MINNEAPOLIS -- With three weeks to go in the 2015 NFL season, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is still atop the NFL's rushing leaderboard, with a 37-yard advantage over Tampa Bay's Doug Martin. The race is probably going to come down to those two resurgent backs, with no other runner currently with more than 1,000 yards, and if Peterson enjoys a productive final three weeks, he'll have completed his return season with his third rushing title.
But there's more than that at stake for Peterson in the final three weeks. He's also trying to carve out a place in history -- and preserve a higher salary for 2016. Here's a look at what's on the line for the running back in Weeks 15-17.
1. He can post one of the five best seasons ever for a 30-year-old back: With 1,251 yards, Peterson needs only 169 to match Priest Holmes for the fifth-best season by a 30-year-old running back in NFL history. He needs 240 to tie Barry Sanders for fourth place, and would match Corey Dillon for third all-time with 384 more yards. Second place (Walter Payton) is 433 yards away, but first place probably isn't reachable. That would be Tiki Barber, who ran for 1,860 yards in 2005. Peterson would need 609 yards -- or 203 a game -- to tie Barber. Among all seasons by backs in their 30s, Peterson's 2015 season is currently the 17th-best in NFL history. He'd jump to seventh on that list by matching Sanders' 30-year-old season, and fifth by tying Dillon's 1,635 yards in 2004.
2. He can move up to 16th all-time on the NFL's rushing list: Peterson is only 254 yards behind Fred Taylor for 16th place on the NFL's all-time rushing list, and should catch him with a solid finish. That'd put Peterson in position for a charge into the top 10 in 2016, when he could surpass Marshall Faulk, Jim Brown and Tony Dorsett on the league's all-time leaderboard. For this season, at least, 15th place is probably out of the question: Peterson is 394 yards behind the Colts' Frank Gore, who is also the NFL's leading active career rusher.
3. He can become just the eighth running back in NFL history with three or more rushing titles: Jim Brown holds the NFL record with eight single-season rushing titles, and a quintet of running backs -- Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith, O.J. Simpson and Steve Van Buren -- each has four. But other than those backs, only Earl Campbell has more than two, and Peterson can match him with his third rushing crown this season before trying to join the decorated group with four titles next season. It's worth noting that no back with at least three rushing titles has been excluded from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
4. He can be the second RB in NFL history to surpass 1,500 yards in a season under age 25 and over age 30: To this point, only Walter Payton has pulled off the feat, surpassing 1,500 yards at ages 23 and 25, and again at ages 30 and 31. Other than Payton, only two running backs -- Barber and Curtis Martin -- have even done it in both their 20s and 30s, and both were backs who hit their prime in their late 20s, surpassing 1,500 yards for the first time at ages 29 and 28, respectively. If Peterson gains 249 yards in his final three games, he'd have a feat of longevity surpassed by only one back.
5. He can avoid a drop in his 2016 salary: Peterson's restructured contract includes a $7.75 million base salary for 2016, along with a $5 million roster bonus that will drop by $1 million unless Peterson reaches 1,550 yards and the Vikings win a playoff game. It would drop by $2 million if he finishes under 1,350 yards and the Vikings fail to make the playoffs, but barring injury, both of those outcomes look unlikely at this point. If Peterson's bonus did drop by $1 million, he'd have an opportunity to recoup the money by running for 1,550 yards and playing on a team that wins a playoff game next season.