If I were to ask you to give me an impartial (i.e. not overvaluing a player on your favorite team or someone on your keeper fantasy roster) Top 5 list of the best all-around backs in the NFL off the top of your head, who would it include? Certainly Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Houston’s Arian Foster have to be locks on every list. Probably also Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson. Some might have an argument for the likes of San Francisco’s Frank Gore, Chicago’s Matt Forte, Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy and Dallas’ DeMarco Murray. Rookies like Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin and Washington’s Alfred Morris have to prove it over a few more years.
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Notice a prominent name missing from that group? That would be Baltimore’s Ray Rice, who is easy to overlook at 5-foot-8. Maybe it’s because the Ravens always have been known as a defensive team, and because their biggest names are on that side of the ball. Joe Flacco also often makes news by claiming he’s among the NFL’s best quarterbacks. But Rice is “Mr. Steady,” and it might surprise you to know that since the 2009 season, the former Rutgers star has a league best 7,506 yards from scrimmage, including 5,066 rushing. His 39 games with at least 100 yards rushing also is the NFL’s best total in that span. The guy has played in every game since 2009 and also has had at least 61 catches a year.
Yet look at the Super Bowl XLVII MVP odds, and Rice is +800 on BookMaker, behind Ray Lewis even though defensive players never win the award any longer. In fact, as of this writing, that book is taking more action on Lewis (almost 10 percent) than any other player. Rice is taking 7.8 percent, which is tied for the fourth-most. I’ve already said I am rolling the dice on 49ers tight end Vernon Davis there (he’s +1800 on BookMaker and also taking 7.8 percent).
This season Rice rushed 257 times for 1,143 yards and nine scores and also caught 61 passes for 478 yards and a score. His touches were somewhat down both because the team has a solid rookie back in Bernard Pierce and also because former Ravens OC Cam Cameron threw it more than usual. But since Cameron was dumped in favor of Jim Caldwell, Baltimore has moved from running the ball 40 percent of the time to 49 percent. The Ravens are running it 61 percent of the time on first down.
In the playoffs, Rice has been hit-and-miss. In the wild-card round against Indianapolis, he only carried 15 times and had one catch because he was benched in favor of Pierce after losing two fumbles. Rice had just one fumble all regular season, and the Ravens recovered it. Rice was huge in the divisional round against Denver, rushing 30 times for 131 yards and a score. And against New England, he had 19 carries for 48 yards and a TD as well as three catches.
Here are Bovada’s totals on Rice for Super Bowl XLVII: 17.5 carries (both -115), 69.5 rushing yards (both -115), 3.5 receptions (“over” -120 favorite) and 30.5 receiving yards (over -125 favorite). That Rice will score a TD at any point is -105, with “no” at -125. He is the 3/1 favorite to score Baltimore’s first touchdown and 15/4 co-favorite for the first Baltimore catch. Rice is the second-favorite at 7/1 to have the Super Bowl’s first score.
When Baltimore hosted San Francisco last season, Rice carried 21 times for 59 yards and had three catches for 24 yards. He was kept out of the end zone. The 2012 Niners had one of the best defenses against the run, ranking No. 4 in total yards allowed and No. 3 in yards per carry at 3.7. San Francisco was also No. 4 in allowing seven rushing touchdowns. It has been OK in these playoffs. The Packers, one of the NFL’s worst rushing teams, had 104 yards on 16 carries and one rushing score. Atlanta had 149 yards but no scores on 29 carries.
I don’t think the Ravens will win without a big game from Rice because we all know how inaccurate Flacco can be. Denver had a rush defense ranked slightly ahead of the Niners, and you saw how much Rice was used there. I project 23 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown, indeed Baltimore’s first. I also like Rice to get four catches for around 45 yards. Obviously, the one worry about taking so many overs is if Rice gets injured. But it would have to be pretty serious for him to sit in the Super Bowl.
There’s also a cross-sport prop on Rice’s receiving yards against the total points and rebounds by the Clippers’ Blake Griffin in Sunday’s game against Boston. Griffin averages about a combined 27 points (18.4) and rebounds (8.5). His highest combined number of the year was 31 points and 11 boards in a loss to Oklahoma City on Jan. 22. Go Rice there. And I certainly love Rice at +30.5 rushing yards (-115) against the 102 yards that Jamal Lewis put up for the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV. One of the few Rice props I don’t like is him at +17.5 receiving yards against the Niners’ Davis because I think Davis gets to triple-digits.
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