NFL Handicapping: Joe Flacco Pros and Cons
by Trevor Whenham - 01/15/2009
This NFL playoff season has created all sorts of serious questions for sports bettors to consider. Chief among those questions, perhaps, is whether Joe Flacco is good enough to trust with your bet. His story is an incredible one. At the beginning of last season he was a quarterback at Delaware that no one had heard of. He was perhaps best known at that point for transferring out of Pittsburgh after not finding any playing time. A very good senior season made him an unlikely first round pick, and now here he is. But can he go further?
Flacco has already accomplished what no rookie has with two playoff wins. Two more would really cap off his first season in grand fashion. In order to look at whether he can get those wins, I'm going to have a bit of a bi-polar moment and debate both sides of the issue with myself. Here goes:
Point - He's just a rookie. There is no doubt that what he has done is impressive, but a lot of good quarterbacks have been rookies without being able to get the wins. We have seen time and again that teams need the experience of losing in the playoffs before they finally win. Flacco not only doesn't have that, but he doesn't have the experience of high profile college games and the intensity of them to fall back on. Flacco certainly hasn't embarrassed himself this year, but he has a lot of development left to do, and it will be much easier to trust him once he has done some of that developing.
Counterpoint - The whole rookie thing is overblown. It takes a pretty good team to win two playoff games. How many rookies get a chance to start for a playoff-caliber team? Not many. High draft picks are usually stuck toiling for teams that had a high pick for a reason. More established teams usually have a QB ahead of their rookie. In short, the sample size of rookies on legitimate playoff teams is very small. Flacco is unique in his accomplishment, but he's also relatively unique in his opportunity. Not to take away from what he has done, but there have been several rookies over the years who would be where Flacco is if they had a defense like his supporting him.
Point - Statistically, Flacco's numbers aren't that impressive. His TD-to-interception ration of 14-to-12 isn't particularly stellar, and the rest of his stats don't exactly shine in comparison to the top quarterbacks n the league. He looks like a solid rookie, but not much more.
Counterpoint - His numbers might not shine, but they measure up just fine against the other remaining pivots. He has the same TD-to-interception ratio as Ben Roethlisberger, and he has fewer interceptions. He also has fewer interceptions than Kurt Warner, and only one more than Donovan McNabb. He hasn't thrown and interception in the last four weeks. Besides, Baltimore has been so good at defensive takeaways in the playoffs that a turnover wouldn't necessarily be the end of the world.
Point - He will be on the road in an incredibly hostile environment. The Steelers are 7-2 at home, and have won their last five. The Pittsburgh football fans are as football savvy as fans anywhere, so they will know the ways to throw Flacco off his game.
Counterpoint - Flacco has proven to be a remarkable road warrior - he is an impressive 7-1 in his last eight on the road. He's also no stranger to inhospitable environments, having played in Pittsburgh already this year, along with Indianapolis, New York and Dallas. He's also already played, and won, two road playoff games. It won't be easy for him, but he won't be caught off guard by what he faces.
Point - He's playing against the best defense in the league. Pittsburgh is brutally effective against anything an offense can throw at it.
Counterpoint - Flacco has lots of experience with this defense, having already played them twice. He also caught a bit of a break in this game because Troy Polamalu is not at his best. He has also faced a daunting number of top defenses this year - eight of his 18 games have been played against top 10 defenses. He's starting to get the hang of it, too - he's 4-1 in his last five against that group. Flacco has one big advantage on this front - he practices against an exceptional defense every day.
Point - Further to the defensive point, Flacco is going to struggle to pass. Pittsburgh is very effective against the pass, and they have shown that they can smother Flacco's aerial attempts.
Counterpoint - The Ravens went 11-5, and have won two playoff games. They did that with the 28th-best pass offense in the league. They are used to functioning with an underwhelming pass game. Flacco threw for fewer than 150 yards in six games. He was 5-1 in those games.