NFL Nation: Barry Sanders

Barry SandersBetsy Peabody Rowe/Getty Images
We have a winner. The voters picked Barry Sanders' touchdown run in the playoffs against Dallas as the Lions' most memorable play and I question their selection. Dan Orlovsky's safety in 2008 is the play I consider the most memorable.

Score: Vikings 12, Lions 10
Date: Oct. 12, 2008. Site: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis

Here's why I believe Orlovsky's safety in the end zone should be the most memorable play in the team's history and it has little to do with Orlovsky, who is a better quarterback than people give him credit.

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Yet a reader may have put it best. The Orlovsky safety, an unfortunate happenstance for a quarterback making his first career start, was the roughest, most memorable play of the most memorable season in Lions history. No matter if the Lions make a Super Bowl, win a Super Bowl or end up winning multiple Super Bowls at some point, the franchise will be remembered as the first -- and for now, only -- team to go 0-16.

Considering the franchise's woebegone history, it is representative of so much of what has happened to the franchise in the Super Bowl era. One playoff win. No Super Bowl appearances. Losing season after losing season, no matter who was the coach and what players they had -- other than a brief respite with Barry Sanders.

The Orlovsky play stands out as a reminder of all that.

The embarrassing play is emblematic of the Lions, who put a good player in a tough situation. But it is, without question, a play that will be remembered and replayed over and over again for a long time. That is what the definition of a memorable play is -- and none are at the level of the Orlovsky safety with the Lions.
It has been almost 15 seasons now since his abrupt retirement from the NFL, when Barry Sanders indicated he had enough of what had been going on with the Detroit Lions and chose not to play anymore.

Though there is a complete generation of fans who have seen him play only on grainy highlights from the old, decaying Silverdome, he still remains popular. He beat out Adrian Peterson last year to be on the cover of Madden and has become part of this season’s Madden cover vote.

[+] EnlargeBarry Sanders
Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesBarry Sanders scored 99 rushing touchdowns and is third on the all-time rushing list.
Considering how well he is still regarded and how familiar his name is to NFL fans young and old, the obvious question is how would the running back do today in an NFL now predicated on shotgun and passing instead of the running focus from when he played.

“I don’t know. I think I could adjust,” Sanders told ESPN.com this week. “I think I would just have to do more things in the passing game and out of the backfield, which I think that can make you more dangerous and you see that with a guy like [LeSean] McCoy and a guy like Jamaal Charles. In some cases that can make certain guys more dangerous.

“The two elements really kind of feed off each other and really go hand-in-hand. If you’re a dangerous running back and you can catch the ball out of the backfield, I think that makes your running game more dangerous and your passing game more potent as well. If you’re one-dimensional, I think it’s easier to contain you.”

In that list of do-it-all backs, Sanders also mentioned Detroit running back Reggie Bush as a player who has taken advantage of the new style of offense and running backs.

Sanders, for his time, was about as multipurpose as it came. Besides his 15,269 yards rushing over 10 seasons, he also caught 352 passes for 2,921 yards. Though he never caught more than 48 passes in a season -- 1995 -- he never had fewer than 24 receptions, either.

If one can imagine his explosiveness and ability in an offense like New Orleans or Philadelphia or what is expected with the Lions this season, he probably would put up similar numbers to what he did in his 10-year career.

So unlike some players from other eras, Sanders would have almost definitely been able to adjust and have his skills fit in with the NFL of today just as well -- if not better -- than they did in the 1990s.

CLEVELAND — Harry Carson was in awe.

There, sitting across from the former New York Giants inside linebacker in a private room designated for NFL Hall of Fame VIPs was his idol: Claude Humphrey.

“Claude Humphrey was one of my heroes. He was one of my role models as a defensive player,” a still partially starstruck Carson said. “I’m sitting there and I tried to tell him how much I tried to pattern my game after him.”

[+] EnlargeMarv Levy
AP Photo/Mark DuncanFormer coach Marv Levy was among those signing autographs at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest on Saturday.
The football fan inside couldn’t believe it.

Other football fans were in amazement Saturday as they, too, met some of their gridiron heroes at the first of its kind Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest at the International Exposition Center. The two-day event, featuring players such as Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Franco Harris, has been billed as the largest gathering of Hall of Famers outside of the annual enshrinement celebration each August in nearby Canton, Ohio. More than 100 Hall of Fame players were expected to attend.

Several of the former players who were present Saturday spoke with reporters about a variety of issues including Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban from the NBA, Johnny Manziel’s rock star status, the NFL’s emphasis on concussion safety, and Michael Sam’s anticipated debut as the league’s first openly gay player.

When it came to Sterling, Carson applauded the lifetime ban the league handed down after Sterling’s racist rant was publicized last week.

“I’m glad that at some point it eventually came out,” Carson said, “because I would not want to play for a team with an owner feeling that way. I may have played for coaches who may have felt that way, but they kept it to themselves. There are people who whenever they go home they might use that language, but don’t use that language in front of me.

“Once you put that uniform on, you’re not black, you’re not white. You are those colors but you’re out there fighting for one another.”

Former Vikings and Buccaneers offensive guard Randall McDaniel was somewhat critical in his remarks on Manziel’s off-field behavior in college.

“He needs to grow up a little more,” McDaniel said. “Yeah, he has a lot of talent, he has a lot of ability, but he still needs to mature a little more before he gets in this league.”

Len Dawson, a former Chiefs, Browns and Steelers quarterback, agreed when asked about the former Texas A&M quarterback, who is expected to be taken in the first round of next week’s draft.

[+] EnlargeShannon Sharpe
AP Photo/Mark DuncanHall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe brought smiles to youth football players during Saturday's Fan Fest.
“He’s a wonderful player, a very exciting player who can do a lot of things,” Dawson said. “His attitude maybe he ought to quiet down a little bit and have a little success at professional football before you tell everybody what you’re going to do.”

On Sam, Sanders said: “From the time that you’re a kid and you start playing, your major focus you’re almost programmed to look for is, OK, can a guy play or not? Once you get to the NFL, that’s well-ingrained in you.”

The fan fest wasn’t all about serious issues. There was fun, too.

“Well, I love this whole football thing, and Barry Sanders is one of my favorite players, so we signed up for the autograph session and we were able to get him to sign one of my cards,” 12-year-old Joe Dietrich said. “That was really cool.”

What might have been even cooler, though, was Dietrich’s trip to Cleveland from his hometown St. Paul, Minnesota. The flight he and his mother Jeanne Dietrich were on sat five Hall of Famers, including McDaniel. While waiting in the boarding area, Jeanne Dietrich took photos of Joe with the players on her iPhone.

The Dietrichs weren’t the only ones taking photos with the players. The players were doing the same thing with each other, pausing on occasion to take Hall of Fame selfies that Ellen DeGeneres would envy.

“Gale Sayers, that was my hero,” McDaniel said. “I did a book report on him when I was in school and I told him about that. And then you’re sitting there going, ‘Aw man, I can’t believe I just said that to him.’

“And then I grabbed him around the head and took a self-picture with him. But no, just to be around them, it’s like living history that you’re around and any time you get to be around those guys, it’s just great.”
Barry Sanders and Franco HarrisAP Photo/Ben LiebenbergHall of Fame RBs Barry Sanders and Franco Harris say balance is still key despite the NFL becoming a pass-heavy league.
CLEVELAND -- Some have called it “basketball on turf.”

The NFL is in an age of mobile quarterbacks, no-huddle offenses and high-flying passing attacks. Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris says one position has been lost in the shuffle.

“Wait, wait, wait. Are there still running backs? In the NFL? Is there?” said Harris, feigning bewilderment. “Wow, I thought that was extinct.”

Holding court during the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural fan fest Saturday in Cleveland, Harris lamented what he perceived as a decline of the ground game in today’s NFL.

Just how much of a decline? Check out the 2013 NFL draft as an example.

Last year was the first time since the NFL-AFL merger in 1967 that a running back was not selected in the first round, and ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. is not expecting one to be taken in the first round this year.

“You really don’t see that running game anymore,” Harris said. “I think it really would be interesting if a couple teams would say, ‘You know what? Our game now is a running game. We’re going to totally dominate teams by the running game.’

“That would freak everybody out. That would throw all the defenses -- they wouldn’t know what to do with that if [offenses] had that kind of balance.”

Harris, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1972-83, reflected fondly on those Steel City offenses that helped lead to four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s.

“We were so well-balanced, to have the running game and the passing game that we had,” Harris said. “That was something that you really don’t see all the time.”

Yet Harris’ views aren’t entirely shared by another Hall of Fame running back, Barry Sanders.

“I think everything kind of goes in cycles. I think this year we saw a good number of teams that were able to run the ball,” Sanders said Saturday, pointing to the successful ground attacks of the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

Sanders was the class of his position when he played in the 1990s and believes there are still quality running backs in the league who shouldn’t be overlooked in any discussion about the decline of the position.

“I think there’s a good crop of eight or nine solid runners who are going to put up that 1,200 to 1,600 yards in a season,” Sanders said, naming Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch and the New York Jets’ Chris Johnson. “That’s still a big part of some teams.”

Despite the success of Peterson, Lynch and others, the modern NFL has devalued running backs. Only 11 backs are making at least $5 million per season, and Johnson -- who has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons -- received a modest $4 million deal with the Jets last month.

Even Oakland’s Darren McFadden, one of the top running backs on the market this spring, wasn’t able to cash in, returning to the Raiders on a one-year, $4 million deal.

The price tag on the position might be lower, but Sanders believes if there are good running backs out there, teams will find a way to use them.

“I think good offensive coordinators will figure out how to run,” he said. “Those who care to will figure it out.”
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Even before Friday's news that he would be listed as doubtful for the final game of the Minnesota Vikings' 2013 season, this year would have to qualify as a trying one for Adrian Peterson. The reigning NFL MVP began with talk of breaking Eric Dickerson's season rushing record after falling just 8 yards short last year, and his team had aspirations of a deep playoff run after a surprising 10-6 finish in 2012.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsHistory suggests that Adrian Peterson, who will be 29 at the start of next season, may have peaked as a running back.
Only time will tell whether Peterson's 2013 season was an injury-induced fluke, a regression to the mean or the toll of a heavy workload catching up with him. And it's not like he's had a bad season. Assuming he doesn't play Sunday, Peterson will still, in all likelihood, finish among the league's top five or six rushers, despite carrying just 18 times in the Vikings' final four games. He had a shot at his second straight rushing title despite playing much of the year with nagging hamstring, groin and foot injuries that sapped his breakaway speed and made Peterson, by his own admission, run tentatively at times.

But time won't give Peterson -- or the Vikings -- this year back, and by the next time he steps onto a football field, he'll be 29 years old, gearing up for the first of two seasons outdoors. The Vikings' next indoor home game will come when Peterson is 31 years old in 2016. In light of all that, it's not hard to feel a lingering sense that Peterson's time as an elite running back might be slipping away.

History certainly doesn't play in his favor. Peterson has run for at least 1,300 yards in four of his seven NFL seasons; since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only 11 running backs have run for at least 1,300 in a season. The number of 1,300-yard seasons by a 30-year-old running back drops to nine, and by age 31, it's down to five. Only one running back since the merger -- Walter Payton in 1986 -- has run for more than 1,300 yards at age 32, and Payton is the only one even to eclipse 1,200 yards at that age.

Peterson's 1,266 yards are the 20th-most by a 28-year-old running back, behind lesser lights like William Andrews, Christian Okoye and Terry Allen. None of those players eclipsed 1,300 yards again after their age-28 season, and only Okoye posted another 1,000-yard season.

Peterson has much more in common with thoroughbreds like Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders and Payton, and all three had seasons between the realms of great and dominant after they hit 29; Smith hit 1,332 yards at 29 and 1,397 at 30, Payton ran for at least 1,300 yards each year from 29 to 32, and Sanders had his MVP-winning, 2,053-yard season at 29 before running for 1,491 at 30 and then calling it quits.

But let's say Peterson can do that. He'll still have to carry a Vikings team that could be breaking in another new quarterback, and he'll have to play the next two seasons outdoors, where he's averaged about a quarter yard less (4.84) a carry in his career than he has indoors (5.08), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The running back has made no secret of his disdain for playing outdoors, and while bad weather might limit passing games, it can also slow down backs looking for big gains.

These numbers won't be popular with Vikings fans -- and probably not with Peterson, who enjoys few things more than excelling in the face of long odds. But Smith, Sanders and Payton enjoyed defying the odds, too, and time eventually caught up with all of them; Payton retired after a 533-yard season at age 33, while Smith never averaged more than four yards a carry after 32.

There's strong statistical evidence that elite seasons by a running back become increasingly rare after the age of 28, and even if Peterson can crank out a few more, the Vikings can't count on him being in a stratosphere of his own for much longer. That they couldn't do more with his age-28 season has to register as a disappointment.
LANDOVER, Md. -- The Detroit Lions knew their history here, even if the team says it didn’t talk about it or didn’t want to admit to it. The Lions knew they had never won in Washington, D.C.

They knew that if this season was going to be unlike all of the others in the team’s history, so many seasons that ended in losing records and no playoff appearances, a win on Sunday would be a massive push to eliminating that talk.

[+] EnlargeJim Schwartz
AP Photo/Alex BrandonHead coach Jim Schwartz was pleased with Sunday's streak-ending win against Washington, but says the Lions don't dwell in the past.
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz tossed his headset after the Lions beat the Washington Redskins, 27-20, something the franchise he coaches had never done before. All day, there seemed to be a little more emotion in spurts, why this became kind of a big deal for the Lions.

For the first time in a long time, Detroit can say it did something it has legitimately never done before.

“That was a tough, hard-fought game. Of course we’re going to be excited for it,” Schwartz said. “But we didn’t carry a banner here that said, ‘Remember that we never won in Washington.’

“We don’t dwell in the past.”

Dwelling in the past, though, is something the Detroit Lions have always seemed to do. To the days of Barry Sanders and having the most electrifying player in football and one of the best running backs of all time.

Dwelling in the past is what happens in Detroit, when streaks of road losses to some teams that span decades -- or in Washington’s case, forever prior to Sunday -- are somewhat commonplace.

And dwelling in the past is both a trademark of the Lions and something they want to avoid, depending on who you ask. Ask a fan? It’s a big deal. Ask a coach? Not as much, at least publicly. Same with the players, because the majority of them haven’t been around for all of the historic losing.

And yes, this is one game against a still-winless Washington team, but it is the symbolism that is important here. The slow chipping away at a past full of mediocrity.

“Fortunately and unfortunately when you play for the Lions, you’ve got to be a part of exorcising a lot of demons,” receiver Nate Burleson said. “And I’m OK with that. I’m doing it. I’m fine with the storylines behind every single game.

“A lot of people look at it as something we don’t need to embrace, but that’s what it is. Football is the biggest soap opera in sports. As long as we keep playing the way we’re playing, I’m good. We’re hitting the reset button on certain streaks that we don’t need to hold on to anymore.”

That’s the key. Anymore.

If Detroit is going to follow up stopping one streak with a successful season, with finishing with a winning record for only the second time this century, the Lions will need to use this as a springboard.

Next week is Chicago, and the Bears have won three straight games in the series. Then is the trip to Green Bay, and the Lions have not beaten the Packers the past 22 times they’ve played them in the state.

So yes, this is one day, one game, one streak vanquished. But if Burleson and the Lions are serious about doing what they want to do, of winning and reversing the long path this franchise has followed, beating Washington in Washington was a start.

“It’s more so for fans than it is us,” Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “Honestly, we didn’t talk about it one time. I didn’t know it until you guys said it.

“But it does feel nice to be on the team, be a part of that team that broke that streak, and hopefully we can start a new streak of our own winning up here.”
We've only talked in passing detail about Adrian Peterson's attempt to chase Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record for a second straight season -- probably because there's been so much chatter about the topic in other places. Whether it's Peterson talking about wanting to run for 2,500 yards or experts saying he can't possibly duplicate last year's 2,097-yard season, the topic has been a frequent source of conversation heading into the season.

We won't belabor the point here today, other than to mention a couple unique things about Peterson's 2012 season that might, in fact, be unique -- as in, they can't be duplicated again.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Peterson ran for 1,019 yards after contact in 2012, for an average of 2.9 yards a carry. In other words, nearly half of Peterson's yards came on his ability to take a hit and keep running for an average of almost 3 yards. Essentially, after he took a hit last year, he was still better than the Raiders' Rashad Jennings, who ran for 2.8 yards a carry -- with or without contact! -- in 2012. And only one running back in the league -- Maurice Jones-Drew, with 785 yards after contact in 2011 -- has even come within 250 yards of Peterson's total since Stats & Information started tracking the statistic in 2009.

From 2009 to 2011, Peterson's post-contact average was 2.3 yards per carry. If he carried the same number of times in 2013 as he did in 2012 (348) and dropped back to his 2009-11 average, he'd run for 219 fewer yards. If we add the 2012 season back in, bumping Peterson's average after contact back up to 2.49, and assume he hits that figure this year on 348 carries, he'd run for 152 fewer yards.

Then there's this: Peterson had 27 runs of 20 yards or more in 2012. That was the most in football last year by 15. Since 2008, only five other running backs have even recorded half that many long runs, one of them being Peterson himself in 2008.

We can all remember the highlights of Peterson breaking one tackle and busting loose for 60 or 70 yards. If he can't do that with the same regularity this year, he'd have to find another way to make up for those yards -- most likely by getting more carries or increasing his productivity on his shorter runs. Considering he had the second-most carries of his career last year, and his highest yards-per-carry figure, it seems unlikely to expect Peterson to put up even bigger numbers without the efficiency afforded by a 70-yard romp.

Finally, we've got to consider this point: Of the 18 men in NFL history to carry more than 300 times in a season and average more than five yards a carry, only two -- Barry Sanders and Tiki Barber -- did it in back-to-back years. Sanders actually crossed the 2,000-yard plateau in his second trip over the 300-and-5.0 barrier, when he ran for 2,053 yards on 335 carries (an average of 6.13 yards per attempt) in 1997. And Barber did it at ages 30 and 31, when he averaged 5.21 and 5.08 yards per attempt in 2005 and 2006. But considering Peterson's 6.03 yards per attempt tied O.J. Simpson for the second most of anyone who carried more than 300 times in a season, it probably isn't realistic to expect him to do it again. No running back in history has ever crossed 1,500 yards a year after running for 2,000, and the drop-off in yards-per-carry is part of the reason why.

In all likelihood, topping Dickerson would likely require even more carries than Peterson got last year (Dickerson, it should be noted, carried 379 times when he set the record in 1984). When the Vikings drafted Cordarrelle Patterson and signed Greg Jennings in an effort to balance their offense, it's worth asking whether Peterson's workload might even drop this year.

After watching Peterson last year, it's awfully tough to say he's incapable of anything. If he's determined to break Dickerson's record -- as he certainly seems to be -- he'll probably give himself a reasonable shot. But as Dickerson has said, so many things would have to go right for Peterson to do it again. History, at least, is not on the running back's side -- not that he's ever been particularly concerned with that.

Maybe it's best to treat Peterson's 2012 season for what it was: a singular act of brilliance by a running back driven to make a dramatic comeback from knee surgery, and not the new normal. Yes, Peterson will be healthier this season than he was last year. Yes, the Vikings will likely be willing to use him early in the season more than they were last year (the fact that Peterson didn't cross 150 yards until Week 7 makes what he did even more remarkable). But it's unreasonable to expect a running back to break tackles and explode for long runs with the regularity Peterson did last year.

If he does it again, and topples Dickerson in the process, Peterson will and should be celebrated for years to come. But last year should be enough to get him that anyway, especially considering how heavily history is stacked against him replicating it.

Video: Monumental day for NFL, NFLPA

August, 29, 2013
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video
Jeff Saturday and Hall of Fame RB Barry Sanders discuss the settlement reached between the NFL and former players in concussion-related lawsuits.
video
 
There was a time not too long ago when Barry Sanders seemed destined for a reclusive life after football. He faxed a surprise retirement announcement to his hometown newspaper in 1999, fled to England and later spent time in arbitration with the Detroit Lions over his signing bonus.

[+] EnlargeBarry Sanders
SportsNationBarry Sanders will be on the cover of the next Madden game.
For years afterward, Sanders wouldn't so much as acknowledge the factors that prompted his early retirement. From the outside, I assumed he had had enough of public life and was ready for a much different existence in as an ex-player.

That has all changed during the past few years, however. Sanders has appeared in national television commercials, participated in high-profile panel discussions and is active on Twitter. An NFL Films documentary of his life, aired on the NFL Network last winter, reintroduced him to legions of fans.

Sanders' public profile rose once again Wednesday night when he won a national vote to appear on the cover of the "Madden NFL 25" video game. You might not be a big gamer, and Sanders might not be either. I for one was amused to see Sanders, 44, standing on the SportsNation stage with the 28-year-old Adrian Peterson while 25-year-old hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar performed.

But Sanders took this process seriously from the start, promoting himself during a trip to ESPN headquarters and actively seeking support from celebrities via Twitter. Wednesday afternoon, golfer Tiger Woods encouraged his 3.2 million Twitter followers to vote for Sanders.

Sanders won the cover contest over Peterson with 58 percent of the finals vote. Along the way, he demonstrated a sardonic but still-humble personality most of us never saw during his playing career and one I assumed we wouldn't experience in retirement. It sounds silly, but it's true in our virtual age: Barry Sanders introduced himself to a whole new generation of fans Wednesday night. Let's see where it takes him.

'Madden 25' cover revealed tonight

April, 24, 2013
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Here is your friendly reminder that Wednesday is the final day of voting for the all-NFC North "Madden 25" cover contest.

Will it be Detroit Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, representing the "Old School" bracket?

Will it be Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson, who won the "New School" bracket?

The winner will be revealed during a live program beginning at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

In the video, SportsNation's Charissa Thompson takes a straw preview poll on the streets of Los Angeles.

We wouldn't -- and couldn't -- have it any other way, could we?

Of course. Of course, the Madden cover will feature an NFC North player for the second consecutive year. We just don't know which one yet.

Former Detroit Lions tailback Barry Sanders and current Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson are the two finalists for the "Madden 25" cover, announced Wednesday evening over at SportsNation. Voting will take place on ESPN.com for the next week, and the cover winner will be announced April 24 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Sanders has been particularly vocal about the contest and after winning his semifinal vote over Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, he tweeted:
"Wow. Just wow. I can't believe I won, I can't believe I beat @JerryRice THE Jerry Rice. Thanks so the fans. This is all you guys."

If Peterson has mentioned the contest publicly or tweeted about it, I've missed it.

Personally, I blame the strong legions of Green Bay Packers fans for two other NFC North teams being represented in the finals -- the same Packers fans who voted for Peyton Hillis a few years ago to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers from the Madden curse. You know who you are. Watch out. I'm going to start sifting through IP addresses.

NFL32: Barry Sanders weighs in on Lions

April, 10, 2013
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Former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders discusses how Reggie Bush will fit with the Lions offense; the NFL32 crew breaks down Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib and where he could end up in the draft.

Has the Chicago Bears' coaching transition paved the way for a Detroit Lions resurgence? Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders advanced that theory in this "First Take" video.

"I certainly have a lot of hope for this year," Sanders said of the 2013 Lions. "And as the Bears kind of figure out their situation, I think we're standing right there at a solid No. 2 in that division."

Who is Sanders' No. 1 in the NFC North? Presumably the Green Bay Packers, who have won the past two division titles. But his assessment overlooks the Minnesota Vikings, who defeated the Lions twice last season and earned a wild-card playoff spot with a 10-6 record. Something tells me this isn't the last time we'll have this conversation.

Steven Jackson by the numbers

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A day after the fact, Atlanta’s signing of running back Steven Jackson continues to be the hottest story in the NFC South.

I don’t see that changing anytime soon, unless the Tampa Bay Buccaneers suddenly make the trade for Darrelle Revis. So let’s feed the Jackson talk a little more with some by-the-numbers nuggets from ESPN Stats & Information.
  • The three time Pro Bowler has rushed for 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons. Only Emmitt Smith (11 straight seasons), Curtis Martin (10 straight) and Barry Sanders (10 straight) have longer streaks than Jackson.
  • Jackson also is a receiving threat out of the backfield. He has had seven seasons with 1,000 rushing yards and 300 receiving yards. LaDainian Tomlinson and Walter Payton, who each accomplished that feat eight times, are the only players to do that more than Jackson.
  • Jackson also can make things happen after contact. Over the past four seasons, Jackson has run for 2,172 yards after contact. Adrian Peterson (2,918 yards) is the only player with more yards after contact in that same span.
  • Among active running backs, Jackson ranks first with 2,395 career carries, first with 10,135 rushing yards and is tied for fifth with 56 touchdowns.
  • Also, in this Insider post, Football Outsiders takes an in-depth look at what Jackson brings to the Falcons.

Final Word: NFC West

December, 28, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

Three of a kind. Not since 1991 have three NFC West teams finished a season with winning records. It could happen in 2012 if the St. Louis Rams upset the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The Rams would finish 8-7-1 with a victory. Seattle and San Francisco already have 10 victories apiece. The 1991 NFC West race finished with New Orleans (11-5), Atlanta (10-6) and San Francisco (10-6) ahead of the Los Angeles Rams (3-13). Also with a victory, the Rams would become the second team since the merger to post an undefeated division record without qualifying for postseason.

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Steven Jackson is nearing another milestone. closing in on his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
Making history. The Seahawks have never finished a season ranked first in fewest points allowed. Seattle enters Week 17 having allowed 232 points, fewest in the NFL by 21 points. Chicago has allowed 253. The 49ers have allowed 260. Seattle has allowed 17 or fewer points in its past four games, the Seahawks' longest streak since 2003 and 2004.

Milestone weekend. Steven Jackson, Russell Wilson and Aldon Smith are chasing milestones as the regular season wraps up.

The Rams' Jackson needs 10 yards rushing for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season, which would tie LaDainian Tomlinson and Thurman Thomas for fourth behind Emmitt Smith (11), Curtis Martin (10) and Barry Sanders (10).

Seattle's Wilson has 25 touchdown passes, within one of Peyton Manning's rookie record. Wilson, with a 98.0 NFL passer rating, also has a shot at breaking Matt Hasselbeck's single-season franchise record (98.2).

Smith, with 19.5 sacks, needs three to break Michael Strahan's single-season record for sacks. Houston's J.J. Watt (20.5) is nearer the record, however.

Stopping the bleeding. The 49ers have been outscored by 50 points and allowed more than 700 yards over their past five-plus quarters. That is nearly as much yardage as the 49ers allowed over a 12-quarter stretch of games against Chicago, New Orleans and St. Louis. The trend is about to end. The 49ers' Week 17 opponent, Arizona, has 735 yards in its past four games. The Cardinals' Brian Hoyer is making his first NFL start at quarterback.

Crabtree's time. The NFC West is in danger of finishing without a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002. The 49ers' Michael Crabtree needs 67 yards against Arizona to become the team's first 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens in 2003. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald needs 215 yards to reach 1,000 for the sixth consecutive season. Seattle's Sidney Rice needs 252 yards for 1,000. Crabtree is averaging 91.5 yards per game since Week 13, sixth-most in the NFL.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.

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