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Thursday, July 10, 2014
Ravens' biggest key to success

By Jamison Hensley

When gauging where the Baltimore Ravens stand in the Future Power Rankings, the key is undoubtedly -- and not surprisingly -- quarterback Joe Flacco.

Flacco
All you have to do is look at the past two seasons to see the level of Flacco's impact. The Ravens won the 2012 Super Bowl when Flacco was at his best, putting together a Joe Montana-like performance through the playoffs (11 touchdowns, no interceptions). The Ravens failed to make the postseason for the first time last year under Flacco, when he struggled through his worst season (including a career-high 22 interceptions).

Whether Flacco can reach that same elite level, or even come close to it, will determine the Ravens' success over the next three seasons.

The Ravens will continue to lean more heavily on Flacco in future seasons. Ray Rice has shown signs of decline, and NFL running backs don't typically bounce back after the age of 27. There has been a similar dip with the Ravens' defense, which has finished the past two seasons outside the top 10.

Flacco has always been the Ravens' deciding factor since being the team's first-round pick in 2008. The Ravens are 35-6 (.853) when Flacco produces at least a 95 passer rating, and they are 36-32 (.529) when he doesn't. Beyond the numbers, Flacco has brought long-term stability to a position that had been a revolving door for the Ravens. In the nine seasons before Flacco's arrival, the Ravens went through 12 starting quarterbacks. That question mark always made it difficult to project the Ravens' future success.

How Flacco plays over the next two seasons will decide his future with the Ravens as well. Flacco's salary-cap numbers for the 2014 ($14.8 million) and 2015 seasons ($14.55 million) are manageable for a starting quarterback in this league. Where the situation gets tricky is 2016, when Flacco's cap number jumps to $28.5 million.

At that point, the Ravens will have to decide whether to rework Flacco's contract or go in a different direction.