The 2012 season has been filled with intriguing storylines. Peyton Manning's comeback, the fantastic play of the rookie quarterbacks and the emergence of J.J. Watt have all received a tremendous amount of attention. However, there is another plot jockeying for position in the spotlight over these final three weeks.
Three of the NFL's marquee, single-season records are in danger of being broken as we head down the stretch. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is closing in on Eric Dickerson's rushing-yardage mark, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is very close to surpassing Jerry Rice's receiving-yardage record, and San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith is 3.5 sacks away from breaking Michael Strahan's record.
Let's take a look at each:
What's the record? Single-season rushing yards
Who's the record holder?Eric Dickerson, 2,105 yards (1984)
Who's chasing the record?Adrian Peterson
What does he need to do?Peterson currently has 1,600 rushing yards. He needs to average 168.7 yards per game in order to break the record.
Peterson's final three opponents all possess top-15 rushing defenses. The St. Louis Rams are ranked 13th, allowing 110.3 yards per game. The Houston Texans will be the most difficult challenge. They are tied for second, allowing only 90.8 yards per game. Peterson will finish up the season against the Green Bay Packers. They are ranked 15th, allowing 116.7 yards per game. However, Peterson gashed the Packers' defense for 210 yards in their first meeting in Week 13.
Will he break the record? No. 2,000 yards is definitely attainable with this schedule, but 2,105 is simply too tall a task.
What's the record?Single-season receiving yards
Who's the record holder?Jerry Rice, 1,848 yards (1995)
Who's chasing the record?Calvin Johnson
What does he need to do? Johnson currently has 1,546 receiving yards. He needs to average 101 yards per game in order to break the record.
Johnson's final three opponents all boast solid pass defenses. The Arizona Cardinals (fifth), Atlanta Falcons (16th) and Chicago Bears (sixth) all rank in the top half of the league in fewest passing yards allowed. However, there is good news for Johnson. The Cardinals' defense has nothing to play for at this point in the season and the Falcons' offense will likely score a ton of points, forcing the Lions to air it out. The big challenge will come from the Bears. They held Johnson to just 34 yards in their first meeting.
Will he break the record? Yes. He only needs to average 101 yards per game in order to break the record, and he's been averaging 151.3 yards in his past six games.
What's the record? Single-season sack total
Who's the record holder? Michael Strahan, 22.5 (2001)
Who's chasing the record?Aldon Smith
What does he need to do? Smith currently has 19.5 sacks. He needs to record 3.5 sacks in order to break the record.
Smith will square off against two of the best pass-protecting offensive lines over the next two games. The New England Patriots have allowed the fifth-fewest sacks and the Seattle Seahawks have allowed the ninth-fewest. Those will be tough challenges for Smith, but he has a very friendly foe to close out the season. The Arizona Cardinals have allowed the most sacks in the NFL, and Smith already collected two sacks against them earlier this season.
Will he break the record? Yes. I'm already penciling in Smith for two sacks against the Cardinals, so he only needs to combine for 1.5 sacks in these first two games. Smith has been on a tear lately, recording 14 sacks over his past six games.