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by Chris DeBrie

Thirteen of the NFL’s top fifty individual passing seasons happened before 2008. Sports fans know why the passing yardage has become so inflated recently: There have been some rule changes (mostly involving defender contact), giving the offense unprecedented leeway.

Average passer rating, combined passing yards per game, and total passing touchdowns are up… and up. Dan Fouts held the record for three years. Then, in 1984, a twenty-twoyear-old Dan Marino topped Fouts by 282 yards. Football fans aren’t number-crazy like baseball’s, but most knew that number: 5,084. The mark was not quite as mythical as the undefeated ’72 Dolphins. Yet, some did say it was probably out of reach. That opinion held water for almost thirty years. Marino’s total was bested five times in three years, beginning in 2011. It stands to reason that there will be another five thousand yard passer (or three) in 2015.

Peyton Manning’s five thousand, four hundred seventyseven passing yards is no joke of a statistic—that averages out to more than three hundred forty yards per game. But who could top Manning’s ’13 effort this season? Let’s begin with who won’t break that mark. Tom Brady will miss game time, enduring fallout from the deflated football investigation. He is third, fifteenth and sixteenth on the all-time passing season list (#16 was 2007, the 18-1 season when the Patriots hammered the throttle the entire regular season).

Matthew Stafford is capable, but his team won’t stay focused for an entire year to allow it. Unless one of their receivers catches lightning in a bottle via a bunch of long yard-after-catch plays, neither the prolific Eli Manning nor crafty Tony Romo will come close. And Peyton himself won’t. Why? Though he has the most 400-yard games in history (14 regular season), he’s got one or two seasons left at this level. He will be busy worrying about trying to catch a ring, and it will likely make him throw more intermediate passes to care for the ball. He owns enough records.

Drew Brees is a longshot, even if he held the record prior to Peyton Manning. Since his then-best 2011 season, Brees’s passing numbers have declined steadily. The sports talking heads who watch a lot of tape say his arm strength already peaked. More troubling is that he lost otherworldly tight end Jimmy Graham. Brees is still one of the league’s most effective QBs and among the yardage leaders. Unless the experts are wrong, he simply won’t be passing Manning this year. Along with many others, Aaron Rodgers had his best passing season in ’11, his total a thousand yards shy of Manning’s record. The nature of Green Bay’s offense is that Rodgers doesn’t usually need to throw for three field lengths per game… although, he can and has. The Packers offense is so efficient, they rarely play from far behind—the very moments when a quarterback will throw bombs.

Ben Roethlisberger? A few years ago most of us would have said no. Big Ben seems to run for as many yards as pass. But last year opened us up to what Roethlisberger can do. He topped his previous best by over six hundred yards, scraping up against the once-mythical 5,000 mark. Like Rodgers, he won’t reach Manning’s heights unless everything falls perfectly in Pittsburgh.

Andrew Luck sits at number nineteen on the all-time single season list. Luck was a pro before he ever set foot on an NFL field. He put up 4,700- plus at age 24, and is a year or two away from gaining five thousand consistently. By now even Luck’s critics must admit that the best is yet to come. He will not merely vault Peyton Manning’s single season record one day. He is a Super Bowl quarterback prototype, and may torch many other marks. Could he be the first 6,000 man? Don’t doubt it too quickly. High-profile offenses are part of a sleek package that means more viewers, which means more of everything else. Since the NFL is ablaze socially, the tweaking must be working. “So you know you can’t put your hands on me no more, right?” ESPN recorded one receiver teasing his teammate, a cornerback. Enough said.