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Which Single-Season NFL Records Are Poised to Fall in 2020?

Could Russell Wilson move past Peyton Manning on the passing touchdowns list? Can Ryan Tannehill complete the most clutch season ever? And could one punter break a mark that’s stood for 80 years?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

This NFL season has looked like no other. That’s not just because the coronavirus pandemic has upended the world as we know it and limited fan attendance at games. The on-field product has been wildly different as well.

This season will be the highest scoring in league history—by far. Yardage is up, turnovers are down, punting is going extinct, and defenses are struggling. Name an offensive stat, and it’s likely at or near all-time highs. This boost in offensive efficiency has also set many players on course to break long-held records. That’s especially true among quarterbacks. As we head into Week 10, let’s look at eight single-season records that could soon be broken.

Passing Touchdowns

Current record holder: Peyton Manning (55, 2013)
2020 contender: Russell Wilson (28, on pace for 56)

Wilson is on pace to break this record, but he’ll need some luck to get over the finish line. His current touchdown percentage of 9.4 percent is astronomically high. When Manning set this record in the 2013 season, his touchdown percentage was 8.3. That means Wilson doesn’t have raw volume to fall back on—he’ll need to maintain an unbelievably high level of efficiency to sniff Manning’s mark.

Plus, Wilson needs to keep up his prolific red zone pace. The Seahawks have just eight rushing touchdowns this year. Six of those have come from the red zone, while Wilson has 19 passing touchdowns from the same part of the field. For Wilson to break the record, he’ll need to continue to pass the ball into the end zone when Seattle gets close to the goal line. And if Wilson scores touchdowns with his feet, as he’s done once this year, he’ll be hurting his chances when it comes to moving past Manning on the single-season list.

This is the most prominent record that is up for grabs. Since Dan Marino threw 48 touchdown passes in 1984, only two people have held this mark: Manning and Tom Brady. Wilson setting a new high would put him among the all-time greats. But he has no room for error.

Interception Percentage

Current record holder: Aaron Rodgers (0.3 percent, 2018)
2020 contender: Patrick Mahomes (0.3 percent)

Technically, Mahomes has the lead on Rodgers here. He’s thrown one pick on 329 attempts for an interception rate of 0.30 percent. In 2018, Rodgers threw two interceptions on 597 attempts for an interception rate of 0.34 percent. The goal for Mahomes is simple: He needs to either not throw another interception or throw at least 269 more passes while recording just one additional pick. If he throws three interceptions this season, his chances of breaking this mark are toast.

Mahomes’s position is precarious. One tipped pass or miscommunication with a receiver could end his bid for the record. And Mahomes has already benefited from significant luck when it comes to picks this season. In a Week 4 win against the Patriots, he had three different would-be interceptions fall through the hands of defenders.

Mahomes is the most talented passer in the league, but he’s hardly conservative with his throws. Given Mahomes’s aggressive style of play, I’d bet on Rodgers retaining his spot atop this leaderboard.

Passer Rating

Current record holder: Aaron Rodgers (122.5, 2011)
2020 contenders: Aaron Rodgers (117.5), Russell Wilson (117.1), Patrick Mahomes (115.9)

Passer rating is a very flawed stat—it doesn’t account for sacks, for example—but it’s still something fans and players alike use to measure quarterback performance. Rodgers’s 2011 MVP season stands as the gold standard in this metric, as he put up astronomical touchdown and yardage numbers while leading Green Bay to a 15-1 record that year.

It would take an enormous effort for this mark to fall in 2020. Rodgers himself is the closest to the record, as he’s exactly five points away from his career high. But even if Rodgers had thrown four additional touchdowns through Week 9—hypothetically giving him 28 instead of 24—his passer rating would still sit at only 122.2, leaving him short of his 2011 figure. Five points may not look like much, but it’s hard to get passer rating to budge much when the numbers are this high.

Still, three players are within striking distance. If Rodgers, Wilson, and Mahomes all continue on their current paces, they’d finish tied for fourth, tied for seventh, and 10th, respectively, on the all-time list. Could one of them go on a historic run in the second half of this season to claim the passer rating crown? It’s not terribly likely—but it’s not impossible either.

Completion Percentage

Current record holder: Drew Brees (74.4 percent, 2018)
2020 contender: Drew Brees (74.0 percent)

Brees remains the completion percentage king. He owns the three best seasons ever in this stat, and if he continues at this pace he’ll own the top four. (This season would come in third.)

But lauding Brees for his completion percentage would be like celebrating DeAndre Jordan for leading the NBA in field goal percentage so many times when all the Clippers asked him to do was dunk. While Brees is one of the most accurate and accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history, he’s currently benefiting from a dink-and-dunk offense that rarely requires him to push the ball downfield. Per Pro Football Reference, Brees’s average pass this season has traveled just 5.5 yards downfield, down from 6.4 yards in 2019 and 7.1 in 2018. That’s by far the lowest mark in the league, a full 0.8 yards less than the nearest player (Jimmy Garoppolo). For context, the typically checkdown-oriented Derek Carr is averaging 7.6 intended air yards per attempt.

Next Gen Stats gives Brees the highest expected completion percentage in the league (70.8), further indicating that he is making very few difficult throws. To his credit, he’s exceeding that expected mark by 3.2 percentage points, and it certainly seems as if this pace is sustainable. Still, it’s not that impressive.

Game-Winning Drives

Current record holder: Matthew Stafford (eight, 2016)
2020 contender: Ryan Tannehill (four, on pace for eight)

The difference between the Titans and the league’s other teams with six-plus wins is that Tennessee has played in almost exclusively close games. The Titans have been in six one-score games and are 5-1 in those contests. That’s an incredible run of luck—and clutch play from Tannehill.

Tannehill has picked off right where he left off last season, putting together another efficient season in this offense. He ranks ninth in QBR, ninth in Pro Football Focus grade, and third in adjusted net yards per attempt. And Tennessee consistently relies on him in critical moments. Last season, Tannehill recorded three game-winning drives despite making only 10 starts. That included one from a Week 10 matchup against the Chiefs, in which the Titans got the ball down 32-27 with 1:21 left on the clock and Tannehill marched down the field in just four plays (picking up 18 yards with his legs and 43 yards with his arm):

This season, Tannehill’s heroics haven’t been as memorable. He’s led Tennessee on game-winning drives against the Broncos, Jaguars, Vikings, and Texans. Now the Titans’ schedule toughens up: They have two games remaining against the Colts, one game remaining against the Ravens, and one game left against the Packers.

This will be a tough record to break, as it requires the Titans to get into sticky-but-not-too-sticky situations and Tannehill to successfully bail the team out. To eclipse Stafford’s 2016 mark, Tannehill needs to lead game-winning drives in five of Tennessee’s final eight games.

Longest Field Goal

Current record holder: Matt Prater (64 yards, 2013)
2020 contender: Joey Slye

This isn’t a single-season record, but it’s worth highlighting nonetheless. Panthers kicker Joey Slye has had multiple attempts this year to make the longest field goal in league history. He attempted a 67-yarder in Week 9 that would have lifted the Panthers over the Chiefs; while he had plenty of distance, Slye missed it wide right. Maybe that was an overcorrection for his 65-yard attempt in Week 7; that was on line, but came up just short:

Slye has the leg for this. He’s drilled long kicks before, and has hit 70-yarders in practice. Plus, Carolina head coach Matt Rhule has shown that he trusts Slye with long attempts. Now it’s just a question of opportunity and luck. The Panthers have just one more dome game this season (when they travel to Minneapolis in Week 12), and their Week 14 game against the Broncos takes place in Carolina instead of in the thin Denver air. Still, if the wind blows the right way, Slye has the potential to break Prater’s record.

Yards Per Punt

Current record holder: Sammy Baugh (51.4, 1940)
2020 contender: Jack Fox (52.8)

Baugh led the league in punt average for four consecutive seasons from 1940 to 1943. Considering that he also played quarterback and defensive back, Baugh is arguably the greatest all-around football player ever. It’ll be especially difficult for Fox—or anyone—to break this 80-year-old record.

Of course, Baugh played an almost completely different sport than the one Fox is playing. He frequently punted well before fourth down—sometimes as early as first down—using what was known as the quick kick strategy of the day. His goal was to flip field position, and sometimes he punted the ball more than 70 yards. He even had a couple of punts that eclipsed 80 yards.

Modern punters don’t have the same goals, and they certainly don’t boot the ball before fourth down (though the Jets offense can be so bad that Adam Gase may want to consider it). They’re tasked with pinning opposing offenses deep, not kicking the ball as far as they can. When Fox is asked to punt from around midfield, his average will inevitably take a hit.

So far, Fox’s punting opportunities have boosted his average. Of his 29 punts this season, just six have come from beyond Detroit’s 40-yard line. The rest have given Fox the chance to boot the ball, and he has four punts that have traveled more than 60 yards. Just two have gone fewer than 40.

Team Passing Yards Allowed

Current record holder: Packers (4,796, 2011)
2020 contender: Seahawks (2,897, on pace for 5,794)

The flip side of quarterbacks challenging so many passing records this season is that defenses are getting pummeled, and none have been worse than the Seahawks. They’re on pace to shatter the passing yards allowed record by nearly 1,000 yards. While many of the above marks will be tough to break this season, it’s hard to see how this one won’t be broken.

It’s shocking to think that Seattle traded for Jamal Adams this offseason to bolster its pass defense, and yet it still has the worst group in the league in that respect by a wide margin. The Falcons have allowed the second-most passing yards this season (2,793), but they’ve played nine games to the Seahawks’ eight. And as long as Russ keeps cooking at quarterback, teams will need to pass to keep up with Seattle—making it all the more likely that this record falls.