UNPREDICTABLE NFL: Only two weeks remain in the 2010 regular season and 20 teams are still in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLV in North Texas. Chicago has locked up the NFC North, and Atlanta, New England and Pittsburgh have clinched playoff berths.
Currently, seven of the eight divisions feature a team in or tied for the top spot that did not win its division in 2009. If this holds, it would mark the most new division winners in a season since realignment in 2002.
Chicago secured the NFC North title with a win last week after finishing third last season. Four other clubs that did not win division titles in 2009 – Atlanta, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – can clinch a division championship this week.
STEELY RESOLVE: The Pittsburgh Steelers defense, which is tied for the top mark in the NFL by allowing only 15.7 points per game, is surrendering an NFL-low 63.4 rushing yards per game. If that average holds, Pittsburgh’s defense will finish the season allowing the fifth-fewest rushing yards per game in NFL history and the third-fewest in the Super Bowl era (since 1966).
“PASSED,” CURRENT AND FUTURE SUCCESS: Indianapolis Colts quarterback PEYTON MANNING ranks first in the NFL in completions (407) and passing yards (4,257) this season while New Orleans Saints quarterback DREW BREES leads the NFC in both categories (391 completions; 4,122 yards)
With 243 passing yards this Sunday at Oakland, Manning will become the first quarterback in NFL history to register 4,500 passing yards in three seasons and the third to accomplish the feat in back-to-back years. Manning totaled a career-best 4,557 passing yards in 2004 and 4,500 passing yards in 2009.
Brees, who passed for 5,069 yards in 2008, is on pace (294.4 pass yards per game) to become the sixth player in league annals to post 4,500 passing yards in multiple seasons.
If Manning (407) completes 34 passes this weekend, he can set an NFL record for completions in a season. Brees (391), who is the only quarterback to complete 400 passes or more in multiple seasons, can record his third 400-completion season when the Saints play at Atlanta in a pivotal NFC South matchup Monday night.
THIRTY-THREE IN THREE: Since being selected by the Atlanta Falcons No. 3 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, quarterback MATT RYAN owns a 32-12 record (.727) as a starter. With a victory over the Saints on Monday Night Football, Ryan can tie Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (33) for the most wins by a starting quarterback in his first three seasons among players who began their careers after the merger (since 1970).
A MAN NAMED BRADY: The New England Patriots, who own an NFL-best +20 turnover differential, have not lost a fumble or thrown an interception in each of their past six games, the longest streak without a turnover in NFL history.
Patriots quarterback TOM BRADY leads the league with a 7.75:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has not thrown an interception in 292 consecutive pass attempts. If Brady throws 17 more passes in a row without an interception, he will set the record for the most consecutive pass attempts without an interception.
Only BERNIE KOSAR (308) and Pro Football Hall of Famer BART STARR (294) own longer streaks of consecutive passes without an interception.
The BOOTS TIED TIGHT: In 2010, 27 kickers have made a field goal of 50 yards or more. If an additional kicker converts a 50-yard attempt this week, the 2010 season will tie 2008 for the most players (28) to make a 50-yard field goal since 1970.