 11 games | 143 att | 634 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 4 rush TD | 58 rec | 479 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
In a defensive game between the Saints and 49ers, McCaffrey totaled just 49 yards on 15 touches. The 49ers, who've won four in a row, are banged up at running back, with McCaffrey dealing with "knee irritation" and Elijah Mitchell slated to miss some time with an MCL issue. McCaffrey will look to get back on track -- and he must -- against the dynamic Dolphins in Week 13.
2022 stats: 11 games | 178 att | 841 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 6 rush TD | 26 rec | 160 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Cook saw the normal amount of volume on Thanksgiving but didn't produce like he usually does. He compiled 42 rush yards on 22 carries and added 14 yards on four catches in a win over the Patriots. Cook has only topped 100 rushing yards in two games this season -- and he'll face an uphill battle to reach that threshold for a third time in Week 13, when he faces a Jets defense that ranks 12th against the run.
2022 stats: 11 games | 151 att | 680 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 4 rush TD | 50 rec | 359 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Stevenson had a solid performance in the Patriots' Thanksgiving night loss to Minnesota, amassing 112 yards on 16 touches. He led the Patriots in targets (10) and receptions (nine), with his biggest gain coming on a 40-yard catch-and-run off a screen pass late in the fourth quarter.
2022 stats: 12 games | 155 att | 821 rush yds | 5.3 ypc | 2 rush TD | 43 rec | 304 rec yds | 4 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Jones caught three passes for 56 yards and a score and added 43 rush yards on 12 carries in a prime-time loss to the Eagles. His 23-yard touchdown reception was the kind of play we've grown accustomed to seeing Jones make. With Aaron Rodgers banged up heading into Week 13, look for the Packers to rely on their run game more than ever.
2022 stats: 10 games | 135 att | 613 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 9 rush TD | 19 rec | 116 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Walker logged just 39 scrimmage yards in an overtime loss. Still, he scored twice, on 12-yard and 14-yard runs. I'm looking forward to seeing him live this weekend when the Rams host Seattle at SoFi Stadium.
2022 stats: 11 games | 177 att | 900 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 8 rush TD | 15 rec | 60 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
The Eagles put on a rushing clinic against the Packers, racking up 363 yards on the ground, the most in a game by any team this season. Sanders looked sharp all night long and ripped off multiple big gains on his way to a career-high 143 rush yards and two scores on 21 carries.
2022 stats: 11 games | 177 att | 734 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 13 rush TD | 9 rec | 57 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Williams continued to show off his nose for the end zone, tallying his league-leading 13th rush touchdown to open the scoring on Thanksgiving Day. Williams has scored as many TDs on the ground this season as he had in his career coming into 2022.
2022 stats: 11 games | 180 att | 788 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 3 rush TD | 27 rec | 143 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Pierce had a measly 8 rush yards on five carries against the Dolphins, bringing his two-week rush yards total to 16. The Texans' inability to stay competitive early, along with their putrid offensive line play, has really limited Pierce of late.
2022 stats: 11 games | 133 att | 728 rush yds | 5.5 ypc | 4 rush TD | 22 rec | 202 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
The Jaguars lost Etienne to a foot injury in the first quarter of their comeback win over the Ravens. Coach Doug Pederson said Monday he kept the second-year back sidelined during the game for cautionary reasons, even though he was cleared to return. Pederson said Etienne has a shot to play against the Lions on Sunday.