(SportsNetwork.com) - It was one of those throw away lines you almost expect a head coach to say after a big win.
"He's the best quarterback in football," Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said after watching Joe Flacco lead the Ravens to an upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers in last Saturday's wild-card round.
That's a stretch of course and mentors like Mike McCarthy, John Fox and Bill Belichick, whose Patriots play Baltimore in the division round on Saturday, have a far different take and probably should.
However, if Harbaugh had added one word and made his declarative statement "He's the best playoff quarterback in football," the sentiment is a little tougher to dismiss.
Since Harbaugh took over the Ravens in 2008, Flacco has 10 postseason wins, the most of any NFL signal caller over that span and more than twice the number of his upcoming counterpart in the divisional round, Patriots future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who has four over that seven-year stretch.
Flacco already has the most road playoff wins in NFL history (seven) and he's never reached the dance and not come away with at least one win, a stunning level of consistency when the calendar turns to January.
"The guy is a great player," Belichick admitted. "I think he's a really solid performer all the way around. He's good on play-action; he's obviously good on the deep ball. He's as good a deep ball passer as there is in football. (He's a) smart guy, takes care of the ball; really complete game."
Complete is an understatement during Baltimore's current five-game playoff run, Flacco has thrown 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions, attempting 166 consecutive passes without a pick and amassing a truly elite 116.6 passer rating.
"In the regular season, the cliche line is one play at a time, one game at a time," Flacco said when discussing his postseason success. "At this point (the playoffs), you really are. You don't have any choice but to be totally locked in on this one game. There's nothing really to look forward to. You don't know what's going to happen after this. It's definitely an interesting mindset that you take as a team, and it's a lot of fun."
Baltimore is hoping that fun continues in Foxborough this weekend against the top-seeded Pats.
Most teams arrive at Gillette Stadium and are beaten before they get off the bus, in awe of perhaps the best coach/QB tandem (Belichick and Brady) in NFL history.
Not the Ravens, who have already topped the Pats twice in the postseason in Foxborough, including a 28-13 win in the AFC Championship Game back in January of 2013 en route to their Super Bowl XLVII title.
"Your mindset is the same," Flacco said of playing on the road. "You're feeling the same thing before a game, you're feeling the same thing standing on a sideline getting ready to take the field for the first time. That's my mindset. I believe that it's the same."
It's not the same of course but Flacco has his teammates thinking it is.
"We feel comfortable going on the road when we're going on the road with Joe Flacco," Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith said.
"It's no different," Flacco added. "It's going out there and playing a football game. I'm doing the best I can to put everybody in a position to do good things, put the ball in their hands and let them take over. I think we've just come together and played well as a unit."
Flacco's point is not a bad one.
Too often, people get caught up in the quarterback battles whether it's Flacco versus Brady on Saturday or the much-anticipated Luck-Manning III in Denver a day later. There are 45 others fighting to help those particular QBs to succeed on any given weekend, though.
"I think we're a good team," Flacco continued. "So put us in enough situations and put us in tough situations and we're going to react well to them."
The self-deprecating act doesn't always work, however, especially among those who understand Flacco is the fulcrum to the Ravens' success.
"I'm always bringing up Joe Flacco," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "He's very important to our team. The way he comes out and he performs, the way he carries the week, the way he's prepared. We look up to him, we see him. When he plays that well, we expect to win."
WILD-CARD WEEKEND (All Times Eastern)
Baltimore (11-6) at New England (12-4) (-7), Saturday, 4:35 p.m. - The Ravens and Pats will be meeting in the postseason for the fourth time in the past six seasons. All three of the previous meetings have been at New England and Baltimore has won two of those contests.
"You have to play these games to win," Flacco said. "We're fighting for the big prize. You have to go out there and you let everything go. You can't worry about the outcome."
The Patriots have won six consecutive AFC East titles and earned a first-round bye for the fifth season in a row. At 12-4, New England is the sixth team in NFL history to post at least 14 consecutive winning seasons and the first to do so since San Francisco (1983-98, 16 seasons). Brady has 18 career postseason wins, the most in NFL history, and Belichick has 19 playoff victories and can tie Tom Landry (20) for the most in NFL history.
"In the playoffs, it's the same for everybody -- one loss and you go home," Brady said. "You try to play to your strengths and get ready to go so you can be at your best when you really need it the most. There's only one team out of 32 that gets to win it each year. Hopefully you're the one that gets the chance to do it."
Patriots 24, Ravens 20
Carolina (8-8-1) at Seattle (12-4) (-10 1/2), Saturday, 8:15 p.m. - Defense is on the docket in Seattle. Since Dec. 1, the Seahawks lead the NFL in points and yards allowed (8.3 points per game, 211.3 yards per game) and Carolina is second in both categories (11.8 ppg, 238.2 ypg)
The Panthers are a heavy underdog but have won five consecutive games and averaged 27.6 points per game during that stretch, which includes a 27-16 win over Arizona in the wild-card round last weekend, the franchise's first postseason win since Jan. 15, 2006. Carolina limited the Cardinals to 78 total net yards, the fewest allowed in a postseason game in NFL history.
"Guys have come together and bought into what we are doing," said Panthers All-Pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. "We took the first step and it's an absolutely awesome feeling."
It may not be an awesome feeling in Seattle, though, where the Seahawks are an imposing 24-2 over the past three seasons. The defending Super Bowl champs won the NFC West and secured home-field advantage on the NFC side for the second consecutive year. The Seahawks enter the postseason having won six in a row and are the first team since the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers to win their final six regular-season games and allow less than 40 total points (39).
"We're exactly where we want to be," said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who is 40-13 as a starter in the NFL. "To be going into the playoffs, have a first-round bye and be the No. 1 team in the NFC, that's what you want. Most importantly, we get to play at home again and in front of the best fans in the world. We're high on confidence, like always. But we have to play great football, one game at a time."
Carolina and Seattle have met once prior in the postseason, a 34-14 Seahawks win in the NFC Championship Game on January 22, 2006.
Seahawks 23, Panthers 10
Dallas (13-4) at Green Bay (12-4) (-6), Sunday, 1:05 p.m. - Early indications say "Ice Bowl II" won't be quite as frigid as the famous 1967 NFL Championship Game which the Packers won 21-17. The high is forecasted to be 23 in Green Bay on Sunday with the low dipping into the single digits so the biggest factor may be Aaron Rodgers' health, not the weather.
The likely NFL MVP is expected to play but his strained left calf is clearly bothering him, although a week of rest has certainly helped.
"It feels better," Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show. "We'll see what happens this week as far as practice reps. Everybody's so concerned about them. I'm not, and thankfully my teammates aren't either."
Rodgers set an NFL single-season record with a 133.2 passer rating at Lambeau Field this season and had 25 touchdowns without an interception at home. The veteran has now thrown it 477 consecutive times at Lambeau without a pick and thrown 38 touchdown passes over that span, video-game-like statistics..
"This is a fun team to be on and the guys believe in each other, fight for each other and we stick together," said Rodgers, who ranks second in NFL postseason history with a 103.1 passer rating. "Winning the division was important as was getting that home playoff game. We're 8-0 at home so we want to keep that streak alive."
Conversely the Cowboys, who topped Detroit 24-20 in the wild-card round, rallying from a 14-point deficit, have been perfect on the road, posting an 8-0 record and outscoring opponents 275-181 in those games, making this the first playoff game in NFL history with a team that went 8-0 at home (Green Bay outscored its opponents at Lambeau by a 318-163 margin) hosting a club that went 8-0 on the road.
"To be among the final eight teams, it's something we certainly feel good about," said Dallas head coach Jason Garrett. "Challenges are ahead and we're excited to be a part of it."
Cowboys 27, Packers 23
Indianapolis (12-5) at Denver (12-4) (-7), Sunday, 4:40 p.m. - Luck-Manning III caps the divisional round of the NFL playoffs as the Colts visit the Broncos in a rematch of their Kickoff Weekend meeting. Peyton Manning and Julius Thomas connected on three touchdowns in that one as Denver won 31-24. Luck and Co, did get the best of the Broncos back in 2013, winning a Week 7 shootout 39-33.
Manning did so much for the Colts that it almost surreal to think Luck is far ahead of the pace Manning set during his first three seasons in the Hoosier State. Manning, the five-time NFL MVP, won 26 regular-season games during his first three NFL seasons with the Colts, throwing for 12,287 yards with two playoff starts, both losses. By comparison Luck has already won 33 in the regular season, tossed for 12,957 yards and won his second playoff game last week, a 26-10 drubbing of the banged-up Cincinnati Bengals.
"We played great team football and we're moving on to the next round," said Luck. "We've got a tall order playing Denver at Denver but we're excited about that and up for the challenge."
Manning didn't get his second playoff victory until 2003, his sixth NFL season. He has won nine postseason games overall -- including Super Bowl XLI -- with the Colts and has 6,589 passing yards and nine 300-yard games on his playoff resume, both tops in NFL history.
"We're excited and looking forward to the postseason," said Manning. "This is always an exciting time for football. This is why you work so hard all season to get this opportunity. Playoff football takes on different twists and turns. You're going to play some really good football teams."
The Broncos, who won the AFC West, finished the regular season 8-0 at home, outscoring opponents 283-166 in those games. Over the past two seasons, including the playoffs, Denver has won 17 of its past 18 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"We're excited and glad to be playing at home," said Manning. "We know our crowd will be into it and be a big factor."
Broncos 30, Colts 20