After nine seasons in the NFL, Steven Jackson is a free agent, and eager for a shot at a playoff run. Whoever he plays for, the three-time Pro Bowler has made it clear that a legitimate opportunity to reach the Super Bowl is of prime importance.

SJ is seeking an opportunity to bolster a contender's backfield (Getty Images)

“I’ve been able to have a successful career, especially dealing with some hard times as an individual. But it’s more at this point of my career to be a part of something, chasing a Lombardi Trophy. I want to be a part of something special.”

There are several contenders looking to upgrade their running game. And though the NFL is often looked at as a passing league, there’s no substitute for a good ground game. It brings balance to an offense, and keeps a defense guessing.

The numbers don’t lie. Of the 26 teams that have played in the Super Bowl since 2000, 22 of them averaged more than 100 rushing yards per contest the season they reached the championship game.

Super Bowl SB Winner YPG NFL Rank SB Loser YPG NFL Rank
Super Bowl XLVII Ravens 118.8 11th 49ers 115.7 4th
Super Bowl XLVI Giants 89.2 32nd Patriots 110.3 20th
Super Bowl XLV Packers 100.4 24th Steelers 120.3 11th
Super Bowl XLIV Saints 131.6 6th Colts 80.9 32nd
Super Bowl XLIII Steelers 105.6 23rd Cardinals 73.6 32nd
Super Bowl XLII Giants 134.3 4th Patriots 115.6 13th
Super Bowl XLI Colts 110.1 18th Bears 119.9 15th
Super Bowl XL Steelers 138.9 5th Seahawks 153.6 3rd
Super Bowl XXXIX Patriots 133.4 7th Eagles 102.4 24th
Super Bowl XXXVIII Patriots 100.4 27th Panthers 130.7 7th
Super Bowl XXXVII Buccaneers 97.3 27th Raiders 110.1 18th
Super Bowl XXXVI Patriots 112.1 13th Rams 126.7 5th
Super Bowl XXXV Ravens 137.4 5th Giants 125.6 11th

As Jarrett Bell of USA Today wrote during this past season, as each team tries to make it through the 16-game grind and into the playoffs, contenders do themselves a disservice if they fail to establish the run.

“Balance is the ticket that provides options. Which is why even in today’s pass-happy NFL the best teams—especially in do-or-die January—still need their arsenal to include a good old-fashioned running game.”

It’s a matter of consistency and balance. With eight straight seasons of 1,000 yards rushing, Steven is as consistent and balanced as they come.

Steven is the only back to rush for 1,000 yards each of the last eight seasons.

In the final weeks of the 2012 regular season, the top rushers in the league were the ones leading their teams to the playoffs. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson was nipping at long-time records while supporting an as-yet unproven Christian Ponder. Washington’s Alfred Morris and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch were at the top of the league while taking handoffs from rookie QBs.

Certainly, great quarterback play is a must for playoff teams. But the great teams can both run and pass. SJ39 believes he can play a vitally important role on a contender.

“To be a complete running back, you have to be able to run, pass block, catch the ball, make plays from an explosive part of the field. I’ve always taken great pride in that,” Steven said. “I have a lot of good football left in me, and whatever team sees my value and wants to bring me on board, that’s where I’ll be headed.”