NFL Records That Could Fall During the 2019 Season
In the National Football League, only one real goal exists: holding aloft the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champions.
However, there's something to be said for individual accolades. For big seasons that land even bigger contracts. And for setting records—the sort of career marks that can earn a player NFL immortality and, perhaps, a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In that regard, 2018 was the year of Drew Brees. Not only did the New Orleans Saints signal-caller break his own record for completion percentage in a season, but he also surpassed Peyton Manning as the league's all-time leading in passing yards.
This year, Brees has his sights set on yet another of Manning's career marks—the record for passing touchdowns. But that's not the only number that could fall this year, and the possibilities range from prowess catching the rock to making quarterbacks miserable.
Most Touchdown Passes, Career
The Record: 539
Set By: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts/Denver Broncos (1998-2015)
Over 17 standout seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos that included 14 Pro Bowl trips, five NFL MVP awards and two Super Bowl wins, Peyton Manning threw 539 touchdown passes. No quarterback in the history of the league has thrown more.
That record, just like Manning's mark for passing yardage did last year, is all but certain to fall in 2019. The only question is who will claim the No. 1 spot.
Right now, the signal-caller in second place on that list is Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, who needs 20 touchdown tosses to set a new benchmark. Just three times in his 18 NFL seasons has Brees failed to throw at least 20 scoring strikes—his first three seasons in the league with the San Diego Chargers.
However, while Brees is in an excellent position to break Manning's record, that doesn't mean he'll hold the touchdown record when the dust settles.
With 517 touchdown passes over his 19-year career with the New England Patriots, Tom Brady is just three behind Brees and 22 scores from tying Manning.
It sets up a duel for the ages. Two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks playing for great teams each vying for a slice of the record books as they try to lead their squads to Miami and Super Bowl LIV.
The only thing that could make it better is if the Saints and Pats squared off in the regular season.
As it is, they just might in Florida on Feb. 2.
Most Receiving Yards, Season
The Record: 1,964
Set By: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (2012)
It's an inevitability that the record for career passing touchdowns will be broken in 2019. This next individual mark is anything but inevitable. As a matter of fact, it's no stretch to call it a longshot.
However, anything is possible in today's NFL of high-octane offenses, including the Holy Grail for wide receivers.
A 2,000-yard season.
That milestone isn't required for a wide receiver to break Calvin Johnson's high-water mark of 1,964 yards set back in 2012. But not a lot of daylight separates that record from 2K, and the player who manages to hit it would achieve legendary status in an instant.
One wideout has long been mentioned as the most serious threat to Johnson's record. Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons paced the league with 1,677 receiving yards in 2018. It marked the fourth straight season he finished first or second in that category, including a 1,871-yard 2015 campaign that's as close to Megatron's record as anyone has ever come.
The presence of a viable secondary option in Atlanta (Calvin Ridley) doesn't necessarily do Jones' chances of a record-breaking season any favors, but other possibilities exist.
Odell Beckham Jr. could be on the verge of a career year as he enters his first season with the Cleveland Browns. Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints is the unquestioned top dog for a potent offense. Ditto for JuJu Smith-Schuster on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Most Sacks, Season
The Record: 22.5
Set By: Michael Strahan, New York Giants (2001)
The record for most sacks in a season has stood for a good long while. It was all the way back in January 2002 when Michael Strahan set the record with 22.5. As Mike Freeman wrote for the New York Times, it came with an asterisk in some eyes. Strahan broke the record when Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre changed the play at the line of scrimmage (without telling the offensive line) and rolled out right into Strahan's arms.
It was actually rather embarrassing—but it counts just the same.
Prior to that, the record belonged to Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets, who piled up 22 sacks in 1984. Based on the time that passed between Gastineau's big year and Strahan's, we should be just about due for another player to threaten the mark.
Actually, we've already seen some players come close in recent years.
In 2011, Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings came up just a half-sack short of the record. The following year, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans amassed 20.5 (and matched that mark two years later). Justin Houston racked up 22 with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014. And Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald paced the NFL with 20.5 sacks just last year.
Whether it's Donald, Watt, Von Miller of the Denver Broncos or Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns, we're in something of a golden age for pass-rushers. You can't count all the players with 15-plus-sack upside without removing your shoes.
It's not that hard to imagine one taking a run at Strahan's mark.
He might even earn it.
Most Receiving Yards by a Tight End, Season
The Record: 1,377
Set By: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (2018)
Back in the long-ago days of 2011, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski set a new record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,327. That record stood until last year, when it was broken twice in the span of a single afternoon.
First, Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs set a new benchmark with 1,336 yards. That mark stood for about an hour until George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers posted 149 yards in the season finale to end the year with 1,377.
Per ESPN's Nick Wagoner, Kittle downplayed the individual honor at the time: "I cherish my teammates and my coaches. They've put a lot of effort into me, a lot of faith in me, and I'm just glad I could do it. But it's not individual—this was definitely a team thing and I'm absolutely exhilarated to be on this type of team with these guys."
Let's see if it's no big deal when Kelce takes it back in 2019.
Kittle was thrust into a role as San Francisco's primary pass-catcher in 2018 when injuries wrecked the offense. But this year, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is healthy, and the 49ers have upgraded the wideout corps with the additions of veteran Jordan Matthews and rookies Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd.
In Kansas City, Kelce is already one of the primary options in the passing game. But with Tyreek Hill's future uncertain, Kelce could well be the No. 1 option for an MVP quarterback who topped 5,000 passing yards with 50 scores last year.
Payback time is coming.
Most Pass Completions, Season
The Record: 471
Set By: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (2016)
It's become an annual tradition for some quarterback to take a run at the NFL record for completion percentage in a season. Sam Bradford broke the record with the Minnesota Vikings in 2016. Drew Brees then broke Bradford's mark in both 2017 and 2018.
The record for completions in a season has stood a bit longer, although that imaginary trophy isn't exactly gathering dust. Brees also owns that mark, which was set back in 2016.
Just like the record for completion percentage, though, it's a benchmark that's going to be under annual assault in this pass-happy era. A few quarterbacks appeared poised to challenge it for much of the 2018 season, and while none made it all the way home, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers came pretty close with 452.
Big Ben is one of a handful of signal-callers who could threaten it again this year. Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs is only just beginning his assault on the record books. A healthy Aaron Rodgers is a huge season just waiting to happen. Jared Goff. Matthew Stafford. Russell Wilson. Matt Ryan. The list goes on and on.
And, of course, there's always Brees.
It's a good time to be a quarterback from a numbers perspective. Never mind the rather robust paycheck.
Most Rushing Yards by a Quarterback, Season
The Record: 1,039
Set By: Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons (2006)
When Michael Vick entered the league back in 2001, he was a revelation—a cannon-armed southpaw with scrambling ability very few (if any) quarterbacks had ever displayed in the NFL. In 2006, he took that scrambling ability to the next level. He averaged over eight yards per carry and did something many thought we'd never see a quarterback do in the pros—rush for over 1,000 yards.
Fast-forward over a decade, and another signal-caller, though right-handed, has evoked more than a few comparisons to Vick.
Yes, the offseason plan for the Baltimore Ravens has no doubt revolved around helping second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson improve as a passer. The 147 carries he had in 2018 were more than Vick had in that 2006 season and obviously led to more punishment than Ravens head coach John Harbaugh would like to see Jackson take.
But the Ravens are also a team with legitimate postseason aspirations after they won the AFC North in 2018. They're going to do whatever it takes to win. And it's not like Jackson is suddenly going to morph into a pocket passer; scrambling has always been—and will always be—a big part of his game.
Over seven outings from Week 11 to Week 17 last year, Jackson gained 556 yards on the ground—an average of 79.4 yards per game. At that pace, he wouldn't just break Vick's record over a full season.
He'd shatter it.
Most Career Pro Bowl Invitations
The Record: 14
Set By: Five-way tie
OK, so the record for the most invitations to the Pro Bowl isn't exactly the most prestigious on this list. To say the event has lost some of its cachet implies it ever had any. It's as much a popularity contest as a true indicator of the NFL's best players, and stars beg off from the game in droves now.
Frankly, who can blame them? You don't even get a trip to Hawaii anymore. Orlando….yippee.
However, a record is a record.
As things stand today, five players in league history—Brady, Manning and Hall of Famers Tony Gonzalez, Bruce Matthews and Merlin Olson—have been named to 14 Pro Bowls, which remains an impressive feat even if the game itself isn't.
Given that Brady has been named to the Pro Bowl 14 out of 19 seasons (and each of the last 10), it's a pretty safe bet he'll make it 15 in 2019.
Will he actually go? Probably not.
But the record is going to be his nonetheless.
Most Yards Allowed, Season
The Record: 7,042
Set By: New Orleans Saints (2012)
It's fitting we end this piece with a team record after so much talk of individual accolades. After all, professional football is the ultimate team sport—11 players acting in concert to achieve a common goal.
Except this isn't a record anyone wants to set.
Back in 2012, the New Orleans Saints set the league record for defensive futility, becoming the first team ever to surrender over 7,000 yards in a season. To date no one else has hit that "goal," though a few teams have certainly tried.
Last year, the worst defense in the NFL belonged to the Cincinnati Bengals, who allowed a jaw-dropping 413.6 yards per game—6,618 for the year. For a good portion of the season, that "defense" was on pace to break New Orleans' mark.
The Cincinnati defense isn't markedly better on paper in 2019 under first-year defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. The Bengals also aren't the only defense giving off some stink as we move toward training camp.
The Kansas City Chiefs made wholesale changes after they finished 31st in total defense last year, but it has the looks of a "one step forward, two steps back" process. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have ranked toward the bottom of the league for several years, lost their best edge-rusher (Jason Pierre-Paul) to a serious injury and have to play in a division loaded with star quarterbacks. The Miami Dolphins gave up over 390 yards per game last year and are in the opening stages of a ground-up rebuild.
Don't be surprised if one of those teams lets the Saints off the hook.