There are some NFL records that feel like they'll stand forever. Is anyone really going to rush for 29 touchdowns in a single season and break LaDainian Tomlinson's utterly absurd mark of 28? I just don't see it. Will anyone ever have more sacks than the 72 that the 1984 Bears racked up, or more interceptions than the 39 passes that were picked off by the 1986 49ers? If not, I wouldn't be overly surprised.
But whereas adding one game to the regular season schedule doesn't necessarily jeopardize those statistical feats from staying atop their respective lists, the 17-game schedule — along with the extremely talented stars of today's NFL — adds a ton of intrigue as to which records are now in more trouble of being broken than ever before.
Here, we'll go over ten of those. There may be more than ten, and it's possible that not a single one of these records goes down this year. Whatever the case, these ten hypothetical historic feats would all make waves throughout the NFL community, and it's fun to envision just how realistic they are before the 2021 campaign gets underway.
Passing yards/TDs, player
Current record: Peyton Manning (5,477 | 55)
Who can break it: Patrick Mahomes
Though Patrick Mahomes has not yet led the league in passing yards — which is crazy, seeing as he threw for 5,097 in 2018 and 4,740 last year — he seems to have the best shot to do it in 2021. For one, Mahomes only played in 15 games last season and led the league with 316 passing yards per game. If you have that effort across 17 games, you're just about 100 yards shy of Manning's record.
There are also a fair amount of games on the schedule that seem to favor Mahomes either needing to throw a lot or being able to shred the defense. The two division games against the Chargers should be shootouts. The two matchups against the Raiders hold a lot of promise — each of the past six have seen Kansas City put up at least 28 points, with two going for 40 or more, and the Las Vegas defense is filled with holes once again. And other opponents on the docket — like the Bills, Eagles, Titans, Packers, Cowboys and Bengals — seem to suggest that Mahomes will be piling up the yardage.
The same can probably be said for the single-season passing touchdown record, also held by Manning. Mahomes recorded 50 in 2018.
Passing yards/TDs, rookie
Current record: Andrew Luck (4,374) and Justin Herbert (31)
Who can break it: Trevor Lawrence
Herbert came close to breaking not only the rookie touchdown record but also Luck's rookie passing yards record, though he came up just short for that honor. Even if he did reset that number, though, it would be largely at risk to be broken once again in 2021.
That's because it's the year of Trevor Lawrence, who didn't look that great in the preseason but certainly didn't look bad. He may not have even looked the best out of the stacked rookie class, but it's he who this record seems most likely to fall to. The Jaguars have a lot of good weapons on offense, including new addition Marvin Jones and returning wideouts D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault, and the injury to Travis Etienne means even more of the load will be placed on Lawrence's shoulders. Add that to a subpar defense and you have the recipe for a whole lot of statistical production out of the Clemson alum.
Rushing yards, player
Current record: Eric Dickerson (2,105)
Who can break it: Derrick Henry
Henry came oh-so close to breaking Dickerson's record last year, finishing his jaw-dropping 2020 season with a league-high 2,027 yards on a league-high 378 carries. Now, it's worth noting a couple of things. For one, the Titans added Julio Jones, meaning the passing offense may become more of a focal point now that Jones can join A.J. Brown to create one of the scariest receiving corps in the league. Additionally, 378 carries is a lot of carries. Like, a lot.
So while we might not see the same 23-plus carries per game out of Henry if the Titans care at all about his durability, the fact that the passing offense is now more of a worry may allow Henry to become even more efficient than his 5.4 yards per carry in 2020. He's still the focal point of the offense, he's still going to dominate defenses in all sorts of ways, and the fact that the offense improved as a whole may only go to help him in his journey to rewrite NFL history.
Rushing yards, team
Current record: 2019 Ravens (3,296)
Who can beat it: Ravens
Though it's a newly broken record and the same team is the one that's most likely to beat it, it wouldn't be right to exclude it from this list. Lamar Jackson struggled a little bit to start out the season, but he ran for 430 yards in the five weeks following a bout with COVID-19 and looked just as good as ever. He's a good bet to break his own record of 1,206 rushing yards by a quarterback in a season, set in 2019, and that will go a long way in helping the Ravens to break the team record for yards in a season.
So too will the fact that J.K. Dobbins has a year of NFL experience under his belt now and will get a large portion of the work after averaging 6.0 yards in a very efficient rookie season. Gus Edwards is also a master of efficiency, averaging over 5.0 yards per carry throughout his career. This three-headed monster, mixing in efficiency and an offensive system that loves to destroy the opponent on the ground, could foreseeably feature three 1,000-yard rushers and leave the 2019 iteration of the team in the dust.
Current record holder: Michael Thomas (149)
Who could break it: Stefon Diggs
In just their first season working together, Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs truly made some magic happen. Diggs led the league in receptions (127), which is good for the sixth most in a single season ever. He also led the league in yards with 1,535. Though Emmanuel Sanders is now in town, it means that John Brown is also out of town, and fellow wideouts Cole Beasley and Isaiah McKenzie are already in some hot water with the league due to COVID policy violations.
This all spells an absolutely monstrous season for Diggs, who could break Thomas's record with around nine catches per outing throughout 2021. He had 7.9 in 2020 and, once again, that was in his first season with Allen. Better chemistry could lead to even better results, making Diggs the favorite for this one despite some other viable receivers... including the guy below.
Receiving touchdowns, player
Current record: Randy Moss (23)
Who could break it: Davante Adams
Adams did something that only four other pass-catchers — Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, Mark Clayton and Sterling Sharpe — had ever done before when he hauled in his 18th touchdown of the 2020 season. That's still five touchdowns away from Moss's record, but Adams brought in his league-high 18 in only 14 games. Now that he can add three more games to that total, health allowing, 23 touchdowns seems like a target that he can achieve with the same outstanding production that he showcased in 2020.
Add in Rodgers playing with a chip on his shoulder after a tumultuous offseason and this could make Moss's record that much more achievable for Adams.
Receiving yards, rookie
Current record: Justin Jefferson (1,400)
Who can break it: Ja'Marr Chase
Forget everything you've heard about Ja'Marr Chase and his struggles this preseason — which admittedly isn't the easiest thing to do — and consider the fact that he's reuniting with his college quarterback in a should-be pass-happy offense. The last time Burrow and Chase played together, the wideout had 1,785 yards and 20 touchdowns... in 14 games. The competition level in that season versus this upcoming season is obviously not comparable, but those statistics are definitely something.
And those preseason drops you heard so much about? Maybe they were just jitters. He seems to have recovered quite nicely.
Yards from scrimmage, player
Current record: Chris Johnson (2,509)
Who can break it: Christian McCaffrey
It really doesn't matter who the quarterback is or how good the offense is in Carolina for McCaffrey to thrive. He's the near-unanimous top pick in fantasy football drafts, which typically doesn't have much relevance in terms of NFL chatter, but it does make sense to bring up when discussing just how crazy his statistics could look in 2021. Yardage makes up a lot of that aforementioned fantasy scoring, and there's gonna be a ton of both for CMC this season.
He came close to breaking Johnson's record in 2019, posting a league-high 2,392 yards in 16 games, and he would likely have taken the record for himself had there been a 17th game that year. Yes, he'll once again have to average nearly 150 yards per game, but that's kind of just what he does given his incredible talent and extremely high volume in both carries and targets.
Oh, and there's no more Curtis Samuel or Mike Davis to worry about competing with, and the rookie replacements probably won't interfere as much with CMC's workload. There's CJ2K. Maybe there's CMC2.5K — though that's a lot less catchy.
Current record: Al Baker (23.0)
Who could break it: Aaron Donald
Wouldn't it be a shame if in the very same year that Michael Strahan's single-season sack record officially changed hands to the previously unrecognized Al Baker, the sack record was rerouted once again?
Unfortunately for Baker — and fortunately for Rams fans — there's a pretty solid candidate out there right now to do just that. It's Aaron Donald, the wrecking ball on the Los Angeles defensive line that record 20.5 sacks in 2018 and has posted double-digit sacks in both seasons since. He'll have to bump up the production a little bit from the past two years, but having a rookie quarterback (Trey Lance) and the 2019 co-leaders in times sacked (Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray) in his division means this could be the year to do it.
Most points allowed, team
Current record: 1981 Ravens (533)
Who could break it: Lions
Yikes. Pictures like that one above, showing the Detroit defense celebrating, might not come all that often in 2021. They surrendered 32.4 points per game in 2020, tops in the league and a high-enough rate that, when expanded to 17 games, would be enough to give them the all-time record for most points allowed in a season.
But wait, there's more! The Packers and Vikings are also back at full strength, bringing back all the main weapons that provided their offense last season. And the Bears, by adding Justin Fields and Andy Dalton, likely became a better offensive team. And the Lions offense is probably going to look worse with Jared Goff at the helm and without Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones catching passes... meaning their time of possession might decrease... meaning the other teams will have more chances to put up points. This is all with a defense that Pro Football Focus still puts in the very bottom tier of units around the league.
Should be fun!