Bare with me as what you are about to read may be construed as an extreme violation of “homerism.” But you know what, when you’re favorite team wins a championship I think you should be given some leeway for at least a certain period of time. And I shall certainly exploit this grace period as much as possible. So right here I am to show you that Eli Manning is the best quarterback in the NFL. Period.
Here is a memory that for whatever reason is ingrained in my head about Eli Manning. The date was Sunday, January 5, 2005. It was Week 17 of the NFL season; the rookie season for Eli. The Giants, seemingly like every year, had gotten off to a good start. They were 5-2 under the helm of Kurt Warner. After two successive losses to drop them to 5-4, new coach Tom Coughlin decided it was time to turn it over to first round pick Eli Manning. Manning would lose each of his starts that season until the final week. Where, facing a 16-7 4th quarter deficit Manning would lead the Giants on three touchdown drives. The final one, after the Cowboys had scored to take a seemingly commanding 24-21 lead with under two minutes left, was the moment that I would never forget. Even though it was Tiki Barber that punched the ball in, it was Manning who led them down the field and audibled to the final play. Seeing Manning’s cool and calm in that moment gave me great hope for the future. I remember vividly walking into my mom’s room, telling her the Giants had won and saying, “I think this Manning might be something.”
Now here we are. Manning’s eighth season in the league. He may not have the regular season accolades of some his competitors but he does have what everyone covets: two Super Bowl MVPs. For it is Manning, who much like that final drive back in 2005, led the Giants down the field for a game winning touchdown yet again in the big game. Manning’s cool and calm under pressure is his greatest strength as a quarterback. And for a first overall pick in New York, I can’t think of any trait I’d rather have for my leader.
Even though it may be preposterous for some to even think about, now that Manning has won his second Super Bowl, should he be given the belt for best QB? Let’s just see how Peyton’s little brother stacks up with the rest of the field.
- Peyton Manning
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Drew Brees
- Aaron Rodgers
- Tom Brady
Those are the five guys (assuming Peyton’s doctors are correct and he can make a full recovery) who challenge Eli for that spot of best in the game. Each one has different qualifications and different reasons for why they deserve the spot. And similarly each has different reasons for why they do not deserve the spot. Now I’ll go through each and every one of them.
Eli’s big brother. Now if you’re going to look at this from a regular season prospective Eli doesn’t come close. Peyton has four MVP awards including one when he set the single season touchdown record with 49 (before being passed by Brady’s 50 in 2007). Peyton is basically the offensive coordinator for the Colts as he has complete control of the offense. How many times have we seen Peyton waving off the punting unit to continue the drive himself? However there is a big knock on Peyton: his postseason record.
Manning is 9-10 in his postseason career including being stymied by the Patriots for most of his career. The Pats eliminated Manning in back to back seasons before he finally getting the best of them in his Super Bowl run in 2006. The difference between Peyton and Eli can really be summed up for the propensity to raise their game in the big moment. To me the best comparison you could give between Eli and Peyton is how you would compare Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod is the far superior regular season player posting numbers that would rival anyone in the history of the game. However, Jeter raises his game to meet the stakes such as in the postseason and the World Series. A-Rod on the other hand gets overwhelmed by the big stage. A-Rod and Peyton each had their one big run to get their ring and shake off the critics for their careers. But if you asked any Yankees fan who they would want in a big spot they would all say Jeter. Now looking back if you were asked which quarterback would you rather for one game or one drive with the season on the line, I’m sorry but based on their track record give me the little brother for the win.
Besides the guys that played on Sunday, Big Ben is the only other multiple Super Bowl champion in the league today. He came out of the gate as the winningst rookie quarterback of all time winning every single regular season start he made, 13 to be exact. That, as mentioned above is in quite contrast to how Eli began his career. Ben early in his career relied a lot on his defense and running game, much like Eli. But Ben developed into a more prolific passer a bit sooner than Eli did as seen in his second Super Bowl title three years ago. Another leg up for Ben is the fact that he’s also been to a third Super Bowl losing to the Packers last season. Now not that this has anything to do with his on field play but Ben’s off the field character is much more questionable than Eli’s (see a college dorm bathroom for example).
A big knock on Ben is the fact that in his two Super Bowls, he has zero MVP’s; with receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes taking home the honors. Also in his first Super Bowl he put together one of the worst performances in Super Bowl history with his 9-21 day. Ben does have his signature moment in the Super Bowl connecting with the aforementioned Holmes for the game winning score in Super Bowl 43. The reason I’d give the nod to Eli is because of his Super Bowl play. Eli has led his team to victory in the fourth quarter in both of his Super Bowls. Also the level of competition has to be taken into account. I’m sorry but the combined 29-3 Patriots are better than the Matt Hasselbeck led Seahawks and the Cardinals. I don’t think we were saying either of these team’s were unbeatable heading into the game.
Much like Peyton, if you compared their regular season numbers this would be a no contest. Brees just went through a season where he set the single season passing record surpassing Marino. Brees also has Super Bowl championship under his belt. But there is a knock on him. He gets to play his games in the friendly confines of a dome. I don’t think this can really be understood enough. The difference between playing your home games in windy Giants Stadium and playing at least half your games in the controlled environment of the Superdome is tremendous.
Looking for a cross sport analogy just look at baseball. When comparing some of the top sluggers or best pitchers we always add the notion of what stadium he plays in. How many times have you heard people knock Todd Helton for playing his home games in Coors Field? Or even looking close to home how about all the times people add the asterisk of some of the Yankees lefty hitters getting to play their home games using the short porch in the left. What about pitchers getting a boost for pitching in Safeco or Petco? I don’t think this gets talked about enough for quarterbacks. Guys like Brady and Eli who play their games outdoors in imperfect conditions should be given an extra boost much like Adrian Gonzalez was for hitting 40 home runs in Petco. And guys like Peyton and Brees should be looked at a little different like Mariners pitchers get for being able to utilize the spacious Safeco Field.
For further proof just look at Brees’ numbers in his record breaking 2011 season. Indoors this year Brees had 34 touchdowns to 6 interceptions with a 120.8 QB rating. However playing outdoors, Brees had 12 touchdowns to 8 interceptions with a 96.4 QB rating. If a baseball player had this type of home/road split we’d hear Matthew Berry screaming out the wazoo if he ever had to play his home games somewhere else. To go even further, after losing to the 49ers this postseason, Brees is now 0-3 in road postseason games. What is Eli Manning’s road postseason record? 5-1.
When going through the candidates Rodgers has the toughest record to break. However as mentioned before since this is a complete Giants homerism column, I found something to exploit. Rodgers does have a Super Bowl ring, he had a 15-1 MVP season, and he has superior numbers to Eli. But the biggest difference between Rodgers and Eli is the fact that Rodgers got a chance to sit and learn from one of the best to ever play the position in Brett Favre. Instead of being thrown in as a rookie, Rodgers got to sit and learn and hone his craft before being thrust into the spotlight. Rodgers himself has admitted that sitting those three years before getting his first start has gone a long way into his development. Rodgers said of his sitting, ““It allowed me to get my body in the kind of shape I wanted to get in. But more importantly to become an expert in our offense and to study defenses.” That kind of advantage when you first step in cannot be overstated.
A second factor that needs to be considered when judging Rodgers is also the offense that he inherited. The team was one game away from going to the Super Bowl and had a very strong receiving core. Between Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, Rodgers had a strong comfort zone he could rely on. With Manning, the case could be made that he has made the receivers around him better. Now this is always a tough subject to get a handle on because there’s no true way to determine if a QB makes a receiver, a receiver makes a QB, or if it’s a combination. The only way to tell is to see what happens when a receiver changes teams. For the Giants, they have lost a few of the receivers that were part of the core of the team in Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. Now obviously injuries played a part in their regression since leaving the Giants, but it should be noted that their performances drop off significantly.
The final person who could derail Eli Manning’s quest to obtain that title belt. Brady for most of the 2000’s was the cream of the crop when it came to quarterbacks. Kind of like the Derek Jeter of baseball (until 2009), Brady won his championships early in his career but didn’t have the big numbers that came with some of the greats of all time. But then came the season of 2007. With the acquisition of Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Brady exploded to a place never seen before in the NFL. He surpassed Peyton’s single season passing TD record and the Patriots became the first team to go 16-0. He was poised to rise to a level where he could be thought of as the greatest quarterback in NFL history…but then came Eli.
When Brady connected with Moss for the go ahead score in Super Bowl 42 everyone thought this would be the latest image in the Hall of Fame montage for Brady. But instead it became an afterthought as Manning would lead the Giants down the field for the stunning upset. Then he did it to him again in the regular season in 2011 beating Brady in his house in Foxboro. Finally came Super Bowl 46 where yet again the little brother of the quarterback who was stymied by Brady his whole career, took it to him again denying him his fourth title and a chance at immortality. With Manning now sitting at 2-0 in the big game against the aforementioned Brady, I would be hard pressed to rank him Eli below Brady at this point in time.
Have I proven my point? Have I made you Eli believers? If not well, that’s ok. Eli has always been at his best when people are against him. So haters keep hating and doubters keep doubting so we can relive this discussion when Manning is celebrating his eventual third Super Bowl championship.