Of all the records that have been acquired in today's NFL, the current sack record might be the most infamous one. This record has now stood for 10 years, yet many NFL fans can still clearly recall how it came about.
It was the regular-season finale at the Meadowlands. The defending NFC champion New York Giants were closing out a disappointing 7-9 season against a playoff-bound Green Bay Packers. Yet, as it turned out, both teams had a lot to play for.
Giants defensive end Michael Strahan needed only one more sack to beat the NFL record for most sacks in a season. The current record was set in 1984 when Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets managed 22 sacks. At 21.5 sacks, Strahan needed only a half-sack to tie Gastineau and one full sack to pass him.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Packers had a comfortable 34-25 lead. All the Pack needed to do was run out the clock to get out the Meadowlands with a win. The play call was a simple one, too—it was supposed to be a handoff to Ahman Green to the left side.
Predictably, Strahan broke free and got to Favre. Right as Strahan got there, Favre slid to the ground. This has led to people accusing Favre of giving Strahan the record.
Conspiracy theories and media speculation aside, the record has now stood for an impressive 10 years. But Strahan's grip on the record has been tenuous at best, and the time is coming for someone else to get the record.
2011 saw Jared Allen get 22 sacks. Only one sack away from the record, Allen became the second player to amass more than 20 sacks since Strahan broke the record. That other player to have a 20-sack season is DeMarcus Ware, who has 99.5 sacks in his seven-year career.
This comes as no surprise to NFL fans, as Allen and Ware are without a doubt the best sack specialists in the league. True, there are other sack experts rising up in the league. Jason Babin, LaMarr Woodley and Jason Pierre-Paul are examples of players that specialize in sacking the quarterback.
However, when it comes to breaking the NFL's sack record, Allen and Ware have to be the front-runners. Both men have had double-digit sacks every season for the last five years. Both men are the undisputed leaders of their team's pass rush, and they present nightmare matchups for the offensive linemen that have to block them.
So, can either Allen or Ware cap off his career with 23 or more sacks in 2012? Could it even be possible that both men eclipse the record?
Even with the NFL changing rules to protect quarterbacks, opportunity still exists. In fact, opportunities are more common than ever thanks to the pass-happy nature of most offenses.
According to NFL Network analyst Brian Billick, most NFL quarterbacks average 38 passes a game. For those teams that are defending big leads, passing attempts will go up as the other team tries to get back in the game.
Jared Allen is at a disadvantage here thanks to the Vikings coming off a 3-13 season. There were few moments last year when the Vikings were leading, so opposing teams could run the ball as they tried to run out the clock. His 22 sacks last season were definitely a bit of a miracle given the sorry state of the Vikings defense.
Both Allen and Ware also had to deal with secondaries that were frequently torched by the opposing quarterback. The Cowboys were ranked 23rd, giving up 244.1 passing yards a game. The Vikings were ranked 26th, giving up 251.2 passing yards a game.
Now, both players have made it abundantly clear that it's foolish to doubt them.
At this point, though, it would seem that Ware has the easier path to getting the record. Not only does he play on the better team, but his sack numbers have improved steadily over the last two years.
As crazy as it sounds, Ware's recent comments about a 25-sack season (per The Dallas Morning News) could come to fruition. But if Ware does get there, don't be surprised if Allen isn't too far behind.