The NFL hasn't seen the league schedule expand since the 16-game schedule was implemented in 1978, which is about to change 43 years later. Starting in 2021, the NFL will implement a 17-game schedule for the first time -- one that will change the game and the league's record books.
Adding an extra game will put some hallowed NFL records in jeopardy, especially in a passing league where records are in danger of being surpassed every year. The league didn't experience record-breaking stats immediately when the schedule expanded from 14 games to 16 games, but some significant records were broken over the next decade that change the face of the NFL forever.
The 17-game schedule should have a similar impact, with several single-season records in danger as a result. Here are five significant NFL records in peril with the 17-game schedule in place:
Current record: Peyton Manning -- 5,477 (2013)
NFL quarterbacks have rewritten the record rooks over the past decade in the passing yards category. Twelve times quarterbacks have thrown for over 5,000 yards in a season, with 10 occurrences happening over the past 10 years. Manning set the mark in 2013, surpassing Brees throwing for 5,476 yards in 2011 -- a year in which three quarterbacks threw for 5,000 yards.
Manning's record will be challenged in a 17-game season, giving a prolific passer another 300 yards to surpass him. Patrick Mahomes averaged 316 passing yards per game in 2020, which equates to 5,372 yards in a 17-game season -- just short of Manning's record.
To pass Manning, quarterbacks have to average 322 passing yards per game -- which has been accomplished eight times in NFL history. In a league where passing numbers continue to rise, Manning's record will be in jeopardy over the next several years.
Current record: Eric Dickerson -- 2,105 (1984)
Much like passing yards, the single-season rushing yards record is in jeopardy -- and has been over the last decade. Despite the NFL bell cow running back going by the wayside, Adrian Peterson and Derrick Henry have challenged Henry's mark for most rushing yards in a season. Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012 -- his MVP season -- and Henry recorded 2,027 rushing yards in 2020. A 17th game would have put Peterson past Dickerson and Henry would have challenged the mark.
Peterson averaged 131.1 rushing yards per game in 2012, which would have given him 2,228 yards that year (17-game season). Henry averaged 126.7 rushing yards per game last season, which would have given him 2,153 yards in a 17-game season.
If Henry is in his prime, Dickerson's record will be challenged.
Current record: Michael Thomas -- 149 (2019)
Chalk this mark up as one that is the most likely to be passed with the league concentrating on a short passing game and wide receivers putting up reception numbers left and right. Thomas broke Marvin Harrison's record of 143 catches that stood for 17 years in 2019 -- but his record will be challenged right away.
Seven times receivers have caught 125 passes in a season -- six times since 2014 (Thomas and Antonio Brown have done it twice). The NFL reception mark has been challenged over the past five years, with Thomas finally surpassing Harrison's feat.
A receiver will need to average 8.76 catches in a 17-game season to pass Thomas (he may be the one to break his own record), and there may be a few players in striking distance of the mark in Week 18. Don't be shocked to see a lot of targets their way in the final weeks of the year.
Current record: Calvin Johnson -- 1,964 (2012)
Johnson's receiving yards record may be the most impressive on this list, considering he's the only player to record 1,900 yards in a season. This record would have been nearly impossible to top in a 16-game season, but adding that 17th game makes it breakable.
Julio Jones had 1,871 yards in 2015, averaging 116.9 yards per game. Keeping up that average in a 17th game would give Jones 1,987 yards that year -- surpassing Johnson's mark. Antonio Brown finished with 1,834 yards in that same season (114.6 yards per game) and would have fallen 16 yards shy of Johnson on that pace. However, this isn't factoring in a potential big game since Brown would have been in striking distance heading into Week 18.
Thomas finished with 1,725 yards in 2019 and Brown had 1,698 yards in 2014. Both would have been long shots with a 17th game, but a receiver still would have a chance to pass Johnson. Reaching Johnson's record is difficult, but more wideouts will have an opportunity with an extra game added to the schedule.
Current record: Michael Strahan -- 22.5 (2001)
Strahan's sacks record has been challenged on multiple occasions since he set the mark, although no player has been able to get that half a sack to match him. Jared Allen had 22 sacks in 2011 and Justin Houston also reached 22 in 2014. An extra game would have given them a great opportunity to pass Strahan and dethrone him of his record.
Aaron Donald finished with 20.5 sacks in 2018, so a 17th game would have put him in an excellent position to match Strahan. Ditto for J.J. Watt in 2012 and 2014 (20.5 sacks) and Shaquil Barrett in 2019 (19.5). All these players have the potential for multi-sack games, which would put Strahan's mark on notice in Week 18.
The sack record may not be broken immediately, but it will be challenged over the next few years.