By Stephen Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts' AFC North sniper
Are you sick of the Harbaughs yet? Did media day test your patience? Are you tired of stories about deer antlers? Have no fear. All of that is going away soon and we can concentrate on football. Super Bowl is finally coming this weekend. In just three days, the Ravens and 49ers will strap on their helmets and battle for the right to be called the league’s champion.
The 10-6, limping-into-the-playoffs Baltimore Ravens are one win away from hoisting the Lombardi trophy. I imagine not a lot of people saw that coming, but here we are.
Here are five thoughts to consider as we head into the Super Bowl.
1. The Ravens are the lowest rated AFC team to make the Super Bowl since the inception of the Cold Hard Football Facts Quality Stats.
This is as strong a reminder as any that once the playoffs begin, all bets are off. Perhaps the Ravens should have been eliminated by the Broncos in the divisional round. They probably were not the better team, at least heading into the game.
In fact, not only were the Ravens flying under the radar as they entered the postseason, they were trending the wrong way. The only reason Baltimore made the playoffs is because it pulled out enough unimpressive wins early on to allow them to weather a late-season losing streak.
As the 11th ranked team in the Quality States Power Rankings, Baltimore was the lowest ranked AFC team to advance to the Super Bowl. Should the Ravens be successful this weekend, only the 2007 New York Giants will have won the Super Bowl with a lower rating at the end of the regular season.
More on this trend later in the article...
2. Joe Flacco has 62 wins in his first five years in the league.
Remember before week 17 when I said Flacco could get to 60 wins (in both the regular season and postseason) in his first five seasons, putting him above everyone else? Little did I know that he wasn’t going to stop at 60. Flacco has 62 wins now, and a win on Sunday would give him 63 - an average of 12.5 wins per season. At the end of the day, all we care about from our quarterbacks is wins, right?
Joe Flacco probably won’t throw for 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns in any season of his career. That’s not really his style. But he’ll keep winning football games and he’ll be as trustworthy as any other quarterback once the playoffs start. Elite is a strong word, but if he wins on Sunday, I don’t think Flacco will care if he gets that label or not. All he’ll care about is being called a champion.
Speaking of which, I’m an optimist. As Cold Hard Football Facts’ AFC North correspondent, I feel like the teams in this division can compete against anyone. Maybe I didn’t like Baltimore’s chances against Denver, but I love them against San Francisco. So for the next few points, I’m going to assume the Ravens will win on Sunday. If they do, these are some of the claims we can make about the team and its players.
3. A win ties Joe Flacco for third in postseason wins among active quarterbacks.
Tom Brady has 17 career playoff wins. Ben Roethlisberger has 10. If Flacco wins the Super Bowl, he’ll have nine victories, tying him with Peyton Manning. If you’re keeping score at home, Manning began his career an entire decade before Flacco.
Think about that. Nine playoff wins. That’s more than Eli Manning. That’s as many as Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees combined. When it’s all said and done, Flacco has a chance to rank near the top of the list in career playoff victories. He’ll already be tied for eighth if he wins. He’ll be only eight away from tying Tom Brady’s all-time record.
Let’s face it, he won’t be Tom Brady in the all-time rankings. But he could be Troy Aikman or Terry Bradshaw. If he stays in Baltimore, I’m sure that is more than enough for Ravens fans.
4. Joe Greene, Lawrence Taylor and Ray Lewis. That’s the list.
If Lewis rides off into the sunset as a Super Bowl champion, he’ll be the third player ever with multiple defensive player of the year awards and multiple championships. People may be getting tired of his schtick, but Lewis’ accomplishments put him in the rarest of air.
I don’t want to hear about this deer antler business either. Yeah it was banned and maybe he did do it. But the bottom line is, in a league that will crack down and hand out four-game suspensions to PED users, Lewis was able to maintain a clean image while being one of the best defensive players of all time.
5. The Ravens will be the third straight champion and fourth in the last six years with 10 or fewer regular season wins.
And here’s where we stand as a league.
I don’t know about you, but I remember the old days of the NFL when you didn’t win the Super Bowl unless you had at least 12 wins. On rare occasions, 11-win teams would win the Super Bowl. Those days are long gone. From 1989 through 2007, no champion won less than 11 wins. When the 10-6 2007 Giants beat the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl 42, they started a trend.
Now, it appears any team can win the championship if they just get into the postseason. It’s one thing for the 2010 Packers or 2011 Giants to go deep in the playoffs because they got hot right before the end of the regular season. Baltimore was firing its offensive coordinator right before season’s end. The Ravens essentially made the playoffs by default.
But something turned around during the Wildcard weekend. Maybe it was Ray Lewis’ inspirational return. Maybe the team figured out how to play together under new offensive leadership. Either way, the Ravens could go down as one of the more unlikely champions in recent memory, which is exactly what we should expect.