Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Thursday's game is a major crossroads for Joe Flacco the fantasy player.
After three games, the Ravens quarterback is on pace for career highs in yardage and touchdowns, but this isn't new territory. After all, he was in the same spot last season, on pace for 4,320 yards and 37 touchdowns after three contests before finishing with 3,610 and 20.
The Ravens' matchup with the Browns Thursday will tell us if we can trust the fifth-year quarterback as a fantasy stud or if his week-to-week production will continue to be more inconsistent than a replacement referee's interpretation of the NFL rulebook.
Baltimore will be playing its fourth game in 18 days and second in 96 hours, and there's a strong chance for a letdown after the Ravens squeaked out a victory over rival New England Sunday in an emotionally-charged rematch of last season's AFC Championship game.
But Flacco will get to face a Browns defense without top cover cornerback Joe Haden.
In the two games Haden has missed due to suspension, Cleveland has been penetrable, allowing 526 passing yards and six scores combined to Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick. It isn't difficult to make the argument that Flacco is a better football player and quarterback than either of those guys.
What's working against Flacco is that Week 1 punchline Brandon Weeden will be playing in his first career prime time game and things could get ugly in a hurry against the Ray Lewis-led Baltimore defense. If the Ravens jump out to a big first-quarter lead Flacco might not need to throw much in the second half.
If that happens Flacco's fantasy owners will have to hope the quarterback gets his stats early like Matt Ryan did Sunday against the Chargers. Atlanta led 20-0 at the half in that game, with Ryan throwing all three of his touchdowns in the first half.
With 913 yards and six passing touchdowns so far, Flacco is on pace for 4,869 yards and 32 scores, which would exceed his career highs by 1,247 and seven, respectively.
I'm not sold on his ability to get to that next level, however. Like I said, Flacco was on pace for a career year in 2011 after throwing for 810 yards and seven passing scores over the first three games, but he followed that up with six passing touchdowns and six interceptions over the next nine games.
Plus, Flacco's trademark inconsistency still has been evident this season. In Week 1 against Cincinnati, the Ravens QB threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns but he followed that up with 232 yards, one TD and one INT on 42 attempts against Philadelphia in Week 2. Four days ago, he turned in one of his best career performances with 382 yards and three touchdowns with one pick against New England.
That's similar to what he did last year, throwing for 224 and three touchdowns in Week 1, 197 with one TD and two picks in Week 2 and 389 with three touchdowns and no INTs in Week 3.
So don't be fooled by Flacco's hot start. He still has a lot to prove to fantasy owners before we can consider him an elite quarterback in the fantasy game. He can start by providing us with a big game at home Thursday night against the Browns, pulling his team through the predictable fatigue they'll be feeling playing their fourth game in less than three weeks.
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