NFC West: Adrian Peterson

NFLN survey/Super Bowl player: Rams

January, 22, 2014
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ST. LOUIS -- As part of the on-going reveal of answers to the NFL Nation survey which polled 320 players on a variety of questions, we've reached the release of the answer to a poll question that I don't believe is much different than the one asking which player is most respected by his peers.

The only twist here is that the question asks which player (active, non-teammate) would you like to see in the Super Bowl? The pre-requisite was that the player named couldn't have already been to one. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson edged Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez to take top honors as a whopping 88 players received votes.

Two things struck me as I asked around the Rams locker room.

First, how much many of the players would simply like to have a winning season or just get to the playoffs let alone a Super Bowl. I'm confident in saying that these Rams would have voted for a current teammate if given the chance.

Second, I was a bit surprised not to hear Steven Jackson's name mentioned a bit more. Now, many players named a friend playing somewhere in the league and Jackson's name did come up, but I wondered if it would be more popular. When looking at the Falcons, though, it's clear most players think of Gonzalez before Jackson.
In our NFL confidential survey, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson received the most votes when players were asked which player do they most want to see play in a Super Bowl.

Peterson was a popular choice among the 10 49ers players polled. So it's not surprising he was the leading vote getter. Most of the 49ers’ roster was not eligible because they qualified for the Super Bowl last season.

If not, I’m sure players like running back Frank Gore, defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis would have received votes because they are so well respected around the league.
Bruce Irvin, Hakeem NicksAP PhotoBruce Irvin and the Seahawks are beatable on the road. Can Hakeem Nicks and the Giants win?

The 11-2 Seattle Seahawks have had their playoff spot wrapped up for a couple of weeks already and have their eyes on the top seed in the NFC. The 5-8 New York Giants were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday and openly admit that they're playing for pride from this point forward. These two teams meet Sunday at MetLife Stadium -- a place the Seahawks hope to return to in early February for the Super Bowl.

ESPN.com Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and Giants reporter Dan Graziano break down the matchup between the league's best team and one of its most disappointing teams.

Graziano: Terry, let's start with Seattle's exciting young quarterback. The Giants this year have seen Terrelle Pryor, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, who are the only quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Russell Wilson has. From your standpoint, what sets Wilson apart from those other mobile quarterbacks?

Blount: Dan, there are so many intangibles about him that defy description. Some obvious ones are his character, his attention to every detail in his preparation and his underrated skills as a passer. But more than anything else, Wilson has the unusual ability to perform at his best when things appear to be at their worst. I've never seen him rattled, and he rarely makes a careless mistake. He has led the team to nine game-winning drives in his short career, and he almost did it again Sunday at San Francisco. As for his mobility, one thing that clearly sets him apart is his ability to make accurate throws downfield while he's running in either direction.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Eli Manning got off to a really rough start this season. What happened, and where is he now compared with seasons past when he was playing at a Pro Bowl level?

Graziano: Manning's biggest problem at the start of the season was his protection. The offensive line, never great to begin with, was hit with injuries to key starters and never got the kind of blocking help it received in past years from supplemental positions like running back and tight end. Manning has already taken more sacks (33) than he has ever taken in a full season, and there are three games to go. He also had no running game whatsoever for the first half of the season until Andre Brown got healthy. And top wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has had an awful season in the final year of his contract. Manning obviously could play better, and he'd admit he has missed his share of throws. But I think he's a quarterback who really needs to be comfortable with his surroundings, and this year that hasn't been possible for him.

The Seahawks are so dominant at home, but while they've been good on the road they are clearly not as good. We know about the home crowd and the advantage it gives them, but are there on-field things they don't do as well on the road?

Blount: One noticeable difference in the past three road games is that Wilson hasn't run much because defenses are trying to keep him in the pocket. Wilson had one carry for 2 yards last week at San Francisco, and only 38 yards on seven carries in the past three road games combined. They won two of those three games, however. Still, after Wilson ran for 102 yards at Indianapolis in Week 5 (ironically, one of Seattle's two road losses) teams have focused on not allowing him to beat them with his feet. He's running well at home (he rushed for 47 yards against New Orleans two weeks ago) but not so much on the road.

If the Giants pull off the upset Sunday, they'd send a message that despite a disappointing season, they still have the ability to get it done against the best of the best. Do you get the sense that they'll have a little added fire against a team that many people believe is Super Bowl-bound?

Graziano: I do. A few of the Giants have already talked about that in the wake of the loss Sunday that eliminated them from postseason contention. There's a lot of talk around East Rutherford about "playing for pride," and that's not hollow with this group. They held together after the 0-6 start and have been professional in their play and their preparation since. This isn't a team that has or will quit on its season. It's just a team that's not very good. I don't think they have the personnel to hang with the Seahawks on Sunday, but if they lose it won't be for a lack of effort.

They do have a tendency to seek and drum up external motivation, and Seattle's excellent record will provide some of that. Tom Coughlin said Monday that they looked forward to measuring themselves against a team like this. The only dissenter so far is wide receiver Victor Cruz, who said he'd be "even more disappointed" if the Giants won this game, since it would tell him they had the capability to play with top teams all year and just didn't.

San Francisco had a strong game on the ground Sunday, and the Giants' run game has been considerably better in the second half. Is it possible to run on the Seahawks, or was that a one-game fluke by Frank Gore?

Blount: Some Seattle fans might say it was a one-play fluke, the 51-yard run by Gore on the final drive that set up the game-wining field goal. Take that off the table and the Seahawks did OK against the 49ers' rushing game. However, one stat is a little scary. Of San Francisco's 163 yards on the ground, 137 were before contact, including Gore's big run. The Seahawks have been up and down on this all season. They held Adrian Peterson to 65 yards and allowed only 30 yards rushing at Arizona, but also had back-to-back games in which they allowed 200 yards rushing. Now they have to get it done without linebacker K.J. Wright, who had 80 tackles this season. He's out with a broken foot. It's hard to predict, but the Seahawks are so focused on the pass rush that they can get burned sometimes on the ground.

The Giants have struggled to stop the run, and Marshawn Lynch is one of the best backs in the league. I'm guessing the Seahawks are going to give him the ball early and often, especially if the weather is bad. Will the Giants load the box to try to stop Lynch?

Graziano: Actually, stopping the run is one of the few things the Giants have done well. They've held down some top backs, such as Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris and Eddie Lacy. Until the Chargers got 144 yards on 40 carries against them Sunday, this had been a fairly consistent strength. So they'll be keyed on Lynch for sure.

Before the Packers game a few weeks ago, I asked Justin Tuck if Lacy reminded him of anyone. He said, "a bigger Marshawn Lynch," and then complained that they had to deal with Lynch again a few weeks later. They stacked the box against Lacy that day, but they weren't scared of Scott Tolzien's ability to beat them downfield even if they used single coverage on his receivers. Wilson is likely to make them think twice about committing as much to the run as they did that day, and they'll likely rely on the guys in their strong defensive-tackle rotation to get off of blocks better than they did in San Diego.

Seattle defense holds Peterson in check

November, 17, 2013
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SEATTLE -- Quarterback Russell Wilson threw two touchdowns passes. Running back Marshawn Lynch had three scores -- two rushing and one receiving. And Percy Harvin had an impressive debut that included a 58-yard kickoff return.

Even with all that firepower, this was a day for the Seattle defense. When a defense holds Adrian Peterson to 65 yards on 21 carries, it can do a little boasting.

Keeping Peterson is check was a big reason the Seahawks coasted to a 41-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday.

"The guys did a fantastic job on Adrian," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "We thought our biggest challenge was slowing him down. We handled him well and tackled well."

Peterson had one of his best games of the season at Seattle last year, rushing for 182 yards in the 30-20 loss to the Seahawks.

"We talked a lot about that this week," said Seattle defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. "We knew we couldn’t let [Peterson] get off to a fast start. We did a great job today of coming up and hitting him early. We were staying in our gaps and hitting him when we needed to hit him."

Peterson said after the game that his sore knee was bothering him more than anything else, but whatever the reason, he wasn’t the dominant running back people are accustomed to seeing.

And the Minnesota passing game wasn’t much better once they got behind and were forced to throw. The Seahawks had three interceptions, including a 29-yard pick-six by cornerback Walter Thurmond, who was starting for an injured Brandon Browner.

"The ball came right to me," Thurmond said. "It fell in my lap and I capitalized on the opportunity."

Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner also had an interception, and could have had two if not for dropping one right in his hands that might have been another pick-six. Even McDonald had an interception off a deflection from defensive end Chris Clemons.

"That my first interception in the NFL," McDonald said. "Actually, it was my first since high school when I had two as a linebacker. I wanted to score, but I was juggling to control the ball and I go tackled [at the Minnesota 15] before I could get there."

Minnesota’s only touchdown in the first three quarters came on a rare blown coverage by cornerback Richard Sherman that became a 38-yard score to receiver Jarius Wright. Long after the outcome was decided, Wright caught a meaningless 21-yard touchdown with 2:18 to go.

On a day when everyone will talk about Harvin’s return, the Seattle defense controlled the game by forcing turnovers, including a sack/forced fumble by defensive end Cliff Avril on quarterback Christian Ponder.

"We have a mindset that we’re playing for each other," said Seattle free safety Earl Thomas. "It elevates everybody's game. Guys are giving everything they have, so we know no one can beat us because the effort is there."
Kevin Williams and Russell WilsonAP Photo, USA Today Sports ImagesKevin Williams' Vikings will face a challenge with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks playing at home.
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SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks have amassed a 9-1 record despite playing with a patchwork offensive line and a receiving corps that lost one starter in Sidney Rice and never had its key offseason acquisition in Percy Harvin.

That's about to change. The offensive line could have all its starters on the field Sunday for the first time since Week 2, and Harvin could finally make his debut as a Seahawks receiver.

If Harvin plays, it would be against his former team, the Minnesota Vikings, adding more drama and intrigue to the moment. ESPN.com Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and Vikings reporter Ben Goessling discuss that, as well as the other storylines for Sunday's game.

Terry Blount: Ben, obviously, Seahawks fans are going crazy about the possible debut of Harvin and what he can add to the Seattle offense. But let’s look at this from the Minnesota side. The Vikings must feel like they got a pretty good deal out of this, don’t they?

Ben Goessling: I think they were pleasantly surprised to get as much for Harvin as they did. Everyone knew they were going to trade him, so for general manager Rick Spielman to get three picks, including a first-rounder, was quite the coup. He's done a good job over the years of creating a market for his players or picks, and the Harvin trade was no different. It will be a while, though, before we know if what they did with the picks worked. Xavier Rhodes, whom the Vikings took with Seattle's first-rounder, is being asked to play more zone coverage than he did in college, and he has struggled with that after coming out of Florida State as a press corner. He has the skills to be a good corner, but the learning curve is steep.

While we're on the subject of Harvin, how much of a factor do you think he'll be on Sunday? He probably wants to show up his old team, but will he get the opportunities to do so?

Blount: If he plays, I think it will be limited -- maybe 10 or 12 snaps, tops. We’re talking about a guy who hasn't played in an NFL game in more than a year. Pete Carroll has said over and over they will be very cautious with Harvin. They invested $67 million in the guy. They aren't going to risk everything in his first game back, especially in a game the Seahawks should win whether he plays or not. I know Harvin is fired up about playing against his old teammates, but the coaches want to hold him back a little. They probably want him to get his feet wet and save the real show for the New Orleans Saints on the Monday night after Seattle’s bye week.

Ben, there seem to be a lot of unknowns about the Minnesota quarterback situation, where the team is headed and with whom it’s headed there -- Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman, Matt Cassel or maybe someone who isn't there yet. What's the likely answer for the future?

Goessling: I think in the long run it's probably someone who isn't here yet. Spielman liked Freeman in the 2009 draft -- the Vikings might have drafted him if he were still on the board when their pick came -- and the Vikings are now getting a chance to work with him on a daily basis, though they don't seem to think they need to put him on the field to evaluate him. Cassel is probably a backup at this point, and though Ponder has been better lately, he just isn't consistent enough to count on long term. The Vikings will have a high pick in what looks to be a pretty good quarterback draft, and it would be a surprise if they didn't use the pick to take another crack at getting a franchise QB.

Terry, it’s been hard to get a read on the Seahawks' run defense this season. One week, they'll completely shut down an opponent's ground game. The next, they're giving up 200 yards to the Rams or the Buccaneers. Why has it been so inconsistent, and can Adrian Peterson exploit it this weekend?

Blount: That’s a great question. I think the Seahawks are better against the run than they were in those two games. But there are times when the front seven get so focused on rushing the passer that they discount the run, get out of position and end up missing tackles. The other problem in those two games was middle linebacker Bobby Wagner coming back too soon from a bad ankle sprain and not being able to play up to his usual standard. But last week against Atlanta he had nine solo tackles. The Seahawks know they are facing the best of the best Sunday, so they’ll be at their best for Peterson.

Ben, the Vikings haven’t won a road game this season. What would it take for them to win this one?

Goessling: Boy, this one seems tough for the Vikings. As we've discussed, they might be able to run the ball effectively against Seattle -- Peterson had one of his biggest games there last year -- but I don't think Ponder will have much success against that defense. I could see Marshawn Lynch giving the Vikings trouble, and if Harvin is in the lineup, there's part of me that thinks he'll have a big game.

Terry, as I said, this matchup looks like a bad one for the Vikings. But time and again we've seen the Seahawks let inferior opponents hang around and nearly beat them. Do the Vikings have any reason for hope this weekend, or do you see this as an easy Seahawks win?

Blount: I think the Vikings are catching the Seahawks at the wrong time. The offensive line probably will have all five starters back for the first time in eight weeks. If Harvin makes his debut, it will add enormous energy and excitement for the team and the fans. And the Seahawks are coming off their best game of the season, a game in which they looked like the Super Bowl contenders everyone expected to see. This is their last game before the bye, so they will go all out to make sure they get there with their 13th consecutive home victory.

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How do Lynch and Peterson compare?

November, 15, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- If watching great running backs is your thing, this is the game for you.

Two of the best will be on the field in Seattle on Sunday: Adrian Peterson of the Vikings and Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks.

"This is a fantastic game to watch running backs and compare the two," said Seattle coach Pete Carroll. "It's kind of cool, because they're both extremely dynamic. They have so many things that they can do so uniquely."

Lynch is No. 2 in the NFL this season with 871 yards rushing a 4.6-yard average per carry and seven touchdowns. Peterson is No. 4 with 786 yards, a 4.5-yard average and nine TDs.

[+] EnlargeSeattle's Marshawn Lynch
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonAdrian Peterson outrushed Marshawn Lynch, above, 182 yards to 124 last season, but Lynch's Seahawks won 30-20 over the Vikings.
"I think they are totally different runners," said Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. "I think Adrian runs to go. Marshawn runs to run through people."

Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards last season, falling just nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson's NFL record, which was set in 1984. Peterson also became the second running back since 1980 (joining Earl Campbell) to rush for 150 yards or more in seven games in a single season.

Lynch rushed for a career best 1,590 yards last season and a 5.0-yard average. He rushed for more than 100 yards in 11 games, including the 24-14 playoff victory at Washington.

Peterson won the individual battle with Lynch last season at Seattle, but the Seahawks won the game 30-20. Peterson had 182 yards on 17 carries and scored two touchdowns. He had a 74-yard run on Minnesota's second play from scrimmage, but the Seahawks defense held Peterson to only 38 yards in the second half.

Lynch also played well, rushing for 124 yards on 26 carries, including a 3-yard TD run that gave Seattle a 27-17 lead in the third quarter.

Now they meet again for two teams heading in opposite directions. The Seahawks are 9-1 and the Vikings are 2-7.

Few people know these two backs better than Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who was the OC at Minnesota from 2006 through 2010.

"They both are the ultimate competitors," Bevell said. "But they have different styles. Marshawn is going to make people miss in a phone booth, in a small area. He's going to come out of the stacks a lot.

"Adrian has that top end breakaway speed. He can still make people miss, but he's not going to do it quite like Marshawn. When Adrian comes out the back end, he can be gone."

Bevell said there's one obvious thing both players have in common.

"They want the ball," Bevell said. "They'll take it as many times as you'll give it to them. They both feel the more times they get it, the better they get a feel on how the game is going. They start seeing how the blocking schemes are coming off, where they can take the ball and how they can set things up. So the more you give it to them, the more effective that they think they can be."

Seattle free safety Earl Thomas sees differences between Lynch and Peterson.

"Marshawn is pretty smooth, but AP is kind of jerky in how he runs," Thomas said. "He can jump out and run over you. His head starts pumping when he's on a long run, so we don't want to see that Sunday."

Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen said he had a message for his teammates about Lynch: Limit his yards after contact.

"I'm trying to tell our guys, ‘Let's not let Beast Mode get all Beast Mode on us,'" Allen said. "We have to try and keep that in check a little bit, but he's a very tough-nosed dude.

"Just like Adrian, you might stop him one, two, three times. Then that fourth time, he might take it 60 yards. I think [Lynch] is well-rounded in every facet of a running back's game. Like I said, tough enough to carry the ball 30 times a game right up the gut, and fast enough to take it around the edge and kill you."

No matter which man gets the upper hand Sunday, Carroll believes it's worth the price of admission just to see them do their thing.

"It's an interesting comparison, to tell you the truth," Carroll said. "But they are different and they both have a really definitive style. Marshawn's way of running and Adrian's way, they're not at all the same. But they're extraordinary players and it'll really be fun to watch them again on the same field."

Reigning MVP Adrian Peterson is a longer shot than San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in award handicapping for the upcoming season.

Those curious to know where Kaepernick's NFC West rival, Russell Wilson, ranks in oddsmakers' eyes, can check out the chart.

Peyton Manning leads the way at 5-1 odds to win NFL MVP honors, followed by Aaron Rodgers (13-2), Kaepernick (10-1) and Drew Brees (10-1).

Wilson is tied for eighth at 18-1.

Bovada.lv, among the companies providing NFL odds to ESPN.com, distributed its MVP odds Tuesday.

Sam Bradford (75-1) was the only St. Louis Rams player listed. There were no Arizona Cardinals listed. NFC West alums Steven Jackson (66-1) and Alex Smith (75-1) were among the notables. Marshawn Lynch was at 50-1.

Kaepernick is a viable choice based on projected stats. His pace through 10 starts last season (three in the playoffs) would project to better than 3,800 yards passing and 800 yards rushing over a 16-game schedule. Becoming the first player with 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing would certainly put Kaepernick in the discussion.
There's more to Seattle Seahawks training camp than Percy Harvin's injury situation. We'll get to those other things as camp progresses. For now, on the second day of practices, Harvin remains the most compelling story.

Brock Huard, Danny O'Neil and I got together on 710ESPN Seattle to debate whether Harvin's history with the Minnesota Vikings justifies the here-we-go-again refrain expressed by those familiar with the receiver's past. Harvin did miss quite a few practices while with the Vikings. Is he playing games when he seeks a second opinion from a doctor in New York regarding a potential torn labrum in his hip?

Sidney Rice, Harvin's teammate in Minnesota and again with Seattle, addressed that subject head on during a post-practice interview Friday.

"For as long as I've been with Percy, the first two years, he is one of the hardest workers I have seen on and off the field, whether it be practice or in the game time," Rice said. "When he comes out there, he lays it all on the line. He is not a guy who sits out of practice because he has that status that he can do it. He is a guy who is going to come in and work every chance he gets to earn his just like everyone else has."

Indeed, it was league MVP Adrian Peterson who said Harvin's departure from the team was a kick to the stomach. Could there be a more credible character witness for Harvin?

"People on the outside are going to form their own opinion from the bits and pieces that they hear, but they never really know," Rice said. "He earned the contract he got because he works hard. The guys around here trust in him and believe in him. He's not coming out here taking days of and doing his own thing. I don't think he is that type of person. You get that perception from people who don't really know what is going on."
The Seattle Seahawks ranked first and the San Francisco 49ers were second in ESPN's most recent NFL Power Rankings.

The order is swapped in the most recent report on NFL jersey sales.

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has the NFL's best-selling jersey over the past three months. Seahawks counterpart Russell Wilson, a runner-up to Kaepernick for an ESPY Award the other night, ranks second.

Better yet for their teams, both quarterbacks have played well enough to warrant the interest. They ranked first (Wilson at 81.7) and second (Kaepernick at 81.2) in Total QBR from Week 11, when Kaepernick became a starter, through the postseason. And they're just getting started.

Well-established players such as Adrian Peterson, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers fill out much of the top 10. That's impressive on another level given that so many people have already purchased their jerseys in previous years. Their jerseys are still hot.

The 49ers and Seahawks also rank first and second in jersey sales overall this offseason, according to the piece Darren Rovell published on ESPN.com.

NFL Power Rankings: How they voted

April, 30, 2013
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Teams have added 254 players in the draft since ESPN's NFL Power Rankings last appeared six weeks ago. We've seen Carson Palmer join the Arizona Cardinals and Darrelle Revis join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, among other changes involving veteran players.

Our voters mostly shrugged when asked to update their ballots.

No team moved more than three spots higher (Cardinals) or three spots lower (Cleveland Browns) in the rankings when John Clayton, Dan Graziano, Jamison Hensley and Ashley Fox joined me in casting ballots.

Teams made larger moves up and down individual ballots.

Clayton and I moved up the Cardinals at least seven spots to reflect the change from Ryan Lindley and John Skelton to Palmer, plus continued improvements to the offensive line. The Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets fell several spots on some ballots.

Overall, however, there wasn't a great deal of movement. We did have our disagreements. None stood out more to me than a couple involving Graziano, our blogging brother from the NFC East. He had the Saints significantly lower and the Vikings significantly higher than our other voters ranked those teams.

Dan isn't exactly buying playoff tickets in New Orleans simply because Sean Payton is returning to the Saints' sideline.

"The Saints gave up the most yards in league history in 2012," he explained. "I just think it's a much longer way back for that defense than people give it credit for. Not sure how Payton's return turns them from one of the worst defenses in the history of the sport into a playoff-caliber one in one offseason."

Fair enough. But what about that No. 8 ranking for the Christian Ponder-led Vikings? Everyone else ranked them 17th.

"I don't understand the rush to drop a 2012 playoff team that replaced Percy Harvin with Greg Jennings and just crushed the draft," Graziano said. "Why won't they be good again?"

Harvin would be the more dynamic receiver of the two, in my view. The Vikings arguably gave up too much for the 29th pick in the draft, acquired from New England. And it's debatable, at least in my mind, whether Adrian Peterson can carry the team every week the way he did down the stretch last season.

All things to discuss as the offseason continues. First, we take a closer look at the rankings with May fast approaching:

Falling (10): Cleveland Browns (-3), Buffalo Bills (-2), Chicago Bears (-2), Dallas Cowboys (-2), Detroit Lions (-2), New Orleans Saints (-2), Carolina Panthers (-1), Indianapolis Colts (-1), New England Patriots (-1), New York Jets (-1).

Rising (11): Arizona Cardinals (+3), Kansas City Chiefs (+2), New York Giants (+2), Tampa Bay Bucs (+2), Washington Redskins (+2), Cincinnati Bengals (+1), Green Bay Packers (+1), Jacksonville Jaguars (+1), Miami Dolphins (+1), Oakland Raiders (+1), Philadelphia Eagles (+1).

Unchanged (11): Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans.

Deadlocked: We broke one tie. The Bears prevailed over the Saints at No. 13 based on previous ranking.

Like minds: One spot separated the highest and lowest votes for the Texans. Two votes separated highest and lowest votes for the Seahawks, 49ers, Packers, Patriots, Titans, Browns and Jets.

Agree to disagree: Ten spots separated highest and lowest votes for the Saints, the largest gap for any team. At least seven spots separated highest and lowest votes for five other teams. A look at the teams generating the largest high-low disparities:
  • Saints (10): Fox ranked the Saints 10th, higher than any other voter ranked them. Graziano ranked them 20th, lower than any other voter ranked them.
  • Cardinals (9): Sando and Clayton 20th, Fox 29th.
  • Vikings (9): Graziano eighth, every other voter 17th.
  • Steelers (8): Clayton 10th, Fox 18th.
  • Panthers (7): Hensley 18th, Clayton 25th.
  • Cowboys 7: Graziano 17th, Hensley 24th.
Power Rankings histories: These colorful layered graphs show where each NFL team has ranked every week since the 2002 season.

Ranking the divisions: The NFC West remained the highest-ranked division with an 11.0 average ranking for its teams, up from 12.3 last time. Teams from the NFC North were second at 14.2, followed by the NFC South (14.6), AFC North (15.3), NFC East (17.8), AFC South (18.7), AFC West (19.4) and AFC East (21.3).

A voter-by-voter look at changes of at least five spots since last season:
  • Sando: Panthers (-6), Cowboys (-6), Browns (-6), Cardinals (+8).
  • Clayton: Browns (-6), Cowboys (-6), Chiefs (+5), Cardinals (+7).
  • Graziano: Bills (-9), Panthers (-6), Jets (-6), Eagles (+6), Chiefs (+8).
  • Hensley: Vikings (+5), Ravens (+6).
  • Fox: Jets (-5).
Players play and general managers manage. Moves made Monday drove home that point.

The Baltimore Ravens traded Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers even though Joe Flacco, the Ravens' recently re-signed quarterback, had publicly lobbied to keep the receiver.

Separately, the Minnesota Vikings traded receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks against the wishes of a certain Vikings running back.

Adrian Peterson's tweets say it all.

Point-counterpoint: Darrelle Revis trade

February, 27, 2013
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Rich Cimini does a good job laying out reasons the San Francisco 49ers might consider trading for New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Revis
I'll give you five reasons to think twice.
  • Philosophy test: Smart NFL teams know drafting well beats signing veterans from other teams to inflated deals. Drafted labor is cheaper, healthier labor. After spending big in free agency to prop up a shaky roster five-plus years ago, the 49ers have taken a disciplined approach to improving the team. Revis will want a massive contract extension. If the 49ers weren't interested in signing Nnamdi Asomugha as a free agent a couple years ago, why would they suddenly part with draft compensation for the right to pay another veteran corner? It's not the 49ers' way.
  • Chemistry concerns: The 49ers have taken care of their own players. They've reached contract extensions with Joe Staley, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and other players they drafted. The approach has sent a strong message through the 49ers' locker room. Produce and the team will value you more than it values players from other teams. Spending big for a veteran from another team would go against form. Revis might be good enough to warrant an exception from the 49ers' standpoint, but that is not a given.
  • Misplaced need: The 49ers' secondary struggled late in the season, no question. Facing red-hot quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan had something to do with that. Also, the 49ers' pass rush wasn't as good when injuries struck Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. Bolstering the defensive line and improving the pass rush should be a higher priority than loading up at corner, particularly at an inflated price.
  • Revis is injured: Revis suffered a torn ACL last season. Will he recover the way Adrian Peterson recovered, returning to form quickly? Will he struggle? Might he never be quite as dominant as he was previously? The 49ers cannot know the answer to these questions. Their medical people don't know Revis the way their medical people know current 49ers players. Giving up draft compensation for the right to overpay a veteran is risky enough. It's even riskier when that veteran is coming off major surgery.
  • The salary cap: The 49ers will clear $8.5 million from the 2013 cap if the Alex Smith trade goes through as reported. They could use the cap space for their day-to-day operations. Handing a fat contract to Revis could negatively affect the books.

What say you?

A look at where Steven Jackson stands

February, 26, 2013
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No NFL player has more offensive touches or yards from scrimmage since 2004 than the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson.

That is both good and bad for the Rams' career rushing leader.

Jackson, who plans to void his contract to become a free agent March 12, has accomplished a great deal since entering the NFL as the 24th player chosen in the 2004 draft. He also has high miles as his 30th birthday approaches in July, raising questions about how much longer he can produce.

The two charts show where Jackson ranks in scrimmage yards and rushing yards over the course of his career. Note that NFC West rivals Frank Gore and Larry Fitzgerald also rank among the top five in scrimmage yards over the same period.

Separately, Jackson's rushing total (10,135) is easily best among players who also entered the NFL in 2004. Michael Turner (7,338), Willie Parker (5,378), Julius Jones (5,068) and Kevin Jones (3,176) trail him on that list.

Jackson ranks 26th on the NFL's all-time rushing list after posting his eighth consecutive season with at least 1,000 yards rushing. He needs 509 yards to overtake Ricky Watters for 20th. He needs 1,561 yards to overtake Fred Taylor for 15th. He needs 2,145 yards to overtake former teammate and Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk for 10th on the list.

Jackson would need 3,550 yards to overtake LaDainian Tomlinson for fifth.

Closer look at Wells and NFC West RBs

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
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At his best, Beanie Wells can be a big, physical runner with a wicked stiff-arm and a strong nose for the end zone.

Wells was not at his best last season.

The Arizona Cardinals running back had 88 carries for 234 yards and five touchdowns in eight games. He was on the field for 152 snaps, a career low and down from 583 in 2011, when Wells rushed for 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns.



"I think Beanie had a tough stretch this year because of the injuries," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told reporters from the NFL scouting combine. "He showed a lot of grit, a lot of toughness late in the year when he was able to. He's had some injuries, so he had a difficult time with his cut ability and his lateral movement, but Beanie is still a big horse who can finish runs and create yardage after contact, which is something that excites us."

That last comment ran counter to my perception of Wells last season.

Of the 74 backs with at least 200 yards rushing last season, Wells ranked 73rd in yards after contact per rushing attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Wells was at 1.12 yards per carry after contact. Only New Orleans scatback Darren Sproles had a lower average (1.0) among those 74 players. The average for those 74 players was 1.7. Adrian Peterson was at 2.9.

Keim was alluding more to the ability Wells has shown in the past, when he was healthier. Wells averaged 2.2 yards per carry after contact in 2011. The average was 1.9 in 2010 and 2.1 as a rookie first-round choice in 2009.

Wells is scheduled to earn $1.4 million in base salary for 2013, the final year of his contract. The comments from Keim made it sound like the team was leaning toward sticking with Wells for another season, but that could change depending upon what happens in free agency and the draft. The team has envisioned fielding a strong one-two punch in the backfield with Wells and 2011 second-round choice Ryan Williams, but injuries have intervened. Williams has missed 29 of 32 games.

"I saw Ryan in our weight room the other day, and he's doing fantastic," Keim said. "He's a guy that, watching film with Bruce [Arians], because he got injured early in the season, you forgot the type of run skills Ryan had. We watched him against Philadelphia, we watched him against New England, his lateral quickness, his natural run skills, his avoidability is something he brings to the table. Plus, he's a three-down back. We're expecting big things out of Ryan moving forward."

Colin Kaepernick & Terrell SuggsReutersOne of Terrell Suggs' responsibilities will be to help keep Colin Kaepernick in the pocket.
NEW ORLEANS -- For his next act, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will try to accomplish what Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady could not pull off in these NFL playoffs. Kaepernick will try to lead his team past the Baltimore Ravens.

No bar appears too high for Kaepernick to clear after the second-year pro helped the 49ers overcome a 17-0 deficit at Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. But as Super Bowl week cranks up, Ravens QB Joe Flacco has been cast as the "hot" quarterback. He has eight touchdown passes without an interception in three playoff games, placing him within statistical striking distance of 49ers greats Joe Montana and Steve Young.

Against that backdrop, NFC West blogger Mike Sando and AFC North counterpart Jamison Hensley pick up the Kaepernick discussion from New Orleans, site of Super Bowl XLVII.

Sando: Kaepernick's NFL career began amid some questions over whether the 49ers should have traded up to draft him in the second round out of Nevada. More recently, there was debate over whether 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was wise to bench Alex Smith in favor of Kaepernick. The debate now is ... what?

Jamison, do you have a sense yet as to how the Ravens are viewing Kaepernick? Are they seeing him as a dynamic quarterback with victories over Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan in his first nine starts? Or do you get the sense Kaepernick still must earn their respect as an inexperienced QB?

Hensley: The Ravens definitely respect Kaepernick, but they know they're dealing with a different quarterback than the other ones they've faced in the past two weeks. This goes beyond his freakish athleticism. Baltimore knew it couldn't intimidate the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. But I get the sense that the Ravens feel that they can rattle Kaepernick if they can hit him early.

You saw what Haloti Ngata did to Robert Griffin III this season. The problem, of course, is trying to run down Kaepernick. This is where the respect comes in. "Assignment" is the buzz word among the Ravens' defense. The players know they have to play disciplined defense. They can't have any breakdowns or missed tackles. That will result in a Kaepernick touchdown. The key is not allowing Kaepernick to get to the outside. The job of containing him will fall on Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger.

Mike, what do you think is the biggest mistake defenses have made against Kaepernick?

Sando: It's a pick-your-poison situation. Blow an assignment and Kaepernick can take it the distance, as Green Bay proved in the divisional round. Commit additional resources to containing Kaepernick on the edge and you're going to get a face full of RBs Frank Gore and LaMichael James, who combined for three touchdowns against the Falcons. Containing Kaepernick's rushes isn't enough.

Kaepernick averaged 11.5 yards per pass attempt from inside the pocket in the NFC Championship Game. He stayed in the pocket on 21 of 23 drop-backs. He had only two rushing attempts all game. But he still posted a 90-plus Total QBR score for the second time in two playoff games. No one else has more in the five-year history of the metric.

The key is making a quarterback uncomfortable. We might not call it "rattled" when it happens to Manning or Brady, but we're talking about something similar. The 49ers would not say they rattled Brady early in their Week 15 victory over the Patriots, but they affected him. They made him jumpy. That was one of the reasons they jumped to a 31-3 lead in the game.

Kaepernick did not appear comfortable on the road against Seattle. But he has led a touchdown drive immediately after each of his four interceptions this season. He plays with attitude and rushed for more than 4,000 yards in college, so he's used to taking some hits. I expect the 49ers to run the ball with Gore. There's no reason to invite trouble with a pass-happy plan early. We should see heavy doses of the 49ers’ ground game -– including some option looks featuring Kaepernick.

Hensley: The Ravens are no strangers to mobile quarterbacks. They played Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III this season. Vick ran for 34 yards on 10 carries and his longest run was 8 yards. RG III managed 34 yards rushing on seven attempts and didn't break a run longer than 13 yards. This is surprising to me because the Ravens don't have the same speed on defense they've had in previous seasons.

Sando: Kaepernick rushed for only 21 yards in the NFC Championship Game. However, the threat of his running made it tougher for the Falcons to defend the entire offense. Kaepernick has attempted 49 of his 52 postseason passes from the pocket. But the 49ers have also run more plays from the pistol formation in two postseason games (62) than they did all season (44). Kaepernick is also a threat on scrambles. Overall, he has three rushes of at least 50 yards this season, counting playoffs. Only Adrian Peterson has more.

Hensley: Ravens players said Kaepernick reminds them more of Vick than RG III. They don't think watching their tape of how they played against Washington will help them because the 49ers' blocking schemes are different. The Ravens want to force Kaepernick to beat them with his arm. Even though the Ravens' cornerbacks are far from household names, Cary Williams and Corey Graham have two interceptions each in the playoffs. Since 2008, when John Harbaugh became head coach, the Ravens have 22 interceptions in the playoffs. That's twice as many picks as any other team in the league over that span.

Sando: Kaepernick threw a pick-six against the Packers in the divisional round, so he’s not immune to making mistakes. Overall, however, he leads the NFL in Total QBR (82.6), yards per pass attempt (8.6) and starting quarterback won-lost percentage (77.8, tied with Matt Ryan) for the regular season and playoffs combined. We all know how hot Flacco has been for Baltimore. That 8-0 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions is impressive. But Kaepernick and Kurt Warner are the only quarterbacks over the past five seasons with two single-game QBR scores in the 90s during the playoffs. Kaepernick has done it in two starts.

Hensley: The Ravens' defense has been as hot as Flacco. Baltimore has allowed four offensive touchdowns in three playoff games and none have come on the ground. In the second half of the AFC Championship Game, the Ravens shut out Tom Brady and the Patriots, the highest-scoring team in the NFL this season.

Baltimore is doing this without getting tremendous pressure on the quarterback. The Ravens have only six sacks in the postseason. That wasn't the case 14 months ago, when the Ravens sacked Alex Smith nine times. But I think we can both agree that the 49ers are a different team and definitely a different offense now.

Sando: Kaepernick is one of the biggest differences for the 49ers. He takes sacks far less frequently than Smith took them. Kaepernick is much more dangerous as a runner. He has a stronger arm. He gives the 49ers their best chance to win.

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