NFL Records That Could Fall in Week 18
With a 17th game on the NFL schedule, we're going to see several new names in the record books this year.
Since 1978, when the league expanded the season from 14 to 16 contests, the game has changed in terms of the rules and tempo.
On top of that, every year, a new crop of stronger and faster players join the ranks, and some of them post astounding numbers.
Last week, in a marquee matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase set the single-season rookie record in receiving yards (1,429) for the post-Super Bowl era. He accomplished that feat in 16 appearances. He's not the only budding star who's going to raise the bar this season.
With a focus on all-time single-season numbers, including a couple specifically for rookies, we'll take a look at who has a good chance to break some of the most prestigious records of the sport in Week 18.
Pass Completions: Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (456)
Record holder: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (471, 2016)
At 44 years old, Tom Brady continues to rewrite record books, and not just because of his career longevity. He's suited up for every game this season, and his ability to play through a full 17-game slate might help him eclipse Drew Brees in completions for a single term.
Averaging 28.5 completions per contest, Brady could hold the record after Week 18. He hasn't completed fewer than 18 passes in a game for the 2021 campaign, though the Carolina Panthers' second-ranked pass defense held him to a season low in Week 16.
In his second meeting with the Panthers, Brady won't have wideouts Chris Godwin (torn ACL) or Antonio Brown, who exited last week's game with the New York Jets because of a dispute with the coaching staff, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
However, Brady will have three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans and tight Rob Gronkowski, who's the quarterback's longtime teammate dating back to their time with the New England Patriots. In spite of a tough matchup, Brady will likely make history.
Receptions: Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (138)
Record holder: Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints (149, 2019)
The Los Angeles Rams swapped quarterback Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford in a blockbuster trade this past offseason, and Cooper Kupp has benefited most among the team's pass-catchers.
In his first four years, Kupp posted solid numbers but shared targets with starting wideouts Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks, who's currently with the Houston Texans. As a result, he had to make the most of limited opportunities in some games.
Between Stafford's arrival and Woods' absence because of a torn ACL, Kupp has become the focal point of the Rams' passing attack, with Van Jefferson and Odell Beckham Jr., whom the team signed in November, as secondary receiving options.
Kupp has commanded 10-plus targets in all but two outings and logged double-digit catches in five contests. In Week 14 against the Arizona Cardinals, he hauled in 13 passes, so he's within range of Michael Thomas' record in receptions.
Nonetheless, Kupp will face a tough challenge in the San Francisco 49ers' fifth-ranked pass defense Sunday.
Rookie Receptions: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins (99)
Record holder: Anquan Boldin, WR, Arizona Cardinals (101, 2003)
Cincinnati Bengals wideout Ja'Marr Chase deserves all the praise he's garnered with his jaw-dropping receiving numbers and record-setting performance in Week 17. With that said, Jaylen Waddle has also shown star potential with his consistency.
Waddle needs just three receptions to break Anquan Boldin's rookie record for most catches, and he's quickly become quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's primary target in the passing game.
Between Weeks 11 and 16, Waddle caught at least eight passes in four games, missing one outing while on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Last week, the Tennessee Titans held Waddle to three catches, and he'll face the New England Patriots' fourth-ranked pass defense in the season finale.
Waddle hasn't finished a game with fewer than three receptions since Week 5 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett under center. Despite the difficult matchup, he'll likely etch his name into record books Sunday. The Alabama product caught four passes in the season opener against the Patriots.
Receiving Yards: Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (1,829)
Record holder: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions (1,964, 2012)
To put an exclamation point on a standout 2021 campaign, Cooper Kupp can go two-for-one on receiving records. In addition to Michael Thomas' total in catches (149), Kupp can top Calvin Johnson's single-season number in receiving yards.
Averaging a league-leading 114.3 yards per game, Kupp goes into Week 18 within reach of 1,964 receiving yards for the season. In his first matchup with the San Francisco 49ers, he recorded 122 yards.
Despite the buzz around the record, Kupp told ESPN's Lindsey Thiry that his mark would belong in a separate category because of the extra game.
"What those guys did in 16 games, it wouldn't seem right to, I don't know, for those to be broken in 17 games. It wouldn't hold the same weight to me as it does for guys that have done that in a 16-game season and the accomplishments those guys had and the seasons they put together. Those are incredible things, incredible accomplishments. You kind of have to separate the two."
While Kupp may put his remarkable season in a separate category from Johnson's 2012 performance, we'll talk about both wideouts in the same breath if the former racks up 136-plus receiving yards against the 49ers on Sunday.
Rookie TE Receiving Yards: Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons (1,018)
Record holder: Mike Ditka, Chicago Bears (1,076, 1961)
Kyle Pitts had a sluggish start to the 2021 term, logging 50 or fewer yards in three of his first four games.
After a breakout 119-yard performance against the New York Jets in London, Pitts followed up with 163 receiving yards in a contest with the Miami Dolphins. He's served as a reliable big-play target in the passing game, averaging 15.4 yards per reception with a 62.9 percent catch rate.
This past offseason, the Atlanta Falcons traded wideout Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans, and Calvin Ridley has missed 11 games as he takes care of his mental well-being. In the meantime, Pitts has filled a huge void, leading the team in targets (105), catches (66) and receiving yards (1,018).
Quarterback Matt Ryan has developed a strong rapport with Pitts, which may allow the rookie sensation to break a 60-year-old record that belongs to Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, who has the most receiving yards for a rookie tight end.
Averaging 63.6 receiving yards per game, Pitts could rack up another 59 yards against the New Orleans Saints' mediocre 14th-ranked pass defense in Week 18.
Sacks: T.J. Watt, Edge, Pittsburgh Steelers (21.5)
Record holder: Michael Strahan, DE, New York Giants (22.5, 2001)
T.J. Watt didn't need an extra game to challenge Hall of Famer Michael Strahan's sack record.
Going into Monday's contest against the Cleveland Browns, Watt had 17.5 sacks, and he added four in a stellar performance. The two-time All-Pro edge-rusher has missed two games because of a groin injury, and still, he just needs two sacks to capture the record.
In Week 13 against the Baltimore Ravens, Watt logged 3.5 sacks, taking down dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson multiple times.
Jackson could miss his fourth consecutive game because of an ankle injury, so Watt may have to set his sights on Tyler Huntley in order to pass Strahan in the record books.
The Ravens offensive line has allowed the eighth-most quarterback pressures (155) this season. If Watt can translate pressures into game-changing production near the pocket, Strahan will be bumped from the top spot on the sack list.
Rookie Sacks: Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas Cowboys (13)
Record holder: Jevon Kearse, DE, Tennessee Titans (14.5, 1999)
The Dallas Cowboys selected Micah Parsons with the intent to fill the linebacker position, but defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has moved the rookie around like a valuable chess piece.
During training camp, Parsons practiced in multiple spots across the front seven, which prepared him for the season.
In Week 1, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence broke his foot and subsequently underwent surgery, which sidelined him for about three months. While he recovered, Parsons wreaked havoc in a pass-rushing role, logging nine sacks between Weeks 2 and 12.
Going into the final week of the campaign, Parsons leads the Cowboys in sacks (13). He's the favorite to win Defensive of Rookie of the Year with a shot to top Jevon Kearse's rookie sack record.
Though Parsons has only logged one sack over the past three weeks, he's recorded at least two in a game three times this season.
Parsons will have to chase down Jalen Hurts, who's one of the league's most dynamic quarterbacks on the run, but the standout rookie possesses the closing speed to put together another highlight pass-rushing performance.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.