Here are five major individual milestones or records that could be broken or surpassed in the 2018 NFL season, all by players who could be in the twilight of Hall of Fame careers:
1. Drew Brees becomes all-time passing-yards leader
With another 1,496 passing yards, Brees will have surpassed Peyton Manning for the league’s all-time lead — and he’d have 75,000 in his sights, possibly even before the end of this season. Brees is sitting at 70,445 currently and can pass Brett Favre (71,838) prior to the Saints’ Week 6 bye.
Although Brees’ passing yards per game were down to 270.9 last season — he hadn’t been below 300 for a season since 2010 — he’d only need to average 278.6 or more in the first five games to pass Favre at home vs. Washington in Week 5. That would be his only chance to do that at the Superdome, as the Saints have no games there between Week 2 vs. Cleveland and Week 9 vs. the L.A. Rams.
So that means there’s a strong chance he’d be breaking Manning’s record of 71,940 on the road unless he can average 299.2 yards over those first five games. With Mark Ingram suspended the first four, perhaps that’s possible. The Saints say they are not going to overwork Alvin Kamara in Ingram’s absence and the first five opponents (Buccaneers, Browns, Falcons, Giants and Washington) didn’t have vaunted pass defenses last season.
2. Tom Brady hits 70k passing yards
Brady, who turns 41 in August, is 3,841 yards from the 70,000 passing yards-mark — a plateau only Manning, Favre and Brees have surpassed. Interestingly, Brady has played three more regular-season games than Brees but has 489 fewer pass attempts in his career than his New Orleans contemporary.
If Brady can stay upright, it’s extremely reasonable he can hit the 70k mark by season’s end, back with a stronger offensive line, the returns of Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski (we think) and other notable offensive additions. The last time Brady didn’t throw for at least 3,600 yards in a full season — not counting his suspension- or injury-shortened years in 2008 and 2016 — was 2006.
Brady has averaged 293.2 passing yards per game over the past three regular seasons, so keeping at that clip would have him approaching that milestone around the Patriots’ 13th or 14th game this season, either at Miami in Week 14 or at Pittsburgh in Week 15.
Either would be fitting, but for different reasons. Brady has had some strangely tough games in Miami over the years, including last year’s 27-20 loss and the 2006 nightmare in which Nick Saban’s defense flummoxed Brady in a 78 passing-yard shutout loss. No team has picked him off more in his career than the Dolphins — 24 times. But Brady also has ripped the rival Dolphins a number of times over the years, including his career-high 517-yard game in Miami in the 2011 opener and a six-TD game in 2007.
The Steelers have been Brady’s whipping boys. He’s 11-2 all time against them (3-0 in the postseason) and has averaged 294.6 pass yards per game against them in his career, with a 30-4 TD-INT ratio. Three of those picks came in two games in 2004 and 2005, although they did intercept Brady in the game at Heinz Field last season. Still, there has been no team Brady has owned quite like the Steelers.
3. Adam Vinatieri sets the all-time scoring mark
Vinatieri is a mere 58 points away from surpassing Morten Andersen for the league’s highwater mark of 2,544 that has stood for more than a decade. When Andersen set the record in 2007, Vinatieri was only in his second season with the Colts and was at 1,389 — a number he in theory could double for his career, although that likely would require him kicking until the age of 48.
Vinatieri likely will become the all-time leading scorer before his 46th birthday, which happens on Dec. 28 this year. In fact, there’s a very slim chance it could happen at New England, where it all began for him, in Week 5. Wouldn’t that be special?
Still, we’re not banking on that. It would require Vinatieri averaging 11.6 points or more over his first five games, something he hasn’t done in a five-game span since 2006 (which included three missed games in between). He scored 48 points in a five-game stretch last year from Weeks 5 through 10 last year and 55 from Weeks 3 through 7 in 2016, so it’s not out of the question, especially if Andrew Luck returns and gives the offense a boost.
More likely, though, Vinatieri — who has averaged 7.5 points per game the past two seasons — will break it somewhere in a three-game span between Weeks 7 and 9 (at Chicago, at Buffalo, vs. Green Bay, the last two of which are primetime games). Wherever it happens, Vinatieri’s health permitting, it will be a banner day for the kicker in his 23rd NFL season.
Twenty. Three. VInatieri now has a few Colts teammates who were born after he made his NFL debut.
4. Larry Fitzgerald passing T.O., with 16k not far
This could be Fitzgerald’s final NFL season, and he’ll be working with all new quarterbacks after catching (most of) his passes from Carson Palmer the past five seasons. So whether it’s Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen — or, gasp, Mike Glennon — Fitz is on pace to take down two vaunted receiving-yards benchmarks early this season.
The first is moving into second place all-time ahead of Terrell Owens, who finished his career at 15,934. Fitzgerald needs 390 to own second by himself, and it might not take long considering that he averaged 72.3 yards per game last season — his second-highest season mark since 2011 — and his average was actually higher in nine games without Palmer last season at 73.6.
At that rough pace, Fitzgerald should be in range of surpassing Owens for the Cardinals’ Week 6 game at the Minnesota Vikings. Wouldn’t that be something? Fitzgerald grew up in the Twin Cities, attending games and even serving as the team’s ballboy in the late 1990s.
Fitz then would need another 60-plus yards to become only the league’s second-ever 16,000-yard receiver. No, he’s not catching Jerry Rice’s 22,895 — a mark that might never go down, even in a Star Wars era of passing. But we’d be good with Fitz passing T.O. in Minnesota one week and then returning home, either in Week 7 vs. Denver or Week 8 vs. San Francisco, to reach 16k.
5. Julius Peppers approaching top three in sacks
Like Fitzgerald with Rice, Peppers isn’t taking down the all-time sacks mark. At 200, Bruce Smith’s record (with Reggie White close behind at 198) could last for decades. Those two should be 1-2 for many years to come.
But Peppers can surpass Hall of Famer Kevin Greene’s 160 this season — in what could be Peppers’ final one in the NFL. He’s at 154.5 right now and had a stunning 11 last season in a part-time role for the Panthers at age 37. He’ll turn 39 in January and strongly has hinted that 2018 could be his final go-round.
Sacks are such a fickle statistic, tending to come in unexpected bunches with long droughts in between, but Peppers didn’t go any three-game span without at least one last season and hasn’t had fewer than seven in a year since 2007. Peppers actually hit the 5.5-sack mark in Week 5 last season, but expecting to do that again in 2018 would be a reach.
Peppers doesn’t play either of his former teams, the Bears or Packers, this season. The Panthers also play only three home games after Week 9, so he needs to get off to a fast start if he wants to do it in Charlotte before the Bank Of America Stadium fans.
The team Peppers has victimized the most? That would be the Buccaneers, with 19.5 sacks in 19 career games against them. He had one each in the two matchups last year against them, and the Panthers play the Bucs in Weeks 9 (at home) and 13 (in Tampa).
One other fun possibility: Week 8 at home vs. the Baltimore Ravens. That’s the team against home Peppers made his NFL debut, way back in 2002. Peppers had better hope that Lamar Jackson hasn’t taken over for the infinitely more sack-able Joe Flacco by that point if he wants to reach 160 on that day.