On March 30, the NFL announced it will begin playing a 17-game season next year – the first expansion of the regular season in 44 years.
The change was met with mixed reviews outside of network boardrooms and NFL owners’ suites, as some players and coaches bemoaned the added week of wear and tear without the addition of an extra bye week. Fans and players alike can take some solace in the accompanying reduction to three preseason games, though. It means one less meaningless game in which players can get injured and one less game of paying full price for a ticket to watch a game that backup players will dominate and won’t count in the standings.
Don’t worry, though. With a new collective bargaining agreement looming, an extra bye week is coming — as is, in all likelihood, an 18th game in the regular season (eventually). And with more games on the way, the asterisks will follow.
Yes, the asterisks, as in asterisks next to all the new single-season records that are about to be set across the league.
It’s not like adding one game will equate to records being shattered – that may yet come once we get to the point of 20 regular-season games and Super Bowls being played the week of St. Patrick’s Day. However, adding one game should be just enough to take down some of them. That’s where the asterisks will start popping up to differentiate between the 16-game schedule that existed from 1978-2020 and the NFL’s new era.
With that in mind, let’s flip through the Vikings’ record book to see which single-season records might be most in jeopardy in a 17-game schedule.
Prior to 2021, the Minnesota Vikings would have required a perfect regular season to top their 15-1 record from 1998. Going forward, Vikings teams can lose as many as two games to tie the record, and, if our math is correct, still lose one game to set a new standard for wins in a season.
Now seems like a good time to mention that the balance of this article will include a lot of math, and not all of it will be as straightforward as determining what kind of won-loss record would be better than 15-1. Therefore, if exposure to high levels of math and projections and numbers and stuff makes you uneasy, you may want to pace yourself. Better yet, ask your doctor if this much math is right for you.
Now, let’s continue.
Other counting stats like most points, touchdowns, and most yards could fall in addition to the overall record. Records such as most holding penalties or most sacks allowed or most false start penalties could also be threatened. And if it sounds like I’m singling out the offensive line with those latter examples, it’s because I am.
Most of the aforementioned team records, other than the 15-1 won-loss mark, won’t cause much of a stir if they get broken. However, the one that might seem unfair is the Vikings’ record for points in a season, which was also set in 1998. Their 556 points in ’98 set a new NFL record that stood until the 2007 Patriots broke it with 589 points. That record has since been broken by the 2013 Broncos (606). But that 556-point season hasn’t been remotely challenged by another Vikings team. Their next-best season was the first season with Brett Favre in 2009 when they put up 470.
Last season, the Vikings scored 430 points, which ranks as the third-most in a season in Vikings history – a mere 126 points short of the team record. If a Vikings team surpasses 556 points in the future, they’ll certainly be celebrated for doing so, especially if they make it past the NFC Championship Game, as the 1998 and 2009 teams failed to do. However, there will always be observers of a certain vintage that will maintain the only reason they were able to surpass 556 is because of the extra game(s).
And now for some math: A team would need to average 32.8 points per game over 17 games to get to 557 points. The 1998 team needed to average 34.8 points to set the record.
While the team-level records are important, more NFL fans and media types will be paying much closer attention to the individual player records that could fall with the longer season. Let’s run through the counting stats records in the Vikings’ record book and figure out which ones could be the next to collapse under the weight of a 17-game season.
Scoring – Gary Anderson holds the Vikings’ single-season record for points with 164 in – you guessed it – 1998. Anyone else sensing a trend here? Anderson, you’ll recall, went a perfect 59-for-59 on extra points and 35-for-35 on field goals that season before he… you know what? Never mind what happened after that. This is one mark that Vikings fans might love to see erased from the record books. A player would need to average 9.7 points per game to do it. Let’s hope it happens.
Total Touchdowns – The great Chuck Foreman still owns the Vikings’ record for most total touchdowns in a season when he scored 22 times (13 rushing, nine receiving) in 1975… when they still played only 14 games in a season. Yeah, it might be time to reopen consideration of Foreman for the Hall of Fame, but that’s an article for another time. Nobody else in a Vikings uniform has ever made a serious run at his record. Someone would need to average 1.4 touchdowns per game to break Foreman’s mark.
Rushing Touchdowns – Adrian Peterson came the closest to breaking Foreman’s team record for touchdowns in a season when he scored 18 in his MVP season of 2009. All of them came on the ground, which is a record that still stands. However, this one could get challenged in the years ahead. In fact, Dalvin Cook rushed for 16 touchdowns last year. Another two or three rushing scores doesn’t seem like a big ask.
Receiving Touchdowns – The math on this one is pretty simple. To break the team record for touchdown receptions, someone would need to catch one per game for 16 of the games and then add an extra one in the 17th game. Randy Moss had 17 receiving touchdowns in Vikings uniform as a rookie in 1998 and then again in 2003, matching the team record established by Cris Carter in 1995. Adam Thielen made a run at it last year when he finished with 14.
Passing Touchdowns – Daunte Culpepper set the Vikings team record for touchdown passes in a season with 39 back in 2004 and Kirk Cousins has come the closest since, finishing with 35 last year. It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure Cousins or some other Vikings quarterback in the coming years reaching 40 touchdown passes. Three quarterbacks threw for 40 just last season and 10 different quarterbacks have thrown for at least 40 in a season. That number is about to explode. A 40-touchdown pass season equates to 2.35 per game in a 17-game season.
Rushing Yards – This might be the most unreachable record in the Vikings’ single-season record book. Peterson’s 2,097 yards in 2012 hasn’t been threatened — not even by Peterson himself. The second-most rushing yards in a season in team history is Adrian’s 1,760 in 2008. Third is Cook at 1,557 in 2020. Cook had a fantastic season in 2020 and to think he’d still be short of the record after another 500 yards, is mind-boggling. A player would need to average 123.4 rushing yards per game in order to surpass Peterson’s 2012 mark.
Receiving Yards – As you might imagine, Moss controls the top three spots in this category. At the very top are his 1,632 yards in 2003. Slide down to fourth on the list, following the three best Moss years, and you’ll find Justin Jefferson’s rookie season of 1,400 receiving yards last year. Remember, Jefferson was used sparingly the first two games, finally busting out and hitting the Griddy with 175 yards and a score in Week 3. Give him a few seasons of full-time focus and an extra game, and he’ll be able to make a run at Randy’s record. It would require 96.1 receiving yards per game.
Passing Yards – Culpepper owns this Purple passing record as well, with 4,717 yards in 2004. However, 4,000-yard seasons have become commonplace in today’s NFL, and with a 17th game being added, the 5,000-yard milestone will be reached more frequently as well. Cousins only needs to add another 400-something yard game to his ledger to get there in 2021. Kirk had 4,298 yards in 2018 and 4,265 in 2020. Averaging 277.5 passing yards for 17 games would break Daunte’s record. That’s doable.
Completions – This one will continue getting broken every few years going forward given the direction the NFL is trending. Adding more games will just make it easier. Even with Mike Zimmer pushing the run game, Cousins set the single-season completion record for the Vikings at 425 in 2018, breaking the record of 395 set by Sam Bradford in 2016.
Receptions – This won’t be an easy one to break, but someone will get there eventually. Carter holds the team record with 122 receptions in 1994 and again in 1995. Thielen gave the record a run in 2018 but fell short at 113. A Vikings player would need to average 7.24 receptions per game to snap Carter’s team record. We’re looking at you again, Justin Jefferson.
Sacks – After Peterson’s rushing yards record, Jared Allen’s team record of 22.0 sacks in 2011 will be the hardest to topple, even with the extra game. There’s only been one season with more sacks by any player in NFL history (Michael Strahan had 22.5 in 2001). Many have tried, none have succeeded. It might take 18-20 games for someone to get there, but if anyone can make it interesting, it would be Danielle Hunter, assuming he doesn’t sit out the season or get traded or something. Pay the man… and then set him loose on quarterbacks. Seems like a simple concept, no?
Interceptions – Hall of Famer Paul Krause, who holds the NFL record with 81 career interceptions, also holds the Vikings’ single-season record with 10 in 1975. This one is reachable in a 17-game season. Three other Vikings have picked off nine in a season: Darren Sharper (2005), Brian Russell (2003) and Orlando Thomas (1995).
So, which of the records above do you think are most likely to get broken in the years ahead and who do you think will do the honors?