Believe it or not, we are entering the fourth quarter of the 2012 NFL season.
Just 64 games remain before the postseason begins. It was a season that got off to an unusual start with the elite quarterbacks not winning, but we are starting to see the top AFC teams reestablish themselves while the playoff picture as a whole resembles last year in historic fashion. Speaking of history, these last 64 games will determine if the league sets new records in many different areas of statistics.
If the numbers stay near their current pace, the 2012 NFL season will be the most efficient ever in terms of passing, rushing, kicking, punting, and more.
Passing efficiency not rattled by rookies
It’s all about the quarterbacks. Even with a record five rookie quarterbacks starting in Week 1, the 2012 season has been off the charts in terms of passing efficiency.
Quarterbacks are completing 61.46 percent of their passes, which would set a league record for one season. The cumulative passer rating of 86.2 is also on pace to set a new record after last year’s 84.3 mark.
The league’s passing yards per attempt is 7.13, which is actually below last year’s mark of 7.20. Yards are not being picked up more efficiently than before, but helping out the passer rating is the fact that interceptions are being thrown on just 2.66 percent of all passes, which would be yet another record.
Peyton Manning’s return and replacement of Tim Tebow in Denver has been a boost to the stats as he enjoys one of his best seasons. But Manning is only one quarterback, and not part of the youth movement.
Amazingly, rookies like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have managed to improve on their team’s passing game. Seven rookie quarterbacks started in Week 13, in addition to six second-year starters.
Luck is on pace for roughly 4,795 passing yards, which would shatter the rookie record set by Cam Newton last year (4,051 yards).
Leading the league in passing yards is Detroit’s Matthew Stafford (3,742 yards). Though not having a special season, his receiver Calvin Johnson sure is. Johnson needs 421 yards to break Jerry Rice’s single-season record of 1,848 receiving yards, set in 1995.
The only Madden Curse for Johnson may be that he plays for the Lions. Maybe his impending fate will be to break the record, only to have a Week 17 stat adjustment change a catch into a rush, dropping him back to 1,847 yards and second place.
Some people focus on late-season weather hurting the passing numbers, but there have been unusually mild conditions so far in December. It is something to keep an eye on.
More than likely, the passer rating record will fall in 2012 unless Ken Whisenhunt continues to allow Ryan Lindley so many attempts each week. That was no joke, either. Lindley’s 103 attempts alone have dropped the league-wide passer rating from 86.57 to 86.21. That is hard to do when you account for only 0.76 percent of the league’s attempts.
Then again, as long as Philadelphia continues with “The Todd Bowles Movement,” then the passing stats will continue to rise. In the six games he has been defensive coordinator in place of the fired Juan Castillo, the Eagles have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 76.3 percent of their passes, average 9.99 yards per attempt, and throw 16 touchdowns to zero interceptions for a sparkling 142.4 passer rating.
It evens out in the end.
The running game is used less than ever before
Contrary to popular belief, Adrian Peterson is not the only running back in football. While he is playing out of his mind right now, averaging 120.5 yards per game and 6.18 yards per carry, the league-wide running game is being used very effectively in 2012.
The yards per carry (YPC) is 4.25 this season, which ranks just behind last year’s record average of 4.29. A strong finish and we could see that mark surpassed. For as much as the running game has been depreciated, the top three seasons in NFL history in rushing efficiency are three of the last four seasons. The last five seasons all make the top nine.
Last season the Minnesota Vikings (3-13) averaged 5.17 YPC, which is the 11th highest average since 1970. This season the team has had more success (6-6), and they are averaging 5.53 YPC, led by Peterson’s amazing 6.18 YPC not even a full year after major knee surgery. That would be a new post-merger record, breaking Detroit’s 5.51 YPC in 1997.
It also helps the rushing stats to have mobile quarterbacks adding to them, such as Griffin, Luck, Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, etc.
But quarterbacks still love to pass first, and while the running game is as efficient as ever, it is used less than ever before.
Teams are throwing the ball on 57.95 percent of plays this season, which would be the highest pass ratio ever. Teams are averaging 27.1 carries per game, which would be the lowest in NFL history.
Always keep in mind with these numbers that the true pass ratio will always be even higher because of called passes turning into quarterback scrambles, and the insignificant kneel downs padding the rushing totals.
While 2012 can go down as one of the greatest rushing seasons ever, it will go down as the most pass-heavy season in NFL history too.
No matter if a team runs or passes, they are still moving the ball in historic fashion. Last season set records for most yards per game (346.8) and first downs per game (19.5). Right now, 2012 offenses are on pace to break both records with 351.0 yards per game and 20.1 first downs per game.
Yes, they still play defense in the NFL
Trying to take off some shine from the offenses, despite this being the hardest season to generate interceptions, there have been 52 of them returned for touchdowns through 13 weeks. That is the most ever at that point of the season according to Newsday’s Bob Glauber.
The sack masters are also alive as Aldon Smith (17.5 sacks) attempts to break the single-season sack record set by Michael Strahan (22.5) – with an assist from Brett Favre – in 2001. The other two second-year rushers, J.J. Watt (15.5) and Von Miller (15.0), are also having great seasons.
But for the league as a whole, the sack percentage in 2012 is at 6.01 percent, which currently ranks as the third lowest ever behind 1994 (5.86 percent) and 2008 (5.90 percent).
Kickers and punters are people, too
Early on this was deemed as the year of the kicker. Through six weeks, kickers were converting on 87.63 percent of their field goal attempts, and they were making two-thirds of their attempts from 50-plus yards. Both marks would be single-season records.
Newcomers like Greg Zuerlein, Blair Walsh and Justin Tucker were playing very well as rookies, while there was still a good collection of veteran names out there. David Akers tied the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal in Green Bay in Week 1, but he has missed two game-winning kicks in overtime against the Rams.
We have seen many kickers struggle in recent weeks, and they now need a strong finish to break the records.
The single-season record for field goal percentage is 84.50 (2008). Currently, 2012 kickers are 661 of 783 for an 84.42 percentage. It is very tight right now.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Record or not, the 2012 season will have no problem maintaining this streak: the top nine seasons in NFL history in field-goal percentage are the last nine seasons (2004-2012).
“Bigger, faster, stronger” you say? How about just “better”?
Even the punters are getting in on the record action. Seven of the eight highest seasons in NFL history in average yards per punt are the last seven seasons (2006-2012).
This year, punters are averaging 45.65 yards per punt, which would set a new record. The previous mark is 45.04 from the 2011 season. Six of the top 18 punting seasons are going on right now.
If you have a punting fetish, then apparently this has been your year.
At the end of the day, points are still the key stat
With a season of teams combining for record-setting performances for passing, rushing, punting and kicking – also known as the primary acts of a football game – what effect is it having on scoring?
You may be surprised, but teams are currently averaging 22.85 points per game, which ranks as the fourth-highest average in NFL history behind 1948 (23.6 PPG), 1965 (23.1 PPG) and 1950 (22.9 PPG).
This year, teams are on pace to average 365.7 points, which would be a new record (354.9 last year), but that is very dependent on having a 16-game season.
Of course any future extension to the number of games played in a season will rewrite the record books again. But it is harder to maintain great efficiency numbers over a larger sample of games, so if these efficiency records in 2012 are set, they may last for a long time.
If this is the last NFL season the Mayans allow us to have, at least we can say it was a historic one.
Scott Kacsmar (@CaptainComeback) writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, Bleacher Report, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network.
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