Just before the start of the 2012 NFL season, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco claimed to be one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.

That put Flacco under serious fire as it seemed out of turn for a quarterback who hadn’t won or even reached a Super Bowl to make such a self-aggrandizing statement.

Now the 28-year-old New Jersey native, who is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season unless the Ravens place the franchise tag on him, leads the Ravens to the second Super Bowl in the franchise’s short history in Baltimore.

While Flacco has proved himself over the last three Ravens wins with eight touchdown passes and no interceptions, it is still hard to believe what he has accomplished, considering he’s never led the NFL in passing yards or touchdowns, and has a career passer rating of 86.3. He has led the Ravens to the posteason in his first five seasons, including two trips to the AFC title game, but Flacco's performance was never singled out as the reason Baltimore moved on until now.

Currently No. 7 on the list of highest-paid quarterbacks, Flacco could earn himself a serious pay bump if he takes Baltimore to a Super Bowl title. Flacco could also get a raise if Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome pours over the quarterback's last three games and how they compared to his previous postseason runs.

Before this season, Flacco had eight touchdowns and eight interceptions in the playoffs, and only one game with a passer rating above 100. Over the last three weeks, Flacco has doubled his touchdown total without throwing an interception, has an average passer rating of 116, and outplayed future Hall of Famers in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. By comparison, Brady has thrown three interceptions in his last three postseason games, and six total picks in his last five.

Should he beat the San Francisco 49ers, Flacco could also earn the designation of “elite.” In terms of contracts, Flacco is behind several notable names: Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, and Jay Cutler. All are either out of the playoffs or failed to make it, and at one point or another were or still are considered elite. At this point, Flacco has outplayed all of them.

Something to consider would be the players just behind Flacco in terms of salary: Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, and Matt Hasselbeck, whose difference in salary is negligible in terms of millions.

More could be gleaned from the idea that being the highest paid at your position does not guarantee your team postseason success. Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson are the highest-paid running backs in the league, with each pulling down $8 million in 2012, but neither has reached the Super Bowl despite their considerable talents.

It is possible Flacco turned a corner during the season, and we are seeing the ascension of the NFL’s next great passer. Either way, Flacco has earned high praise and now others might start to call him elite.