Which NFL records will fall in 2012?
In addition to playoff races heating up in both conferences, the final two weeks of the NFL regular season could see a serious assault on the record books.
We've already seen Drew Brees break Johnny Unitas' record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass, and Adrian Peterson this season, and Calvin Johnson, Aldon Smith and J.J. Watt all have their sights set on other major league milestones. Meanwhile, several other players are in line to take down some less-heralded standards.
Which NFL records might fall before the 2012 regular season wraps? We take a look at a few possibilities, building up to the most prestigious of the bunch:
NFL record: 4,968, Andy Lee, 2007
Current leader: 4,546, Dave Zastudil
Maybe this record holds special meaning if you're a punter, but in general, teams that punt a ton are not very good. To wit: Of the punters currently in the all-time top 10 for this mark, only two (Denver's Britton Colquitt and San Francisco's Andy Lee) played for teams that finished 8-8; everyone else was on a sub-.500 squad.
Zastudil needs 422 yards (211 per game) over the final two weeks. He had 398 punting yards Sunday vs. Detroit, on nine kicks, and he has topped 400 in four separate games.
NFL record: 10, Osi Umenyiora, 2010
Current leader: 10, Charles Tillman
This is something of an unofficial record, as forced fumbles are not officially tracked by the Elias Sports Bureau, which sources the NFL's statistics. And no one really kept track of this stat at all until some time right before the turn of the millennium.
Still, since then, no one has done a better job popping the football loose in a single season that Tillman, who forced his 10th fumble Sunday to match Umenyiora's 2010 total. Just showing how haphazardly this statistic is tracked, though, Jason Taylor is credited by some with 10 forced fumbles in 2006, but NFL.com has him with only nine.
NFL record: 691, Drew Bledsoe, 1994
Current leader: 629, Matthew Stafford
Stafford nearly set this mark last season -- his 663 attempts in 2011 were the third-most in NFL history, behind only Bledsoe and Peyton Manning (679 in 2010). If Stafford can make it through the Lions' last two games without an injury (a big "if" given Detroit's offensive line play lately), this one seems set to fall.
Thirty-one pass attempts per game would deadlock Stafford and Bledsoe at 691. Stafford has not thrown fewer than 32 passes in any single game this season.
NFL record: 2,696, Darren Sproles, 2011
Current leader: 2,241, Randall Cobb
How crowded is this leaderboard? Cobb is 455 yards back (needing 227.5 all-purpose yards per game over Weeks 16 and 17), and he is 43rd on the list for this stat.
Sproles broke Derrick Mason's record of 2,690 last season, thanks to 603 yards rushing, 710 receiving and more than 1,300 return yards. Cobb has done it more through the air -- he has 892 yards receving and just 132 on the ground. But a couple of big games to close the year could get him to Sproles' level.
NFL record: 143, Marvin Harrison, 2002
Current leader: 107, Brandon Marshall
Putting up 18 catches per game over the season's final two weeks sets a pretty lofty bar for Marshall, but keep in mind that he has had 18- and 21-catch games in his career (though both came with Denver).
What won't help: Marshall figures to draw Arizona's Patrick Peterson in Week 16, so he'll have a tough time coming free too many times.
This is a major long shot, but not impossible.
NFL record: 22.5, Michael Strahan, 2001
Current leader: 19.5, Aldon Smith/J.J. Watt
Smith had a cushy lead until Sunday, when he was shut out in the sack category and Watt took down Andrew Luck three times. Now, he and Watt are tied, three back of Strahan, with two games to go.
Watt gets a crack at Minnesota's Christian Ponder in Week 16, before again taking on that same Colts team that found him unblockable. Smith and the 49ers visit Seattle next Sunday -- Russell Wilson has been sacked 26 times in 14 games -- then closes the season against Arizona's abysmal offensive line.
At least one of the two pass rushing extraordinaires should be able to supplant Strahan atop this list.
NFL record: 1,848, Jerry Rice, 1995
Current leader: 1,667, Calvin Johnson
Megatron has averaged 147 yards per game over his last seven outings. If he hits that number Sunday, he would need just 34 yards against Chicago in Week 17 -- and that's exactly what Johnson gained in an earlier loss to the Bears this season.
Detroit has very little left to play for in 2012, aside from getting Johnson into the record books and possibly spoiling Chicago's year. In other words, don't expect the Lions to stop targeting Johnson in Weeks 16 and 17. Even a couple of decent performances from Detroit's superstar receiver would leapfrog him past Rice.
NFL record: 2,105, Eric Dickerson, 1984
Current leader: 1,812, Adrian Peterson
Peterson needs to average 94 yards over the final two weeks of the regular season to hit the 2K mark on the ground, and he needs to rip off 146.5 per game to tie Dickerson's record. Standing between Peterson and history is a Houston defense that ranks fifth in the league against the run, followed by a Packers D that watched Peterson rumble for 210 yards in Week 13.
Does the Vikings' hunt for a playoff spot work for or against Peterson's pursuit? Hard to say -- The Vikings cannot go out of their way to get the record, but Peterson is a massive part of the offense, regardless. Even an average day by Peterson's standards in Week 16, though, would ensure he has a chance to track down Dickerson on the season's final Sunday.