Serious question, and one that, at this point, may boil down to how much credit individual players deserve for team accomplishments: Is Eli Manning currently on a Hall of Fame track? And if he is, could he possibly fall out of consideration as he continues to slump?
The New York Giants quarterback is really taking a step back. In 16 starts over the last calendar year, smack dab in the middle of what is supposed to be his prime, Manning has posted only 24 touchdowns to 22 interceptions. During that span, he has completed only 55.7 percent of his passes and has a mediocre passer rating of 76.0.
Since the start of the 2012 season, he's the league's 22nd-rated quarterback, ranking behind Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Michael Vick and just ahead of Jake Locker and Andrew Luck. And during the same time frame, he's the only quarterback in the league who has thrown more than 25 interceptions.
We're all well-aware that the Giants haven't been very good and haven't provided any support for Manning this season. The offensive line has surrendered more pressure than anyone else's in football, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The Giants are also averaging a league-low 56.8 yards per game on the ground and have given up a league-high 182 points through five weeks.
Excuses, excuses, excuses. Tom Brady has excelled regardless of who he's throwing or handing the ball to and despite a lack of support on defense. Eli's brother Peyton was dominant for years in Indianapolis despite a shoddy offensive line and an inconsistent, unreliable running game. Drew Brees has put together Canton-worthy numbers even though he has never having stud pass-protectors or a particularly good defense. Hall of Fame quarterbacks overcome those obstacles.
Besides, Manning was bad last year despite the seventh-best running game in the league (4.6 yards per carry), the 12th-best scoring defense in football and a line that PFF ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of pressures allowed.
The key for Manning is that he has made NFL history on two distinct occasions. He hasn't been consistent and he's rarely been dominant, but those two Super Bowl MVP awards are undeniable.
I don't care about his two rings. Championships are won by teams, not players. If Manning is a Hall of Famer based solely on the fact he's won two Super Bowls, then Justin Tuck—who led a world-class pass rush on both recent championship runs—should be be inducted on the first ballot. Same for Osi Umenyiora. And hell, I guess Ahmad Bradshaw and Corey Webster would deserve Hall of Fame consideration, too.
Plus, those who continually use Manning's "winning nature" to defend his Hall of Fame case should also be forced to consider that Manning—again, in the middle of his prime—is well on his way to missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
You can't cherry-pick your criteria, and Manning's career winning percentage of .557 places him well below active quarterbacks like Luck (.714), Russell Wilson (.714), Matt Ryan (.687), Joe Flacco (.671), Ben Roethlisberger (.669), Philip Rivers (.615), Andy Dalton (.595) and Tony Romo (.582). He's not even close to Brady (.778), big brother Peyton (.694), Aaron Rodgers (.659) or Brees (.598). And he's just barely staying ahead of Vick (.552) and Jay Cutler (.551).
And that's despite the fact he's actually been very lucky in terms of winning games while performing poorly.
But getting back to rings, Jim Plunkett led the Raiders to two Super Bowl victories. He's not in the Hall of Fame. Plunkett won a Super Bowl MVP, too. Manning has two of 'em, though, and he made some incredible plays in the process. That escape from pressure preceding the throw to David Tyree in 2008 was the stuff of legend, as was that magical fourth-quarter strike to Mario Manningham in 2012.
Those plays are immortalized, and Manning is a legend for the way he commanded this Giants team on both of those improbable playoff runs, willing them to victory twice over the Goliath New England Patriots. He put together an insane 12 fourth-quarterback comebacks in those two seasons alone. From my perspective, when you rise up on stages like those, you've earned a spot in Canton.
Still, the numbers aren't in his favor. And I mean that in terms of where he ranks statistically among his peers compared to past Hall of Famers, as well as in terms of the sheer abundance of supremely talented quarterbacks on the verge of joining what we'll call the "Hall of Fame queue."
I wouldn't dare compare broad quarterback statistics over multiple eras. The game changes too much from decade to decade, so putting Manning's stats next to Plunkett's wouldn't be fair. Instead, to get a feel for how far off the Hall of Fame pace Manning is from a statistical standpoint, I looked at where some of the game's best quarterbacks rank(ed) among their peers.
I took the nine current Hall of Famers who started their careers in the post-merger era (1970 or later), the six contemporary quarterbacks I think are in front of the Hall of Fame line (all have won Super Bowls and posted elite stats) and eight notable former stars who haven't made the Hall of Fame cut despite being eligible. Then, I found where every one of them ranked in what I consider to be key rate-based stats: completion percentage, yards per pass attempt and passer rating.
The results indicate that if Manning were to make the Hall of Fame without improving his rate-based numbers between now and the end of his career, he'd have worse statistics relative to his peers than any inductee from the modern era. And it's not even close.
If you average out the three statistical categories, Manning is on pace to retire as the 31st-ranked quarterback of his NFL tenure. Only two of the non-Hall of Fame quarterbacks we analyzed above ranked lower during their respective tenures (Plunkett was 41st and Bledsoe was 49th). Anderson, Stabler, Esiason, Theismann and O'Brien were much better relative to their peers. Stabler, Theismann and O'Brien were MVPs (something Manning's never been), and Theismann also won a Super Bowl. But they never had the types of legendary moments Eli has, which counts for a lot.
In fact, I believe it counts for so much that Manning will eventually find his way into the Hall of Fame regardless of what goes down between now and the end of his career.
Still, when you consider how dominant that current batch of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks has been (I mean, they crush the current Hall of Famers), it's easy to wonder if he's costing himself votes as we speak.
It's plainly obvious that without those two Super Bowl runs, Manning wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame conversation right now. But you can never take those moments away. You can't write the history books of this game without using his name extensively. Giants fan or not, you can't talk about that improvisational throw to Tyree or that sideline bomb to Manningham without getting goosebumps.
The reality is that Manning's current struggles should only have an impact on when he becomes a Hall of Famer. However, the more traction he loses in the vast stretches that are accompanying his moments of greatness, the longer he might have to wait to break through an inevitable logjam.