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AFC North Positional Rankings: Quarterbacks

Is Joe Flacco elite?

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NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Seven current starting quarterbacks in the NFL have won a Super Bowl ring, and two of those seven reside in the AFC North. With quarterback being the most important position in the NFL, you’d think both of the two Super Bowl-winning QBs would top the list in the AFC North -- but spoiler alert: that’s not the case here.

1. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

No surprise here, despite how great Andy Dalton’s play may have been last year. Narratives about the Steelers quarterback’s injury issues cling to TVs like dirt, but the fact of the matter is, Big Ben has only missed eight starts since 2011. For as common as the “injury-prone Roethlisberger” narrative has become, the quarterback is durable. Perhaps it’s the quarterback’s incessant need to remind people he’s playing through injuries that sparks these narratives.

But regardless of my personal sentiment toward Big Ben, he still belongs on top of the pecking order in the AFC North. Certain statistics can be cherry-picked to make Big Ben look not-so-Big anymore (16 interceptions thrown in only 12 regular season games, 3.4 interception percentage), but the quarterback’s career highs in completion percentage (68.0) and net yards gained per pass attempt (7.76) should silence critics.

2. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

Until the Bengals quarterback wins a Super Bowl (not just a playoff game), he’s going to be the butt of jokes galore, but that doesn’t take away from Dalton’s drastic year-to-year progress throughout his career. Former PFF writer Shawn Siegele might’ve had a crystal ball writing a contrarian argument on why Dalton was a franchise quarterback, and he hit the nail on the head in his analysis (which you can find here). The Bengals quarterback is quietly one of the league’s savviest quarterback at the line of scrimmage, recognizing opposing defenses, checking into audibles and calling his own plays at the line on a frequent basis. He might not have the playoff record, but in his fairness, only two Bengals quarterbacks have ever won a playoff game in the 49 years Cincinnati has had a professional football team.

Football is a team game and quarterback wins and losses need to be taken with a grain of salt. Rex Grossman’s two playoff wins and Super Bowl appearance didn’t fool anyone, and neither did Tim Tebow’s miraculous Wild Card victory over the vaunted Steelers, because at the end of the day, the quarterback — though the most important player on the field — is one of dozens of people on the field who can impact a game. Dalton missed out on a great chance to finally make a playoff run in 2015 with what was easily the best (and healthiest) Bengals team of the millennium. Hopefully Dalton will have a shot at redemption in 2016, but as of today (and until a major regression from Roethlisberger or out-of-nowhere surge from someone behind him), he sits in second place on my list.

3. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Joe “Cool” Flacco is one of the most interesting quarterbacks in the NFL. His insane 2012 playoff run (1,140 yards, nine yards per attempt, 11 touchdowns, zero interceptions, 117.2 passer rating) might just be the best quarterback playoff performance in NFL history, but his otherwise unspectacular career leads me to believe that he’s not, in fact, an elite quarterback. Flacco set a career-high completion percentage in 2015 (64.4), but his season otherwise was atrocious. Granted, Flacco’s surrounding cast was virtually nonexistent, but it’s not like his numbers from 2014 (or any of the past five seasons) will do him more justice.

We’re talking about a guy with a career completion percentage of 60.9 who has a 75-47 regular season record — talk about a guy who has been carried by his team. Oh, and by the way, remember Flacco’s career-high in completion percentage this past season? Yeah, well both Roethlisberger (68.0) and Dalton (66.1) had higher completion percentages last year. Heck, Josh McCown’s passer rating from last year was more than 10 points higher than Flacco’s, and he’s apparently not even good enough to start for the Browns. Speaking of the Browns...

4. Robert Griffin III, Cleveland Browns

I might sound crazy for this, but I almost put Griffin above Flacco on this list, just because I expect him to outperform Flacco this season. Preseason football might not mean much, but the former Redskins quarterback looks like he can sling the ball. Hue Jackson is creative to a fault and I definitely think he’s crafty enough to tailor an offense to Griffin’s strengths and thrive.

Griffin may be a huge question mark, but fortunately, Josh McCown is one of the best backup quarterbacks in football. Unfortunately, having a quarterback on a team which will more than likely have a losing season doesn’t do much good, but it still counts for something.