The "elite" debate with Joe Flacco is only pertinent these days when it involves politicians or Steelers fans mocking their rivals on social media.
The more relevant question is whether Flacco has regressed. Flacco's numbers would suggest so, but Baltimore coach John Harbaugh scoffed at such a notion.
"I would never use that term," Harbaugh said Monday when asked that question. "I don’t think it’s for a guy of his career."
Like many of the Ravens, Flacco has struggled this season. He ranks 27th in passer rating (80.1) -- three spots ahead of rookie Jameis Winston -- 25th in completion rate (62.3 percent), 30th in yards per attempt (6.5) and 25th in interceptions (seven). His two interceptions in the 25-20 loss to the 49ers were among the worst throws of his career.
The knee-jerk reaction is to say Flacco has taken a step backwards, but that doesn't tell the whole story. It's Flacco's supporting cast that has taken a bigger step backwards.
In 2013, the Ravens traded away Anquan Boldin and never replaced him. Flacco threw a career-high 22 interceptions.
This year, Baltimore didn't have the cap room to re-sign Torrey Smith and replaced him with first-round pick Breshad Perriman, who has yet to play a snap because of a sprained knee. Flacco also lost offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak as well as an experienced tight end in Owen Daniels. Through six games, he is tied for fourth with the most interceptions in the NFL.
So, why did the Ravens pay him $120 million? Flacco has proven he can lead a team deep into the playoffs and even to a Super Bowl title when given the right weapons. The same can't be said for quarterbacks who have had much better talent around them and still have struggled in the playoffs: Matt Ryan (1-4 in postseason), Tony Romo (2-4), Andy Dalton (0-4) and Jay Cutler (1-1).
This is what Flacco has to work with this season:
Steve Smith Sr., 36-year-old receiver who has four microfractures in his back.
Justin Forsett, journeyman running back who never had over 700 yards in his first four seasons.
Kamar Aiken, journeyman receiver who had 24 career catches before this season
Marlon Brown, an undrafted free agent receiver who has gone 20 straight regular season games without a touchdown.
Crockett Gillmore, a second-year tight end who had 10 career catches before this season.
Flacco hasn't been the same quarterback as last year. Or even since the Super Bowl. Since 2013, his passer rating is 81.4, which is 27th among quarterbacks and ranks even behind Brian Hoyer.
As the Ravens struggle though a 1-5 start, it doesn't look like Flacco is seeing the field as well as previous seasons. He has gotten into the bad habit of throwing off his back foot. He also seems to be pressing because of the lack of playmakers around him. How many times has he stood there waiting for someone to get open?
Flacco hasn't been on top of his game, and he has accepted his share of the responsibility of "stupid" stupid mistakes. But to say he's regressed doesn't take into account the current state of the Ravens offense.