Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco gave the question one second of thought before throwing his arms up in the air and acknowledging that he had no idea what would have happened if the 2008 draft had played out differently.
What if the Ravens had traded up in that first round and drafted Matt Ryan, rather than moving back and ultimately selecting Flacco at pick No. 18? What if the Atlanta Falcons had taken him rather than Ryan with the third overall pick and anointed him their franchise quarterback?
"Who knows where I'd be?," Flacco said Wednesday. "Are you kidding me? I could be out of the league. You just never know. I could create all kinds of crazy scenarios for you. At the end of the day, I'd like to think that I would have accomplished a lot of the things that I've accomplished anyway, but I don't like to think about that. I'm a Raven and that's the end of it."
As the only quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2008 draft, Flacco and Ryan have been linked since the day they entered the NFL. Those comparisons are in overdrive this week with the Ravens (4-2) preparing to face the Falcons (2-4) Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I think it's always something that's going to be there just because we were in the same class," Flacco said. "That happens with everybody that gets drafted in the same class. I think that it's a cool thing because as long as you're still talking about us, we're somewhat relevant, the both of us. I guess that's a good thing. Usually, you're being talked about as a good draft class or a bad draft class, so it's nice to see that we are still relevant and playing meaningful games."
Flacco and Ryan, who went to high schools about 18 miles apart in the Philadelphia area, got to know each other a little bit during the NFL scouting combine and in the build-up to the 2008 draft. They still see each other occasionally at offseason charity events and have renewed acquaintances several times during the preseason when the Falcons and Ravens have played. Ryan and Flacco both spent significant time praising each other during their conference calls Wednesday.
Their two teams have met just once in the regular season during their careers, a 26-21 Falcons' victory in 2010 that featured six combined touchdown passes, including the 33-yard game-winner from Ryan to Roddy White with 20 seconds to play.
While Ryan had the upper hand that night, there remains much debate about who has had the better start to their career. From a numbers standpoint, it's been Ryan. He's thrown for over 2,000 more yards, 32 more touchdowns and he has a 63.7 completion percentage, compared to Flacco's 60.5. He also has been selected to two Pro Bowl teams while Flacco has yet to be chosen.
But from a team standpoint, Flacco has the clear edge. He has won four more regular-season games over the course of seven seasons. While Ryan is just 1-4 in the postseason, Flacco has led his team to nine playoff wins in 13 tries and a victory in Super Bowl XLVII.
"Matt has done some great things and Joe has done some great things," Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "People love to compare people all the time and Joe has won and Matt has won some games as well. I don't really think it's something that can really be judged until they're done. They're quarterbacks, they're going to be compared forever. Joe kind of has the upper hand right now."
Asked who has had a better start to his career between him and Flacco, Ryan said, "I think we've both played well at different times. I don't think it's something that I think about all that often."
Ryan said that he's "always been impressed" by Flacco and is proud of the way his career has turned out. Flacco, meanwhile, said that he has no problems with the comparisons, especially because they are from similar backgrounds.
"I don't know necessarily how [similar] our styles are, but obviously, we've been able to go out there, we've played on good teams and we've done our part," Flacco said. "I think in that, you can find a lot of comparisons."
Such comparisons aren't fair to either signal caller, said Rich Gannon, a former NFL quarterback who is now an analyst for the NFL on CBS.
"When you evaluate each of them or when you evaluate a quarterback, it's so important to evaluate what's around them. That includes the defense. It's not just the offensive line, the running game, the receivers. It's also the defense," Gannon said. "I think clearly Flacco has benefited from the better defense around him, but at times I think Ryan's had a better arsenal in terms of tight ends and wide receivers.
"I just think both are really good players and they are going to be really good players for a long time. Joe's already won a Super Bowl. I think at some point, Matt Ryan will get a Super Bowl."
Instead of dwelling on the differences, Gannon stressed the "striking similarities" between both players, starting with their size and styles. Ryan is 6-foot-5, 224 pounds while Flacco is 6-6 and 232 pounds. They are pocket passers with strong arms, though Gannon said neither is given enough credit for their athleticism and mobility. They also have proven to be tough and durable.
"I don't think either of the teams, if they could [draft] it over again, would change," Gannon said.
It was well known heading into the 2008 draft that both the Ravens and Falcons were looking for a quarterback, though it was initially unclear who each team was targeting. For their part, the Ravens did extensive work on all the available quarterbacks.
Along with Ryan and Flacco, there was also some talk that either team could have taken Michigan's Chad Henne or Louisville's Brian Brohm, who went in back-to-back picks in the second round.
"That was a long time ago," said Atlanta coach Mike Smith when asked if the Falcons considered drafting Flacco. "To me, that was a decision that was an organizational decision. There were a lot of moving parts. There's not a whole lot of consensus across the board when you start talking about top-level quarterbacks. Both of them have played extremely well throughout their careers.
"We did a lot of work on both of these guys and they are very similar in a lot of ways — the height, weight, speed, measurables. Joe has done a great job leading the Baltimore Raven team and Matt has done a great job of leading our team. They are both elite quarterbacks, they've been playing at an elite level, in my opinion, for quite some time — both of them."