Let's say you said before the season that heading into Sunday's Week 14 matchup between the New York Giants and San Diego Chargers, one of the two quarterbacks would be enjoying a resurgent 2013 while the other was struggling badly.
Most folks would have nodded and said, "Yep. I'll buy that."
They also would have assumed that Eli Manning of the Giants would be the quarterback trending up, while Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers was the guy face-planting.
That isn't what has happened, and one of the more interesting subplots of this week's game in San Diego is the unexpected trajectories their careers have taken in 2013.
Both teams share identical 5-7 records, but the play of the two quarterbacks has been anything but.
|Eli Manning vs. Philip Rivers 2013|
|* Per ESPN|
Sure, Manning didn't play especially well in 2012, failing to complete 60 percent of his passes and tossing 15 interceptions. But, Manning had thrown for nearly 5,000 yards the season before en route to his second Super Bowl win, and most expected the 32-year-old to bounce back in a big way this year.
Instead, Manning has struggled through one of the worst seasons of his career. His 18 interceptions lead the NFC. Manning's 74.3 passer rating is his worst since 2007. He's been sacked more times this year in 12 games than he ever has in 16.
Meanwhile, Rivers was coming off a horrendous 2012 in which he accounted for 22 turnovers. It was his second straight year with over 20 giveaways, and many believed this would be Rivers' final season in San Diego.
They don't believe that any more.
Through 12 games, Rivers has completed a career-high 70 percent of his passes. For the first time since 2010, his passer rating is over 100. Barring an injury, Rivers will top 4,000 passing yards this year for the fifth time in six seasons.
Essentially, the script has flipped for two signal-callers, who have been linked since their first day in the NFL.
Back in 2004, Manning was the overwhelming favorite to be the first overall pick of the San Diego Chargers. Unfortunately, it was also no secret that Manning had zero intention of ever playing a snap for the lowly Bolts.
To this day, Manning refuses to come out and say why exactly he was so against playing in San Diego. In fact, he now claims to have forgotten why.
So, the Chargers drafted Manning but quickly swapped him with the New York Giants for Rivers (who was drafted fourth overall) and three draft picks.
Since then, it's been all about Eli.
|Philip Rivers vs. Eli Manning Career|
|Per Pro Football Reference|
Statistically speaking, the two are very similar. Manning has more yards, but he's also played more games and has thrown far more interceptions. Rivers has a better winning percentage in the regular season, and his passer rating is quite a bit higher.
It's the playoffs where the career paths of the two separated in a big way.
|Eli Manning vs. Philip Rivers Playoffs|
|*2-0 in Super Bowl|
Rivers played horribly in his only trip to the AFC Championship Game (although most conveniently leave out the fact that he played the game with a torn ACL), while Manning has twice led the Giants on improbable playoff runs that culminated in Super Bowl wins.
Manning was Captain Clutch in the minds of fans. Philip Rivers was the AFC's Tony Romo.
It may not have been fair, but that's the way it was.
This year at least, those perceptions have been turned on their heads. There were serious questions about Rivers' future in San Diego entering this year. Those are gone, and the Chargers will now look to build around Rivers rather than consider replacing him.
Meanwhile, Manning has played his way into an offseason of questions that are going to sound an awful lot like the ones about Philip Rivers the last couple of years.
Granted, it could be that Manning will bounce back in 2014 just like Rivers has in 2013. It could also be that Rivers' 2013 is the mirage, and he starts cranking out turnovers again next year.
It could also be that as Eli Manning and Philip Rivers get closer to 35 than 30 and near the ends of their Pro Bowl careers, one player is making that transition more successfully than the other.
It just may not be the guy we thought it would be.