- Chris Sprow, ESPN Insider
We've been so busy debating whether Joe Flacco is "elite" that we've forgotten to consider what he isn't. This is a fact: Never once has Flacco been a quarterback who was able to render his team either incapable of reaching the playoffs or unable to compete for a Super Bowl title. Not once. We question how high his ceiling can be, and we forget how high the floor is.
Flacco the "winner" is a fun debate, of course. You can ascribe Flacco's competing for Super Bowls to things that don't involve him, such as a consistently good defense, consistently good coaching or consistently good luck. The quarterback "win" is not without merit, but it's full of holes. Yet the sample size of Flacco's career continues to get larger, much of it happened when he was young, and the tail end of that sample size continues to indicate it's not a total accident that he's playing in the games that we allow to dictate what "elite" really means.
And by the way, what does "elite" really mean? We know it means statistical dominance, but great numbers dominate the era. Because of that, we affix the label to almost any quarterback who delivers rings and isn't considered a total fraud. And the total fraud club doesn't even really exist. Consider for a minute the context in which some recent rings were achieved in the era of a league in which we are constantly told you must have a great -- nay, "elite" -- quarterback to contend for titles.
• Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl rings. His first came in a season when the Steelers allowed 16.1 points a game, and he went 9-for-21 with 2 INTs in that Super Bowl. The next season (2005), he led the NFL in INTs. His other Super Bowl ring came in a season when he had a 17-15 TD-INT ratio and a 46.8 QBR, and it was easily the worst statistical season of his career.
• Eli Manning is now "elite," we know, but he won his first Super Bowl in a season when he led the NFL in INTs (20), and his second last year, in a year when the Giants not only were a Week 15 long shot to get into the playoffs at all but Manning was in the middle of a three-year stretch in which he has led the NFL in INTs and set a standard for erratic play that even Tony Romo could marvel at.
• Tom Brady is brilliant, but his best statistical seasons have been met with postseason disappointment. His last Super Bowl win, in 2004, is also the last season before he began to morph into a statistical monster.
There's a similar story for Peyton Manning in terms of when his best play lined up with a Super Bowl win. In the past 10 years, really only Drew Brees won a Super Bowl in a season when he was, to that point in his career, his most efficient. Now, this isn't to say Flacco is on par with any of these quarterbacks. It certainly isn't to say he's statistically "elite", which is fair to question.
But this is a fact: Once you parse the X's and O's, and go from QBR to DVOA and back again, recent Super Bowl wins are a product of above-average teams playing well led by above-average quarterbacks playing well. Flacco could be playing in his second Super Bowl in a row (were it not for a couple of bad breaks in last season's AFC title game), and he is playing better than ever, and when it matters most.
It matters most for Flacco because he'll soon be a free agent. And he has proved why he deserves to have the Ravens pay him big money. Consider these reasons.
1hEric D. Williams
8hDan Graziano and Adam Caplan