Week 17 Crystal Ball - Thursday: Flacco Defies Age - and the Naysayers
My friends, THE GURU is excited for Week 17. It’s the penultimate slate of the NFL’s regular season, teams are jockeying for playoff position, and there are plenty of savory leftovers in the fridge1.
As usual, this season has provided us with plenty of storylines. Dee-troit’s resurgence under Dan Campbell. Lamar Jackson’s MVP-like performance. Baker Mayfield’s epic comeback. And the misfortunes of top tier quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and two of his injured counterparts, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert.
There are numerous other situations to highlight but, today, let’s focus on Cleveland quarterback Joe Flacco as the 38-year-old leads the Browns to the postseason for just the third time this century.
First, Cleveland playoff appearances occur roughly as often as yours truly says “I’ll skip dessert,” which is to say that it is a Halley’s comet type of occurrence. So, for the Browns to be in contention is noteworthy.
Second, Flacco has been given up for dead more times than Johnny Cash, Rob Lowe and Marion Barry2 combined. Let’s look at a timeline:
2008-2018: Won 106 games and the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award while starting for 10 1/2 years for the Ravens3.
2019: Started eight games for Denver and went 2-6 under Josh McDaniels and interim head coach Eric Studesville.
2020: Went 0-4 in four starts for the New York Jets.
2021: Signed with Philadelphia in March but never saw any action and was traded back to the Jets seven months later.
2021-22: Went 1-4 in five starts with the Jets with his only win a rousing 31-30 victory over, yes, Cleveland with Flacco throwing for 307 yards and four TDs.
If we look at Joe’s body of work from 2019-2022, it’s admittedly not something we’d ticket for the Louvre. A record of 3-14 - and just one win over the past three years - while bouncing between three different franchises. And just 20 TD passes and 19 turnovers to boot.
And so, the fans and pundits piled on. They said Flacco should hang it up and mocked his performance. They called him over the hill and cried “He can’t play any more!”
But one important person didn’t listen to the naysayers: the man himself.
“Listen, I can still play,” he told ESPN in September. “I still believe that I have all of the athletic and physical tools to do it.”
"In terms of the quarterback and the mental part of it, I've only gotten better over the last 15 years. So, I feel just as physical as I ever have. I mean, not to say that I'm not 27, 28 years old anymore. But I'm in great shape and I don't see a real drop-off."
So, when he landed in Cleveland this year - on the practice squad no less - Flacco felt good about his chances, even if it’s hard to imagine the fan base was too excited. But, after a month with Joe at the controls, the Lake Erie faithful seem thrilled with what he’s done.
Ten touchdown passes - and a 3-1 record - in four games. Wins over legit contenders Jacksonville and Houston. A 20-17 come-from-behind victory over the Bears that was the 21st fourth-quarter comeback and 28th game winning drive of the QB’s illustrious career.
The downside: eight turnovers but, with Flacco’s presence in the pocket and great leadership skills, the miscues haven’t been nearly as damaging as one might think. After all, in a city that’s still uncomfortable with the idea of having an alleged serial predator like DeShaun Watson playing QB, the ability to lead is no small thing,
Flacco’s next test is this evening when the Browns (10-5, 7-1 home) host one of his former employers, the Jets4 (6-9, 2-4 away), as Cleveland tries to stamp its postseason ticket. Kickoff is at 8:15 pm ET on Amazon Prime with Al Michaels, Kirk Herbstreit and Kaylee Hartung on the call.
We could talk at length about how these two offenses will fare against the excellent Cleveland and New York defenses but, simply, I think it comes down to this: which quarterback will make fewer mistakes?
Yes, Flacco has turned it over a bit over the past month, but I saw Trevor Siemian struggle in the second half against a middling Washington D last weekend and that tells me all I need to know. I’ll take Cleveland’s QB situation over New York’s QB situation any day of the week.
This one may be tight for a bit, but I expect the Browns to pull away in the end. Call it 19-7, Cleveland.
I could certainly use a win tonight after last week’s 10-6 (.625) mark failed to move the needle, leaving the 2023 record at 148-87 (.630) as we near season’s end. Wish me luck, enjoy your Thursday night and God bless, folks!
Actually, that’s not exactly true. Burp.
Try to pick a more eclectic trio than a musician who had (at least) nine lives, a once-disgraced actor and a DC politician who beat a cocaine addiction to be elected mayor of the nation’s capital twice! How troubled was Barry? Well, anytime you do a key word search of “crack” on someone’s Wikipedia page, and you get nine hits, that tells you a lot.
He was replaced by Lamar Jackson in 2018.
What would Jets coach Robert Saleh give to have the stability of Flacco at QB right now? The team has struggled mightily this season with Zach Wilson (4-7), Tim Boyle (0-2) and Trevor Siemian (1-0) at quarterback and could use a competent pro like Flacco.