Welcome to the NFL, where there are 20 top-five quarterbacks.
Mathematically impossible, right?
You'd think so, but with dozens of ways to measure a signal caller's success, and with no one able to agree on which metrics are most accurate and how much weight to give to various factors and accomplishments, we're destined to argue over how to rank the league's best pivots for centuries to come.
The debate has been particularly strong in regard to the polarizing Eli Manning, who now has more Super Bowl victories (2) than every active quarterback except Tom Brady (3) and Ben Roethlisberger (also 2).
That fact alone is enough for some to move Eli to the top of the list, but one could also make a valid argument he's not even the best quarterback in the NFC East.
It's impossible to determine how crucial team success is to a quarterback's legacy.
It would seem fair to argue that you can't be looked at as a legend without a ring, but Dan Marino, Y.A. Tittle and Fran Tarkenton slap that argument in the face.
Although having a stud quarterback is imperative in this pass-happy era of pro football, I probably lean more toward the sheer statistics than the accomplishments of a quarterback's team.
We're still talking about only one of 22 starters and 53 active roster spots.
We rarely judge cornerbacks or tight ends by the success of their teams, so I hardly feel it's fair—in fact, I believe it's quite lazy—to draw conclusions about a quarterback's greatness based on the amount of playoff games won by his team.
It all counts.
In order to find Eli's place among the game's best quarterbacks, let's compare him to his peers in all of the relevant categories and then try to draw some conclusions. And since this is a "what have you done for me lately?" league, we'll limit the statistical scope to the last few seasons only.
Here's how Eli stacks up against the nine other "elite" quarterbacks who have been the most productive in football the last three years, in terms of sheer regular-season numbers.
His ranking among the 10 is in brackets.
Even if you took Eli's numbers from 2011 alone—arguably his best year—and compared them against the three-year averages of those other nine quarterbacks, here's how he'd rank:
Completion percentage: 9th
Yards per game: Tied for 1st
Yards per attempt: 3rd
So really, he only improved in the overrated yardage category in 2011, at least in comparison to his peers. Eli's problem is he compiles big numbers, but his averages aren't spectacular and his interception numbers are still a tad high (although I'll admit that number is inflated by an anomaly in 2010, when he was picked off a league-high 25 times, many of which came off of tipped balls).
Based on these basic metrics, Manning ranks behind Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Romo, Roethlisberger, Schaub and probably even Rivers. He's clearly still ahead of Vick at this stage, but it's very difficult to put him ahead of his brother Peyton Manning.
Without considering up-and-comers who haven't qualified by playing enough yet such as Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton, Manning's right on the border of being a top-10 quarterback in terms of broad regular-season individual success.
And then, of course, there's playoff success.
Another chart, please...
In addition to being the only active quarterback with more than one Super Bowl victory and zero Super Bowl losses, Eli has an identical playoff winning percentage to that of Brady and a better playoff rating than both Peyton and Brady.
Who's the best quarterback in this group?
That track record has to be enough to move him ahead of guys like Schaub and Rivers, and probably even Romo.
However, he still doesn't touch Brees and Rodgers, who have been just as stellar in the postseason, or Brady, who has better overall numbers and more Super Bowl and playoff victories.
So I'd place Manning in a category with his brother Peyton, Roethlisberger and Romo. You're welcome to break that tie any way you want. I'd imagine Eli will get the nod from most people because of his recent success, not to mention Peyton's injury and Romo's playoff struggles.
But to help get an even clearer picture, let's compare just those four quarterbacks in terms of regular-season winning percentage, performances in clutch situations, supporting cast and accolades.
Here's how each of the four quarterbacks have fared in clutch situations the last three years:
Eli doesn't emerge from the pack, but no one does. This only reinforces the notion that all four quarterbacks are really similar in terms of overall ability.
Finally, a look at how successful each player has been in the win column, along with a look at the support they've received from their defenses and their running games.
Roethlisberger and Romo have received a lot more support, but they've also won much more than Eli has over the years. This really sheds light, though, on why Peyton is a four-time MVP and a five-time All-Pro, while none of the other quarterbacks in this segment of the conversation have received either honor.
Eli might have more Lombardi Trophies and Super Bowl MVP awards than his big brother, but he probably still takes a backseat in the big picture.
All four quarterbacks have been lassoed with below-average offensive lines in recent years, so I don't think you can give any of them extra points for those circumstances.
Though, you could make the argument Peyton Manning has done more with less on offense in general.
One final point I'd like to make is Eli has been able to stay healthier than the rest of the players in his range. Peyton missed the entire 2011 season, Romo missed 10 games in 2010 and three in 2008 and Big Ben hasn't missed a lot of time, but has been hobbled more often than Eli.
Based on that, and any other criteria you might have, I'd like to hear where you guys place Eli on the quarterback hierarchy.
As for me, I'm still a believer in Peyton, but it's a three-way toss-up between Eli, Romo and Roethlisberger in my mind.
By the time 2012 wraps, I'm sure we'll have more clarity within that pack, and there's even a chance someone like Stafford, Newton, Matt Ryan or even Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III joins the elite party.
For now, though, here's how I see things: