The NFL and NFLPA agreed in March to add a 17th game to the regular-season schedule starting in 2021. Among other things, the 17-game schedule gives players more opportunities to beat personal, team and league records.
This data set looks at the average passing yards per game for the top 5 quarterbacks and the average rushing yards per game for the top 5 running backs from the 2020 season. By taking the average yards per game for each player and adding one more game to their season-ending total, we can project what it could have looked like were there a 17th game in 2020. This gives insight on how the future season stat leaders could be impacted. Players who did not play a full 16-game schedule have been marked with an asterisk.
Above, one can see that two quarterbacks in 2020 could have broken the 5,000-yard mark if there had been an additional game. There have only been eight individual quarterbacks to break this yardage mark in NFL history. The creation of a 17-game schedule could have an inflationary effect on the stat book. This could change the meaning and significance of these types of seasons in upcoming years. Passing marks could escalate with the increased number of attempts and opportunities and therefore decrease the significance of certain yardage totals.
The current single season rushing record is 2,105-yards set by Eric Dickerson in 1984. The projected stats above show that Derrick Henry’s 2020 season could have led to him breaking the NFL rushing record with an additional game. This brings up the question: Would Dickerson’s season be viewed as better since he accomplished this record in fewer games?
Then again, O.J. Simpson set the single-season rushing mark in 1973 when he rushed for 2,003 yards — in a 14-game season. If we project his average per game (143) over a 16-game season, that’s 2,289 yards. Over 17 games, it would have been 2,432.
The rushing production of the top running backs increased significantly compared to previous years. We have not seen two running backs rush for over 1,600 yards since the 2012 season. The occurrence of this could rise with the extra rushing attempts and expanded chances with the added game.
A 17-game schedule could be a big catalyst to rising statistical totals in future seasons. The data above supports the idea of an uptick in 5,000-yard passing seasons due to the added game. The rarity of these totals could diminish, causing the impressiveness of these feats to decrease in lock step.
The extra game could impact the comparison of stat totals in Hall of Fame discussions. Don’t be surprised to se the rewriting of NFL records and increased statistical benchmarks for players across the league.