We're counting down the top 10 players in the NFL's most popular division. This is based mainly on what went down in 2011, but we've projected a little as well. Whittling it down to two handfuls of guys was no easy task—it felt as though a couple dozen Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins were worthy of the top 10.
No. 4: Eli Manning, Quarterback, New York Giants
I know, I know. I have the gall to place three players ahead of the reigning Super Bowl MVP—a man who has accomplished said feat twice in a five-year span. I'm obviously a closet Cowboys fan, an utter fool and generally just a bad person.
But I'm also a man who believes that teams, not quarterbacks, win Super Bowls. And so Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Hakeem Nicks et al deserve to have their profiles enhanced as well by what happened during that magical run this past winter in New Jersey.
Here's the thing: I'm giving Manning points for winning another championship and playing well in clutch moments down the stretch. Just not enough points to move him into the top three. What Manning supporters often refuse to admit is that prior to that late-2011 hot streak, Eli wasn't performing like one of the best players in this division.
He still throws too many interceptions and has too many dog games. In November and December of 2011, Manning completed fewer than 57 percent of his passes, had a pedestrian 13-to-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio and posted a passer rating of 81.1, which would've ranked 17th in the league over the course of the season.
His passer rating dipped below the 80 mark on five occasions. If we're comparing him to true elite quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady had a combined three sub-80 single-game ratings in 2011.
In assessing Manning's credentials, I'm not even considering his 4,933 passing yards. I am impressed by the fact that he was able to put up such large passing numbers despite receiving little to no support from the running game and the offensive line, but he only ended up amassing that many yards because the Giants weren't good enough to establish leads.
OK, now that I've established why he isn't higher on the list, I should address what makes Manning good enough to be No. 4. And to his credit, the 31-year-old might be the most clutch quarterback in the game. He broke an NFL record with 18 fourth-quarter touchdown passes last season, putting up a passer rating of 111.0 in the game's most important period.
He also got his interception total down from 25 to 16 as he continues to make progress in that area.
Manning could be on the verge of a career year. His confidence is higher than ever and he appears to be hitting his top stride as a quarterback and a leader. As a result, Peyton's little brother might actually—finally—be worthy of being held in a higher regard than No. 18 himself.