If you ask Flacco himself, he'll tell you he's the very best in the NFL.
In all reality, both couldn't be more wrong. Flacco isn't in the top five, nor is he the NFL's best quarterback. But where should Flacco realistically rank?
Given his body of work, both in wins and losses and passing statistics, there's a pretty good case for Flacco to be at the back end of the top 10, or somewhere very close. That doesn't mean he can't vault up that chart in a hurry, however. Just ask Eli Manning how one previously funny-sounding comment can define a season.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts, let's add some context to the argument.
Joe Linta, who represents Flacco, said back in February that the fifth-year quarterback should be considered one of the game's top-five quarterbacks, based mostly on wins and avoiding injuries. An agent clamoring for a better deal for his client is far from revolutionary.
Linta, via Will Brinson of CBS Sports:
If the game is about wins and losses, he has to be in the top five [quarterbacks]. He is a player who has been extremely durable, never missed a game. And he's done something that no one has ever done. In his four years in the league, he has never missed a game and has more wins than any other quarterback.
Flacco followed that up last week by stating he was the very best, which isn't surprising given the confidence it takes to play quarterback at the NFL level:
"I assume everybody thinks they're a top-five quarterback," Flacco said when asked where he thinks he ranks among NFL quarterbacks. "I mean, I think I'm the best. I don't think I'm top five, I think I'm the best. I don't think I'd be very successful at my job if I didn't feel that way. I mean, c'mon? That's not really too tough of a question."
The media took Flacco's quotes and ran with them. Unfairly or not, Flacco has become a lightning rod for criticism.
But enough of context. Where should Flacco actually rank in the hypothetical hierarchy of quarterbacks?
He's certainly not in the top five, as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning (if healthy), Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning are the six quarterbacks who have everything it takes to be considered among the game's elite. Few would deny that.
Somewhere in the next five to seven quarterbacks is where Flacco should currently sit.
Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Michael Vick, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler and Cam Newton make up the next tier of quarterbacks who aren't exactly elite, but are above average at the position.
Stafford, by virtue of a 5,000-yard passing season, is probably the next in line to the elite category. Rivers and Romo have a long track record of regular season wins and elite statistics. Newton appears to be the next big thing at the quarterback position.
Vick could be considered on the downward side of his career, and Ryan, Schaub and Cutler do not have the track record of wins in the regular season and playoffs that Flacco currently possesses.
Given that eye-test way of thinking, Flacco should be in the 11-to-13 range.
The stats back that up.
According to Football Outsiders, Flacco finished the 2011 season as their No. 14 overall quarterback in DYAR, or defensive-adjusted yards above replacement. He ranked ahead of Newton and Cutler but fell short of several others after a down year statistically last season.
Flacco threw for just 20 touchdowns and a 57.1 completion percentage in 2011.
Pro Football Focus, another site that grades players, gave Flacco an overall final ranking of 15th among quarterbacks over the last four seasons.
But we can't forget that Flacco has won 44 regular season games (with just 20 losses) since being drafted in 2008, plus four playoff games (including three on the road), all while not missing a game over 71 career NFL games. He was also one dropped pass away from playing in the Super Bowl last February, which could have rewrote his entire legacy.
In the end, there's reason to move Flacco near the top 10 of NFL quarterbacks.
And I certainly don't blame Flacco and his agent for saying what they have over the last few months—it is a part of both jobs. Money is gold for agents, and quarterbacks are nothing without confidence in themselves and the way they go about their business. Flacco obviously isn't there yet, but that can all change in a hurry.
Manning, who many chastised before last season when he said he was an elite quarterback, quieted his doubters in a big way in 2011.
They say the NFL is a copy-cat league. Maybe Flacco can pull off the same magic trick in 2012.