Would You Rather...Tony Romo or Joe Flacco as Your Starting Quarterback?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 8, 2013

Images courtesy of USA Today
Images courtesy of USA Today

It's the first Friday of the offseason and I'd like to start a B/R NFC East Blog offseason Friday tradition with our first "Would You Rather" post in quite a while.

No better place to kick that off than in Dallas, where lightning-rod quarterback Tony Romo is coming off a great season on paper but another disappointing one from the team's perspective. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, on the other hand, is coming off another so-so statistical season, but the Ravens are Super Bowl champions. 

So, Cowboys fans, who would you rather have leading your team, Romo or Flacco?

Factoring in hugely is the age gap. Flacco is five years younger than Romo and has more room to improve. Romo is in his prime now, while you could make the argument that Flacco is only about to hit his.

That's big, and it's the primary reason why yours truly is having trouble here.

But regular readers know that I'm big on what's empirical and I rather like my stats (advanced or otherwise), which is why I'm not prepared to conclude that one quarterback is better than another simply because his team has been more successful. Every NFL franchise has 61 players, 46 of whom are active on game days, 22 of whom start and 11 of whom are on the field at any given moment.

Only one is the starting quarterback. Giving him all the credit, or all the blame, is lazy and unreasonable. 

So it's important to consider that while Flacco has made five playoff appearances in his five seasons in the NFL, and while Romo has only made a single postseason appearance in that same time frame, Baltimore's defense has allowed 5.2 fewer points per game than Dallas' has. 

Essentially, every regular-season Sunday, Flacco has a handicap of nearly two field goals in this competition with Romo. 

Flacco has been better than Romo in "big games," but would the Cowboys have even earned the chance to play in important December and January matchups if he were their quarterback? 

To be fair to Flacco and to this debate, let's wipe out his first two seasons and set aside Romo's lost 2010 campaign and focus only on what each quarterback has accomplished the last two years. Here's how the two stack up in terms of sheer regular-season stats:

Romo's numbers blow Flacco's out of the water. But Flacco deserves a lot of credit for his play in those crucial moments. You'll recall that Romo threw three interceptions in the do-or-die season finale against Washington. In the last five Ravens games that mattered in 2012, Flacco threw 13 touchdown passes and had zero interceptions. His lowest passer rating in those games was 106.2 and he averaged nearly nine yards per attempt. 

Romo was one of the league's best quarterbacks in the fourth quarter this season, but as you can see in the chart to the right, Flacco was actually better in those situations, too.

Romo never got a chance to tear it up in the playoffs like Flacco did, and it didn't help that his team lost far more starters due to injury than Baltimore did in 2012. To boot, the guys at Football Outsiders concluded that the Ravens were the league's healthiest team in 2011.

As was noted in the above chart, Flacco also received an extra 4.2 points per game's worth of support from his defense the last two years. I know this is extremely unscientific, but if you subtracted 4.2 points from every Cowboys opponent the last two seasons, Romo would have won 22 games, not 16, and would have led the 'Boys to the playoffs in both years. 

But we can't assume that Romo would have risen to the occasion where Flacco did. His teammates have given Flacco more opportunities to succeed than Romo's have, and that's what makes this a murky debate. 

At least in my eyes. I get the feeling most of you would take Flacco without thinking twice.