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Is Joe Flacco headed to 'elite' QB territory for Ravens?

One year ago, we watched New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning defy his critics en route to a second Super Bowl title. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is one win away from his first, and the "E" word -- elite, not Eli -- is beginning to bubble to the surface.

"He is one of the elite quarterbacks," New England Patriots safety Steve Gregory told The Kansas City Star after the Ravens' 28-13 AFC Championship Game win. "I know he gets a lot of flak for not being that type of guy, but he is."

The whole "is-this-quarterback-elite?" debate borders on ponderous, and the definition of the word has blurred recently. The tag arguably has more to do with contract negotiations than anything that can be measured on the football field.

It's generally accepted that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning define this generation's elite passers, so what do we make of the guy who just mowed them both down?

The word "elite" doesn't matter; the wins do. Flacco has delivered in the clutch and should be credited not only for his play, but for his leadership over a Ravens team filled with characters. Flacco usually doesn't wow you with his numbers, but -- sort of like Eli last year -- he's gone otherworldly this January and pulled Baltimore to the mountaintop.

"I'm so glad we're going to the Super Bowl right now so people can get off Joe's back," Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "He led us there."

The defense and a cast of playmakers have helped, but Flacco deserves a head nod. The elite debate? That can wait. Flacco isn't finished yet.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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