Week by week games are growing in significance and with only two weeks of the NFL regular season to go, as many as six teams can have their playoff hopes ended, to add to the five teams that were eliminated from the playoff race last weekend. While last week’s eliminated teams consisted primarily of those whose chances were dismissed long ago (including the Jets and the Browns …need I say more), the post season hopes of 3 out of the last 4 Super bowl winners are in serious jeopardy. Recent champions the Saints need a miracle if they are to make it to the post season while the 6-time champion Steelers will be out of contention if they fall to their big divisional rival Bengals in their UK televised clash on Sunday night.
If everything goes sour for the 6 vulnerable teams, the most notable omission from the post season would be the reigning Super bowl champions, the New York Giants. Tom Coughlin’s team have gone 2 and 6 in their last 8 games, and although their hopes can be extinguished in Sunday’s other UK televised game, amazingly they can still win the NFC East and clinch the NFC 4th seed. Another perfect example of the NFL’s ability to provide excitement and interesting storylines right up until the conclusion of the 16 game season.
I will discuss these televised games in tomorrow’s post, but in addition to determining the end of season playoff contenders, this weekend’s action may be record-breaking. Calvin Johnson, Aldon Smith, JJ Watt and Adrian Peterson all have the opportunity to make history either this week or next. It’s possible that if any of these players are to break their respective records then we could be witnessing some of the Sport’s greatest ever players at the top of their game.
Stating that they might be some of the all-time greatest players is a substantial claim, maybe a ludicrous one in fact, but I feel that breaking a noteworthy record in the NFL can boost your claim to being the very best much more so than in other team sports.
NFL v Football v Rugby-
Take rugby for example; a relative of American football that remains one of the world’s most popular sports. Only in the past decade have rugby players developed muscle-laden physiques that could rival their NFL counterparts, while the sport has only been professional for around 15 years, so the differences in athleticism, fitness and the way the game is played now compared to 20 or 30 years ago is monumental. In the NFL on the other hand, not much has changed massively in that time span with regards to training volume or player physiques. Although there is a general consensus that the league is more pass focused than in previous generations, due to only a small change in player physiques the style of play hasn’t changed dramatically when compared to its cousin rugby where player comparisons from era to era are almost impossible.
The innovation and ingenuity of the NFL is also a big reason why records can be relied upon with relative assuredness. The league has been experimenting with synthetic playing surfaces for well over 20 years now, and this has ensured that records set 30 years ago were set under similar playing conditions to those used today. Again, it is only now that popular team sports like rugby and football have started experimenting with artificial playing surfaces.
The third advantage that the NFL has is ‘statistics’. Football is still played in a style that is comparable to football of almost a hundred years ago, but aside from goal scoring statistics there aren’t many methods for comparing players of different eras, and so it’s pretty difficult to make a case for why a particular player might be best. Even with goal scoring though, multiple leagues, playing standards and competition variations means that even this reliable statistic can be deemed inaccurate. Recently Lionel Messi found this to his cost as FIFA refused to acknowledge him as having scored the highest number of goals in a calendar year because the Zambian football federation argued that a little known player of theirs had scored more. So should Godfrey Chitalu be considered one of the greatest footballers ever?
American football provides a massive contrast in that it is almost dependent on statistics. Players, teams and coaches are evaluated using endless numbers and statistics and have been for years, so if these talented individuals are to break these esteemed NFL records can we label them as some of the greatest ever, even if they have only played two seasons? Well before this can be considered, we must wonder will the following records be broken?
- Single season receiving yards: Jerry Rice- 1848 yards (1995) YES- Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions has two big advantges. Firstly he is only 185 yards short, and secondly with nothing to play for the Lions can continue to operate their entire gameplan around Calvin achieving this record.
- Single season rushing yards: Eric Dickerson- 2105 yards (1984) NO- The odds are stacked against him as they have been all season. He needs an average of 147 yards per game in the final 2 weeks to break the record, which is a simply ridiculous number. Sounds like a tall order, but in the past 8 weeks Adrian Peterson has averaged a staggering 164.1 yards per game, a number that is easily double the league average for starting running backs, and has also rushed for 75 yards more than his quarterback has passed for in the Vikings‘ last 3 encounters.
Last weekend the Rams were completely aware of this ultimately one dimensional offence and immediately targeted Peterson, limiting him to negative yardage after his first 5 rushing attempts of the game. The Texans will look to do exactly the same this weekend, however the Rams proved it is immensely difficult to stop Peterson on every run, and he subsequently galloped on an 82 yard touchdown run a few minutes later. A few of those big runs and the record could be well within his sights. If he doesn’t dazzle us with any long runs on Sunday however, I feel the record will be out of reach no matter how dominant he is against the Packers. Peterson 294 yards shortPeterson breaks single game rushing record in 2007;
- Single season sacks: Michael Strahan- 22.5 sacks (2002) YES- The main reason why I feel Peterson may struggle to accumulate his usual incredible yardage is that the the Texansdefensive line may just be good. And one member of the defensive line is second year player JJ Watt. A pass heavy offense will make the quarterback more susceptible to sacks whereas a run heavy offense like the Vikings is less so. This inevitably means that JJ Watt will have fewer chances to target Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, although I feel that the Texans will focus on stopping Peterson rather than aiming for the sack record, and Watt will break the record in week 17 against the pass heavy Colts.
49er Aldon Smith is also in with a shot of the record, but if Defensive tackle Justin Smith fails to recover from an elbow injury in time for tomorrow’s game I feel that he may struggle, but like Watt he will enjoy a sack filled final day against the Cardinals week. JJ Watt and Aldon Smith both 3 Sacks short.
Tomorrow’s post will include my picks for this weekend’s matchups and previews of tomorrow’s televised games.