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Philip Rivers’ Career Stacks Up Favorably to Eli Manning

New York Giants v San Diego Chargers Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Draft-day trades involving top five picks are one of the most exciting aspects of the NFL Draft. It takes guts by a GM to mortgage part of the franchise's future by moving up the board to take a player they feel can drastically enhance the roster. Trading down also carries consequences. You could end up passing over a generational talent. The trade below is one that immediately became one of lore for both teams.

Team A receives:

- QB who never misses starts and sports a 94.7 QB Rating in 180 games

- 1st round pick who produces three seasons of elite pass rushing

- 3rd round pick that is used on a kicker who spends nine seasons with the franchise

- 5th round pick which is flipped for a veteran Left Tackle

Team B receives:

- QB who never misses starts and possesses an 83.7 QB Rating in 201 games

Without any more specifics to consider, Team A is the easy winner. It's essential to of course provide that extra info. Team A is the Chargers, and Team B is the New York Giants. When it comes to this famous deal, which occurred in April 2004, both franchises feel like they can declare victory.

For the Giants, they finally landed the long-term QB - Eli Manning - they had been seeking since Phil Simms departed. He has rewarded Ernie Accorsi's (Giants GM at the time) faith by helping deliver them two championships.

Those two titles are pivotal in the debate between Philip Rivers and Eli. It is the rallying cry for Giants fans on fan blogs and YouTube comments. A phrase along the lines of "Yea, but Eli has two rings" is the go-to trump card Giants fans can employ when a debate between Rivers and Eli arises. The implication from their point of view is that Rivers hasn't and isn't capable of winning a title.

It's a standard cliche that you need a franchise QB to be competitive year-after-year in this era of the NFL. As Browns fans can attest, you will be stuck in football purgatory without a reliable one. When it comes to playoff games, though, both teams more often than not will feature a QB that is at least considered to be in the top half of the league. The margin of error is slim.

To the playoff victor goes the spoils is how it usually ends up. Legacies are enhanced or bashed based on these games. While a game will be extensively dissected in its immediate aftermath, key plays tend to be forgotten about as time passes.

These plays, which sometimes have nothing to do with the QB, can drastically boost or diminish a team's ability to emerge with a victory. A QB has no control over whether their kicker(s) never connect on a postseason field goal longer than 41-yards or if a ball bounces off a player's helmet on a punt return. Rivers has been on the wrong end of these uncommon occurrences.

In the Jan. 2007 home playoff loss to the Patriots, the Chargers committed a calamity of errors. It is San Diego's version of "The Fumble" and "The Drive."

Instead of attempting a 49-yard field goal on 4th-and-11 in the first quarter with the score tied, Marty Schottenheimer opted to go for it. The play failed. It remains an odd decision considering the time remaining and scoreline.

With the Chargers up 14-10 in the third quarter, they forced a punting situation after wrapping up Kevin Faulk for a two-yard loss on the Patriot 18-yard line. Eric Parker, who hadn't lost a fumble all year on 89 touches, set up to return the punt. He muffed the catch, and the Patriots recovered on the Chargers 31-yard line. A few plays later, a personal foul penalty by Drayton Florence extended the drive and set up a 34-yard field goal attempt instead of a 50-yarder. Stephen Gostkowski nailed the field goal to make it 14-13.

After the Chargers tacked on the extra point to go up 21-13 with 8:40 in the fourth quarter, Shane Olivea wound up with an unnecessary roughness penalty that forced Nate Kaeding to kick off from the 15-yard line. The Patriots returned the kickoff to their own 37-yard line.

On that same drive with 6:25 remaining, safety Marlon McCree picked off Tom Brady. During the runback, Troy Brown stripped the ball loose, and the Patriots recovered. Also, the Chargers wasted a timeout challenging that McCree was down by contact. That lost timeout proved critical later on. Another key to this play is that it happened on fourth down. If McCree had just let it fall incomplete, the Chargers would have gained possession. With new life, the Patriots went on to score a touchdown and convert the two-point conversion.

After falling behind 24-21 with 1:14 left, the Chargers got to start their drive on their own 25 with no timeouts. Rivers went 3-3 for 39 yards with two spikes. The offense had done enough to get into field goal range. Kaeding trotted out for a 54-yard attempt that he was unable to make. Rivers, in his first year starting, was not a star in this one. He went 14-32 for 230 yards and one interception. Brady did not have a classic performance either as he went 27-51 for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. It's a game that slipped away from a loaded Chargers roster.

The Patriots committed zero personal foul penalties until after the game was already decided and had no unforced turnovers like a mishandled punt. This roster featured one of their weaker WR corps (Caldwell, Gaffney, and Brown in last full season). It's arguably never been worse since. They needed some breaks to go their way, and they got them. How often in the playoffs do you see a defensive player get stripped of an interception or fumble recovery? It is extremely rare.

All of these key moments except for the 4th-and-11 attempt involved Rivers being on the sidelines. His national perception and aura could be completely different if just one of those plays turned out differently.

There's plenty of other instances where misfortune struck the Chargers harder than their opponent. They include a punt bouncing off the helmet of Eric Weddle in the Divisional playoff game at Pittsburgh with the score at 14-10, Kaeding missing three field goals against the Jets, and Ryan Mathews barely playing at Denver in the Divisional playoff game after burning them for 127 yards a month earlier. Also, the AFC Championship Game at New England saw Philip Rivers play on a torn ACL. To make matters even direr, Tomlinson could not participate, and Antonio Gates was significantly hobbled.

The Chargers have never obtained a beneficial advantage when it comes to playoff injuries since Rivers joined the team. Their opponent has had its full complement of skill position players at their disposal. Their games at New England, at Pittsburgh, and at Denver saw them deal with a hindrance to their normal rotation. Furthermore, LT was a limited participant in the home playoff game vs. the Colts. Rivers himself missed the fourth quarter at Indy, but they managed to eke out a win.

There is a danger of becoming myopic with these references. Fans of other teams will be happy to bring up their own set of unfair circumstances that their team faced. Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were on the wrong end of a much-debated non-TD catch against the Packers in Jan. 2015, while the Patriots benefitted from the "The Tuck Rule." Those plays can alter a player's historical perception. It's important to remember them for context.

The type of plays/situations the Chargers have come across just haven't happened very often during the playoffs and rank up there with other franchises. It is not common to see a kicker miss three times in one game or a punt clang off a helmet for a fumble. Very few teams walk into a conference title game with their #1QB, #1RB, and #1TE/pass-catcher all significantly banged up. Injuries more so than the aforementioned Chargers plays have occurred throughout the league.

2012 saw the Ravens defeat the Texans without their #1 QB in Matt Schaub or #2 in Matt Leinart. In Jan. 2016, the Broncos got to play the Steelers at home without Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, and DeAngelo Williams. Unsurprisingly, the Steelers lost just as the Raiders did in Houston this past January without their #1QB, #2QB, and #1LT. It's very difficult to pull off a win against a good team with injuries to multiple impact players. Each of these examples of a loss took place on the road.

There are cases of teams that have walked away with a win while dinged up. The 2010 Super Bowl champion Packers #1RB and #1TE played a combined six games. A little over a half-decade later, they won two playoff games without Jordy Nelson. The 2004 Eagles won two games at home without Terrell Owens. It's a testament to the players/coaches they got the job done. No team or fanbase though would want to go into a big game with an injury to a go-to player. It gives the opponent an immediate advantage in scheming and takes away someone who can make a game-changing play.

Sometimes you need some luck, and it has been in short supply for the Chargers during the instances when they've made the postseason since 2004. The luckiest play the Chargers benefitted from with Rivers is Andy Dalton fumbling in the third quarter without being touched in the Jan. 2014 Wild Card Game. The Chargers were leading 14-10 at the time. When it comes to Eli's postseason history, he has played like a superstar in their two title-winning runs. There is no denying that.

However, good fortune played a supporting role during their 2011 championship run. During the NFC Championship game against the 49ers, Eli was hammered over and over by the 49ers defense. He exhibited tremendous grit to keep firing from the pocket. What no one could have predicted was the 49ers fumbling on two punt returns. The 49ers did pretty well regarding return yardage throughout the game, but those two fumbles proved costly.

The first one resulted from a muffed catch with 11:17 left in the fourth quarter and the 49ers leading 14-10. The Giants recovered the fumble on the San Francisco 29-yard line and went on to score a touchdown on a Manning pass.

A second punt return fumble took place in overtime. The Giants forced this one to pop lose, and they recovered on the 49er 24-yard line. All the Giants had to do was call a few runs to get into an even more manageable field goal try. That's exactly what happened. Lawrence Tynes hit a 31-yard field goal to clinch the game.

This is not meant to show Eli, and the Giants won solely because of luck. That would be inaccurate. He played well considering the opponent and stakes. This example is meant to illustrate that a couple of plays a QB has no impact on can significantly influence the outcome.

"Eli Sucks" was a chant that rained down on Eli over and over when the Giants visited San Diego in 2005 for the first time since the trade. It made for a wild atmosphere, but it's not a true statement. He is far from a QB who sucks. He is quite good...just not as good as Rivers, who has him beat in a vast amount of regular season categories:


Rivers - 64.4%

Eli - 59.7%

Edge - Rivers

Yards per Game

Rivers - 254.6

Eli - 239.9

Edge - Rivers


Rivers - 2.6%

Eli - 3.2%

Edge - Rivers

Touchdown Passes

Eli - 320 (has appeared in 21 more games than Rivers)

Rivers - 314


Rivers- 5.3

Eli - 4.7

Edge - Rivers

QB Rating

Rivers - 94.7

Eli - 83.7

Edge - Rivers

Y/A (yards gained per pass attempt)

Rivers - 7.7

Eli - 7.1

Edge - Rivers

Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt

Rivers - 6.34

Eli - 5.95

Edge - Rivers


Rivers - 5.8

Eli - 4.6

Edge - Eli

4th Quarter Comebacks

Eli - 30

Rivers - 22

Edge - Eli

Game-winning Drives

Eli - 39

Rivers - 26

Edge - Eli

Pro Football Reference Approximate Value (AV)

Rivers - 164

Eli - 143 (Eli had benefit of 21 more games to gain value and still trails by 21)

Edge - Rivers

Pro Football Reference Advanced Passer Rating

Rivers owns this category vs. Eli head-to-head

He has a record of 9-1-1 vs. Eli when comparing Rate+ over each season.

Rushing (includes all fumbles, even if own team recovered)

Eli - 284 attempts, 514 yards, 5 TD's, 1.8 yds/carry, 104 fumbles

Rivers - 317 attempts, 575 yards, 3 TD's, 1.8 yds/carry, 91 fumbles

Edge - Even

Things haven't changed much since college. Over their collegiate careers, Rivers bested Eli in completion %, passing TD's, rushing TD's, yards per attempt, QB Rating, adjusted passing yards per attempt, and yards per game (even when taking out Eli's freshman year). Also, Rivers attempted 347 more passes than Eli and still had fewer career interceptions (34-35). Eli managed to possess a better TD % (5.9-5.5). The SEC has long been considered the creme de la creme in college football, but the ACC is no slouch.

One of the most impressive stats about Rivers is that he has played well behind the worst offensive lines compared to his contemporaries since 2009 according to an article from Bolts From the Blue that utilized info from Pro Football Focus.

Occasionally, some fans will point out that Rivers had LaDainian Tomlinson (LT) to hand the ball off to at the beginning of his career. There certainly was no better safety blanket to have. Plus, they had Michael Turner and Darren Sproles backing him up and Lorenzo Neal leading the way at fullback. No question they had one of the most desired backfields of that era. What goes unmentioned is that Eli had his own elite RB to rely on.

During Eli's first three years (2004-2006), Tiki Barber accumulated 31 total TD's to go along with 1,006 rushing attempts for 5,040 yards, which comes out to 5.0 yards per carry. He also had 164 receptions for 1,573 yards.

LT, during Rivers' first three years (2006-2008), ran 955 times for 4,399 yards, which comes out to 4.6 yards per carry. He reeled in 168 catches for 1,409 yards and blew by Tiki when it came to total TD's (61) and had only three fumbles to Tiki's nine. Yes, LT was the best when Rivers kicked off his starting career, but it's not as if Eli had a replacement-level player to work with. In fact, you can make the argument that Tiki was a Top 5 running back during those years. It should also be noted that Eli began his starting career midway through 2004, so he didn't get to benefit from all of Tiki's production.

When it comes to performance in wins, Rivers has outclassed Eli over their careers and in the last few years. As of Dec. 25, 2016, Rivers could not afford to play even average if the Bolts were to win. In the 27 wins of the Mike McCoy era (2013-2016), Rivers was 671-946 throwing the ball, which is good for a 70.9% accuracy rate. He accumulated 7,978 yards to go along with 66 TD's and 15 INTs. That adds up to a 112.9 QB Rating.

In the Giants' 29 wins during the same time-frame (as of 12/25/16), Eli was 662-1001 (66.1%) with 7,281 yards, 56 TD's, and 19INT's. That equals a 98.2 QB Rating. His 2013 performance in victories played a large role in knocking down his numbers.

Perhaps to the surprise of some, Rivers also owns the superior fourth quarter stats:

Eli - 1051-1785 (58.9%), 12,642 yds, 98 TD, 69 INT, 106 rushing yards, 0.7 yds per carry, 1 rush TD, 82.9 QB Rating

Rivers: 938-1526 (61.5%), 11,451 yds, 81 TD, 53 INT, 152 rushing yards, 1.0 yds per carry, 87.8 QB Rating

However, Eli does have some areas where he has exceeded Rivers in value. That includes the postseason:

Completion %

Rivers - 60.3

Eli - 60.5

Edge - Eli

Yards per Game

Rivers - 240.6

Eli - 234.6

Edge - Rivers

QB Rating

Rivers - 85.2

Eli - 87.4

Edge - Eli


Rivers - 4.0

Eli - 4.5

Edge - Eli


Rivers - 3.3

Eli - 2.3

Edge - Eli

Net yards gained per pass attempt

Rivers - 6.92

Eli - 6.23

Edge - Rivers

Yards gained per pass attempt

Rivers - 8.0

Eli 7.0

Edge - Rivers

Game-winning drives

Eli - 5

Rivers - 1

Edge - Eli

Adjusted net yards per pass attempt

Rivers - 6.29

Eli - 6.12

Edge - Rivers

Eli's two championship postseason runs were top-notch. He was not along for the ride; he was as important as anyone. If you combine those two postseasons, he had a completion percentage over 60% with 15 TD's and only 2 INTs. He also engineered memorable fourth-quarter scoring drives in the Super Bowl. Their numbers look close due to Eli being mediocre in his four non-title postseason appearances. He has completed just 54.2% of his passes and thrown for 3 TD's against 7 INTs. The disparity is striking.

The play before David Tyree made his miraculous catch in Super Bowl XLII, Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel nearly ended the game by getting his hands on a Manning pass. It was not the easiest pass to corral, but to his credit, he came dangerously close. Instead, it fell incomplete, and the Giants capitalized.

Eli's biggest advantage can be seen when his team is trailing with less than 2 or 4 minutes remaining.

Trailing with less than two minutes:

Rivers - 100-198 (50.5%), 1,216 yds, 7 TD, 12 INT, 13 yds rushing, sacked 15 times, 56.3 QB Rating

Eli - 113-194 (58.3%), 1,445 yds, 14 TD, 9 INT, 31 yds rushing, 86.4 QB Rating

Trailing with less than four minutes:

Rivers - 213-384 (55.5%), 2,468 yds, 12 TD, 19 INT, 58 yds rushing, sacked 23 times, 64.9 QB Rating

Eli - 231-412 (56.1%), 2,806 yds, 26 TD, 19 INT, 78 yds rushing, sacked 19 times, 79.0 QB Rating

The last two years have been no friend to Rivers in these situations. Without his go-to target in Keenan Allen and a mix of other expected contributors in the vast majority of these games, he has struggled.


2min - 18-37 (48.6%), 190 yds, 0 TD, 4 INT, 2 sacks

4min - 48-87 (55.2%), 524 yds, 1 TD, 5 INT, 5 sacks

It's the main blot on Rivers' resume. There are excusable reasons for some of the picks such as against the Saints, Raiders, and Panthers in 2016. All of those occurred on fourth-and-long late in the game with his team trailing. He had no choice but to chuck it up. He could have easily thrown the ball away to protect his stats, but he risked the INT to give his WR's a chance or draw a penalty. Even when factoring that in, Eli has the edge in that specific category.

It is an affront to some when it is suggested that Rivers would have been just as successful with the Giants. There's obviously no direct proof to guarantee they win at least two titles, but GM's/scouts project how a player on another team would fit on their roster all the time. There's no harm in pondering how the Chargers would have looked with Eli instead of Merriman and Rivers. It's hard to imagine them being better off, but if you believe otherwise, there needs to be an in-depth answer.

In 2016, Eli got to work with his #1WR (Beckham), #2WR (Shepard), #3WR (Cruz), #1RB (Jennings), and #2RB (Vereen) for 65 out of a combined 80 games. Rivers got to do so with his combined training camp Top 5 WR's and RB's (Gordon, Allen, Woodhead, Benjamin, and S. Johnson) for just 30 out of 80 games. His #3RB and #3TE also played in zero games. Their stats ended up being very close despite the injury issues Rivers faced.

Rivers - 4,386 yds (60.4%), 33 TD, 21 INT, 87.9 QB Rating, 64.5 QBR, 13 AV

Manning - 4,027 yds (63.0%), 26 TD, 16 IN,T 86.0 QB Rating, 51.8 QBR, 9 AV

QB rating, QBR, and AV all favored Rivers. The Chargers went 5-11, while the Giants advanced to the playoffs. Victories play an integral role in how a QB is judged by the casual fan, but it's too black-and-white. There needs to be a gray area when assessing the entire value a QB provides.

To say Ernie Accorsi thought he hit a home run with the trade would be an understatement. Making the move to grab Eli provided the Giants with their best QB in franchise history. Giants-related fan sites are thrilled with how it worked out as well:

We can assume Accorsi would do that trade again...and Chargers fans wouldn't be opposed. It is Rivers who has played behind the inferior o-lines and defenses according to advanced metrics. If you wanted to use QBR instead of QB Rating, Rivers has beaten Eli out in nine of their 11 seasons based off the stats on Pro Football Reference.

Not only has he dealt with more than his fair share of injuries to key skill position players, but he's received comical support from his kickers in postseason games in comparison to some of the best QBs of this era. If Eli attains induction into the Hall of Fame, there needs to be a more detailed reason other than titles to keep Rivers out of it.