Nov 5, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Suspended NFL running back Ray Rice (right) with his attorney Peter Ginsberg arrive for his appeal hearing on his indefinite suspension from the NFL. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY
When former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice won his appeal over the NFL last week, the subtitle of related stories was inevitably some variation on, “he’s eligible to play now!” While the domestic violence aspect of Rice’s case promises to help shape future sports policies and to maintain a long-lived place in our social discussions, there is little doubt that he will eventually get another opportunity to play in the NFL.
Early rumors have teams like the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos interested in Rice, but there is another set of teams who might surprise in their pursuit of the tarnished back. Here are five teams that still have playoff hopes but suffer from anemic run games and might benefit from Rice’s talent and (presumably) fresh legs.
Bruce Arians’ club has gotten by just fine so far despite one of the worst running attacks in the NFL. Through 11 games, the Cardinals‘ 862 rushing yards are better than only the 809 of the Oakland Raiders, and yet they stand at 9-2. Still, Andre Ellington has rushed for just 23, 42, and 24 yards in the last three games, and Arizona sorely needs a stronger ground threat if they hope to advance deep into the playoffs.
The Detroit Lions rank as the fifth-worst running team in the NFL, and their featured backs are injured and/or aging – Reggie Bush is 29 and has battled injuries all season long, and Joique Bell is 28. The games won’t get any easier as the Lions gear up for a run to the playoffs, and a fresh pair of legs could help them get a, well, leg up on the rest of the Wild Card contenders.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are one of seven AFC teams with seven wins, yet they’re one of only six NFL teams with less that 1000 yards rushing on the year. Upgrading the run offense would be an obvious differentiator as San Diego seeks to make the playoffs, and rookie Branden Oliver looks like he’s hit he wall. He had a couple of 100-yard efforts earlier in the year but hasn’t topped 50 since October 19.
The NFC South is pretty sad this season, but some team is going to make the playoffs, and the Falcons have a shot. Relying on the 31-year-old legs of Steven Jackson to get there, though, is dicey at best, especially considering that he’s managed only 501 yards through 11 games. Rice is younger and fresher, so he might be attractive to Atlanta.
The Panthers are tied with the Falcons for second place in the NFC South and have picked up just 36 more ground yards than their counterparts in Georgia – 1060 v. 1024. The Panthers are younger, too, as lead back Jonathan Stewart is only 27, but he also has just 323 yards rushing across eight games.
If one of the Panthers or Falcons were to pick up Ray Rice, they would become the immediate favorites in the woeful NFC South.
Ray Rice is a polarizing figure in sports and in American culture, but his talent is such that some team will take a chance on him, this season or next. These are five clubs who might take the plunge in December.