Now that he has retired, we don't have to worry about Peyton Manning shattering a new record every week.
We now must worry about Eli Manning shattering a new record every week. Or at least approaching some new milestone.
Eli is just 424 yards from entering the all-time Top 10 in passing yards. He's already eighth in touchdowns, and 10th in completions. If Eli throws for 4,400 yards and at least 30 touchdowns this year—typical totals for him—he will pass Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde and Fran Tarkenton to move into eighth on the all-time passing list while moving past John Elway—JOHN ELWAY—and into seventh place in touchdowns.
Not bad for a guy who isn't even considered "elite" by many of his own fans. But that's the nature of the NFL's all-time records. Season lengths, career lengths and offensive and passing totals and rates have increased more-or-less steadily from the 1950s through last year. Even the last decade has seen noticeable jumps in passing and yardage totals. That means current greats—and sorta greats like Eli—are never too far from reaching a milestone or cracking a top-10 list.
Let's check in on some other veterans poised to climb the leaderboards in 2016. You can find all of these official rankings and many, many more at Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore and more.
Here's a fact that can win you a bar bet: Adrian Peterson is not the active all-time rushing leader. Peterson trails Frank Gore by 365 yards.
Peterson (11,675) should pass Gore (12,040) sometime this year, though it's not a slam dunk; Gore is still the Colts' starting running back, while Peterson will spend yet another year hammering against eight-man boxes with Teddy Bridgewater injured.
Gore and Peterson rank 15th and 17th, respectively, all-time, with Fred Taylor wedged between them. They are just about to climb onto the plateau where near-greats like Taylor, Corey Dillon (20th at 11,241) and Warrick Dunn (22nd at 10,967) peel away, leaving only Hall of Famers and top candidates. Peterson and Gore are in position this year to pass Thurman Thomas (12,074), Franco Harris (12,120), Marcus Allen (12, 243), Edgerrin James (12,246), Marshall Faulk (12,279), Jim Brown (12,312) and potentially Tony Dorsett (12,739).
Peterson is a sure Hall of Famer even without the bulk yardage totals. Gore is a more interesting case. He is turning into the Hank Aaron of steady 1,100-yard seasons. Curtis Martin, fourth all-time with 14,101 yards, reached the Hall of Fame with years of steady reliability. Gore is one or two more strong years, or one exceptional one like Martin had in 2004 (leading the league in rushing at age 31), from being able to make the same kind of case.
Here's another bar-bet winner about Peterson: He is not the active touchdown leader, either. Antonio Gates leads all active players with 104 touchdowns. Gates would have been, what, your eighth or ninth guess?
Peterson has 102 touchdowns from scrimmage, tying him for 19th on the all-time list with Don Hutson (though Hutson still retains the overall TD mark courtesy of a lone defensive score). Ten touchdowns this season by Peterson would move him into a tie with Shaun Alexander for 14th place. Fifteen touchdowns—which sounds like a tall order with Bridgewater injured, but maybe not if Peterson just takes direct snaps inside the 10-yard line—would push Peterson past John Riggins (116) and into 12th place.
Gates probably doesn't have any double-digit touchdown seasons left in him. But seven touchdowns would move him into a tie with Tony Gonzalez for the all-time mark by a tight end. Gates, like Gore, is going on his fifth or sixth season of being "almost done."
Jerry Rice's all-time touchdown mark of 208 is very safe. Peterson is less than halfway there. Think about it: Adrian Peterson could have his entire career over again, start to finish, and still trail Jerry Rice by four touchdowns. Holy. Freaking. Cow.
Larry Fitzgerald and Friends
Jason Witten, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin have been moving up the all-time reception board together for a few years. They all passed the 1,000-catch barrier last year and currently rank 10th (Witten at 1,020), 11th (Fitzgerald at 1,018) and 12th (Boldin at 1,009). Andre Johnson is the active career reception leader at 1,053 but, optimistic reports from Tennessee notwithstanding, is very close to the last exit.
Fitzgerald caught 109 passes last season and is the focal point of a playoff-caliber offense, making his prospects for 2016 much better than those of Witten (still great, but again coping with quarterback injuries) and Boldin (now a gutsy possession receiver for hire). Another 100 receptions would move Fitzgerald all the way into third place, behind Rice and Gonzalez but ahead of Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter and other Hall of Famers.
A modest 70 catches, probably still within the range of all of these Three Musketeers, would move each of them past Isaac Bruce (1,024), Reggie Wayne (1,070) and Terrell Owens (1,078).
As a tight end, Witten is an interesting case. He is well ahead of Gates (844) in receptions, but well behind Gonzalez (1,325) for the all-time mark at the position. No tight end will threaten their marks for at least another five years (Rob Gronkowski is way down at 380; Heath Miller is retired). Assuming Witten and Gates retire at around the same time, they pose a Hall of Fame dilemma: two similarly great players at one position who spend most of their careers in the shadow of an all-time great in Gonzalez. Witten's assault on the all-time reception leaderboard and Gates' ladder-climbing on the touchdown board will help each of their causes.
Steve Smith fell off the pace from the other Musketeers when he got hurt early last season. Smith is 39 receptions away from 1,000 catches, a mark that would tie him with Hines Ward in 13th place all-time. That two tough-guy receivers might end up clustered around the same milestone together seems fitting somehow.
Tom Brady and Drew Brees
Brady and Brees are tied for third place on the all-time touchdown list at 428. Brett Favre is 80 touchdowns away in second place. Brady is going to come back on fire in Week 5, but not that on fire.
Brees ranks fourth all-time with 60,903 passing yards, nearly 3,000 yards ahead of Brady (58,028). That head start, plus the four-game suspension Brady will serve, means that Brees should easily pass Dan Marino in third place early this year (61,361), while Brady may have to wait until mid-December. Favre (71,838) and Peyton (71,940) are safe for at least another year.
Brady can pass Marino for second place on the all-time game-winning drive list by leading the Patriots to four game-winning scores on the final drive of the game. (Brady is at 48; Marino 51). Brady passed Marino in fourth-quarter comebacks last year; he has 37, Marino 36, and Elway (wrongly assumed the all-time leader until Scott Kacsmar applied rigorous research for Pro Football Reference) has 35. Peyton Manning is the all-time leader in both comebacks (45) and game-winning drives (56), but that won't stop that loudmouth at the end of the bar from calling him a choke artist.
Rodgers has been the active all-time leader in passer rating for several years. Passer rating isn't a well-loved or particularly useful stat, but Rodgers has a career rating of 104.1, which is insane. Only Russell Wilson has a rating over 100, and Rodgers has attempted 4,047 passes to Wilson's 1,735; because it is based on efficiency and percentages, the rating favors smaller sample sizes.
To give some perspective about a confusing statistic: There have only been 80 quarterback seasons in pro football history that earned a rating of at least 100; Rodgers has six of them. Rodgers' career mark of 104.1 would have been the single-season leading figure in 2006, '05, '03, '01, '00 and dozens of seasons in the 20th century. Yes, passer ratings are always drifting upward as completion rates rise and interception rates fall. But Rodgers is high on the crest of that curve.
Rodgers' rating dipped below 100 (92.7) for the first time in six years last season, so he may start drifting back below the 100 mark. But even if you give Rodgers statistics for this year which exactly match Mark Sanchez's numbers from the 2012 "butt fumble" season, he will still have a passer rating of 100.4 for his career. He has a chance to be the first major quarterback to retire with a rating above 100.
Julius Peppers and DeMarcus Ware are at 9th and 11th on the all-time sack list, with Ware at 134.5 sacks and Peppers at 136. Jared Allen retired this year with 136 sacks. Peppers and Ware are within a few sacks of several notables: John Randle (137.5), Richard Dent (137.5), Jason Taylor (139.5) and Michael Strahan, who is in fifth place at 141.5
Peppers, Ware and Allen are going to spark some Hall of Fame conversation, as will Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, lagging behind at 119.5 and 118 (19th and 20th), respectively. The fact that there are five similar players clustered together works against all of their Hall of Fame arguments.
The Hall of Fame selection committee looks at a heck of a lot more than the sack leaderboard when appraising defenders. But the induction of Kevin Greene indicates that it is starting to look at the sack leaderboard, which had a bad reputation about 15 years ago, when it was full of guys who had a couple of big seasons in the 1980s. Climbing up to the top five and reaching the 150-sack plateau with Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Greene and Chris Doleman might sway voters, which is better news for the still-productive Peppers and Ware than Allen.
J.J. Watt bears watching. He is already 70th on the all-time sack list with 74.5 sacks. Eleven sacks will move him all the way to the Top 50; if he's healthy, he could get there before Election Day. Matching last year's 17.5 total will move him all the way to 42nd, past Howie Long. Watt, at age 27, is still far from the all-time leaders but already entering a region where Hall of Famers with exceptional career peaks dwell.
Weird Observations That Don't Fit Anywhere Else
• Jamaal Charles is second among running backs all-time in yards per rush at 5.5. That's a mind-boggling rate after 1,320 rushes: Most running backs crack 5.0 yards per carry in their best seasons, then dip back into the low 4.0s because of their sheer volume of carries. Marion Motley, the all-time leader at 5.7 (not counting Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham) retired in 1955, so Charles is unique for this era. Charles also averaged 5.1 yards per carry before getting hurt last year, so there is not a huge risk that his per-carry rate will dip precipitously as he ages.
• With Charles Woodson retired, there are no active defenders among the top 50 in interceptions. DeAngelo Hall is the active leader with 43, tied for 63rd all-time; Darrelle Revis, at the tail end of his peak as the greatest cornerback of this generation, is tied at 236th with 28. Interception rates have shrunk steadily for six decades, so Woodson's total of 65 interceptions, tied for fifth all-time, is one of the most remarkable achievements by any defender in the 21st century.
• Matt Forte is tied for second place on the all-time two-point conversion list with six. Marshall Faulk holds the record with seven. Forte deserves a record he can call his own. C'mon, Coach Bowles, you know you want to go for two!
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @MikeTanier.