Since he entered the NFL as a first round pick from Oklahoma in 2007, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has put together some scintillating runs and overall jaw-dropping numbers.
But the 27-year-old set a huge standard for himself after he came back from major reconstructive knee surgery this season, and has his eyes on Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards set in 1984.
Peterson leads the NFL with 1,812 rushing yards, and is averaging over 129 yards through 14 games, leaving him exactly 293 yards short of glory with two games remaining.
Not to mention 8-6 Minnesota currently holds the final NFC Wild Card berth thanks to Peterson, generating some buzz for the league MVP award.
But can he do it? Below is a breakdown of the Vikings final two games and the hurdles Peterson has to overcome.
Houston Texans Week 16
Sunday the Vikings are at the Houston Texans, who are fifth in the league in rushing defense, allowing 93.2 yards per game. Houston can also slow down the game handing off to their own top running back Arian Foster, who is averaging just under 94 yards on the ground.
Houston has already locked up the AFC South, and are in contention to have the No. 1 seed with a first-round bye and home-field throughout, so the Texans are not lacking motivation.
Peterson has faced the Texans once, back in 2008, and rushed for 139 yards in a Minnesota victory, but that was well before defensive end J.J. Watt arrived in Houston.
Watt and his 19.5 sacks could be a huge problem for Peterson, as he can also terrorize Minnesota’s inconsistent quarterback Christian Ponder. Watt also has 15 passes defended, and is one of the, if not the only, favorite for Defensive Player of the Year.
Green Bay Packers Week 17
Green Bay presents a less daunting match up for several reasons.
For one thing, Minnesota will host the Packers, a team Peterson has averaged 113 yards per game in 11 career match ups. The Vikings home crowd could also give Peterson a huge boost against their rival.
Green Bay is currently 14th in the league giving up 114 rushing yards per game, and Peterson clearly has an excellent history against Packers.
Injuries could be another factor. Star linebacker Clay Matthews returned from a hamstring strain last week and Green Bay may not push him too hard in the closing weeks since they’ve already wrapped up the NFC North and more than likely the No. 3 seed.
Same thing goes for Green Bay defensive end C.J. Wilson, who is out in Week 16 with a knee injury. Wilson already missed some time earlier this year with the same injury, and the Packers will try to get him healthy for a postseason run.
One aspect in Green Bay’s favor is pride. The Packers and their fans don’t want to remember that Peterson broke such an illustrious record against them.
Peterson must average 146.5 yards over his next two games to tie Dickerson’s mark, and Houston will clearly be his biggest challenge.
It’s more likely Peterson will reach and surpass the 2,000 yard mark, which only six other running backs have ever done. Tennessee’s Chris Johnson was the last to do it 2009. Even if he doesn't break the record, Peterson can guide the Vikings into the playoffs and even contend for the MVP.
Still he has shown tremendous resilience since his injury, and can prove all doubters wrong in Minnesota’s final two games.