There were so many questions about Joe Flacco when he was coming out of the University of Delaware in 2007. He was big and he could play. In fact, he was setting records for the Fighting Blue Hens. But there were still so many questions about what he could do on an NFL stage.
“He has the God-given ability. He’s 6-6. He has a cannon for an arm. He’s fast for a big guy. And he has ice water in his veins and he makes great game-day decisions,” said K.C. Keeler, Flacco’s college coach, near the end of his prized pupil’s first NFL season. “What else are you looking for?
“I told Cam (Cameron, the Ravens offensive coordinator) and (Ravens coach) John Harbaugh, ‘If this kid’s at USC, we’re having a debate about why he’s not the first overall pick.’”
Flacco, in fact, lasted until the 18th pick of the 2008 draft and he was the second quarterback taken behind Matt Ryan, who went third to the Atlanta Falcons. But Flacco’s already been to the playoffs twice and even to the AFC Championship Game once, as a rookie.
Now, two years later, he’s going to do something else to convince all the skeptics: He’s going to lead the Baltimore Ravens all the way to the championship of Super Bowl XLV.
Jump on the Green Bay Packers’ bandwagon if you want, ride with Brett Favre in Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage one more time, or even keep your faith in the heart-warming story of the Saints. But the 2010 season will belong to the most complete — and most dangerous team — in the NFL. The Ravens have all the ingredients any championship team could want, including a powerful defense, dangerous rushing attack and a scary arsenal of receivers.
The most important ingredient, though, is a quarterback who should take one final step in to the exclusive club of the NFL’s elite.
Actually, you could make a pretty good argument that the 23-year-old Flacco is already there after he completed 63.1 percent of his passes last season for 3,613 yards, 21 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. He led the Ravens back to the playoffs, one season after leading them to the AFC title game, and his numbers all improved across the board.
He has, as Keeler said, a cannon for an arm. His accuracy has been uncanny and he’s shown a penchant for making all the right throws at the right time. As a rookie, he was asked to stay out of the way of the running game and the defense. Last year, though, Harbaugh unleashed his East Coast version of the Air Coryell offense and let Flacco show everyone what he could do.
Now, just imagine what he can do this year. The Ravens made the trade of the offseason when they acquired receiver Anquan Boldin from the Arizona Cardinals. Then, when they lost newly acquired Donte Stallworth for half the season to a broken foot, they proved they were serious about this Super Bowl thing by signing T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Add in versatile tight end Todd Heap and running back Ray Rice, who caught 78 passes for 702 yards last year to go with his 1,339 rushing yards, and you have one of the most potent offensive attacks in the NFL. And let’s not forget that the Ravens’ defense ranked third in the entire league in 2009.
So yes, Rex Ryan is guaranteeing Super Bowls in New York, Peyton Manning is still dangerous in Indianapolis, and Jerry Jones believes his Cowboys can win the championship at home. But there’s no better team in the NFL than the Ravens right now. And before it’s all over, Flacco might turn out to be the best quarterback, too.
The rest of my NFL picks
NFC EAST: Washington Redskins
NFC NORTH: Green Bay Packers
NFC SOUTH: Atlanta Falcons
NFC WEST: San Francisco 49ers
NFC WILD CARD: Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings
NFC CHAMPS: Green Bay Packers
AFC EAST: New England Patriots
AFC NORTH: Baltimore Ravens AFC SOUTH: Indianapolis Colts
AFC WEST: San Diego Chargers
AFC WILD CARD: New York Jets, Houston Texans
AFC CHAMPS: Baltimore Ravens
SUPER BOWL CHAMPS: Baltimore Ravens