As Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson and Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson pursue single-season yardage records for their respective positions, one matter of historical importance hasn't gotten much attention: The NFL's shift to a 16-game season in 1978 gave players two extra games to set season records.
Peterson is 294 yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105 rushing yards in a season. Johnson needs 182 receiving yards to eclipse Jerry Rice's record of 1,848 yards. Both Dickerson and Rice set their marks in 16-game seasons. So I thought it was worth looking at a rarely-used but perhaps more appropriate apples-to-apples comparison: Average yards per game.
The bottom line: Peterson isn't likely to hit that NFL record, but Johnson has an intriguing chance to exceed it.
O.J. Simpson averaged 143.1 rushing yards per game during his 2,003-yard season in 1973. Peterson would need 478 yards in two games, leaving him with 2,290 rushing yards on the season, to break Simpson's record. (Full list here, courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.)
On the other hand, as the chart shows, Johnson is 329 receiving yards away from exceeding Charley Hennigan's record of 124.7 receiving yards per game, set in 1961.
My calculator tells me that 329 yards over two games is an average of 164.5 yards per game. That sounds like a lot, and it is. But it's worth noting Johnson has seven career games of more than 160 receiving yards, including three this season.
We'll monitor both possibilities, but I'm most intrigued by Johnson's chances. And oh, you can see for yourself if Johnson will have a chance by watching Saturday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons on ESPN.