Now that I have your attention, let me preface all this with the acknowledgment that I am in fact a huge Giants fan. Naturally, the assumption would be that I am biased, and perhaps I am.
The problem is, despite those biases, it's hard to deny that Eli Manning gets a lot of heat from the media (especially here in New York, sports radio programs crucify him) and fans for no good reason.
The first thing people will point to is that Eli has never had that one breakout season. Every elite quarterback in the NFL has had one. He really hasn't.
A look at the stat sheets shows some interesting things, however. Eli has thrown for more yards and touchdowns than Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers for their respective careers. Is Eli better than Big Ben? No way. Is he better than Rivers? You bet.
I'm sorry, but I cant consider quarterbacks with no Super Bowl rings as truly elite. I'm not alone in this. Dan Marino outdistances many legendary quarterbacks statistically. Sadly, he will never be in the discussion for greatest of all-time. Same for Dan Fouts. And Jim Kelly.
Football, more than any other American sport, values their champions as the symbol of what is truly elite. If a 9-7 team beats a 15-1 team in the playoffs, guess who was the better team? Stats don't paint an accurate picture, which brings me to my next point.
At least 10 of Eli's interceptions were tipped by his receivers. I am of the mindset that if it touches your hands, you make the catch, plain and simple. Giant receivers are young and have a lot to learn, but Eli Manning still manages to get them the ball to the tune of 31 touchdown passes and a second consecutive 4,000-yard season.
In this league, there is Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and then the mortals. Of that group, Eli is certainly top five. He has the complete physical tool set and often makes the mistakes he makes because he trusts his receivers a little too much at times.
He has to remember that not everyone is David Tyree in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Speaking of which, how about that Super Bowl victory?
He beat the Patriots (yes, HE) in the Super Bowl. Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots. He did this for a New York team and fan base that is easily turned off by its superstars and big names.
In New York, pressure is ever-present and unless you perform, you are disregarded. Just ask Alex Rodriguez how much fun it was when he was blowing it in the postseason all those years for the Yankees. Then 2009 comes around, A-Rod transforms into Mr. October and everyone loves him.
It is the fickle fact of sports in New York. Eli Manning did exactly what the Giants had in mind when they got him. He brought a title to the world's greatest city (TIME Magazine said it, not me) and that puts him in select company.
He is one of only six, SIX, starting NFL quarterbacks with a ring. He doesn't dazzle the way Manning or Roethlisberger do by making freakish plays on a regular basis. He isn't machine-like in his consistency the way Brees, Brady and Aaron Rodgers are.
With these names in mind as the quarterbacks I think are ahead of him, is it really a stretch to say that easy Eli is the best, or close to it, of the next bunch? I don't think so. With the receiving corps he has in place, along with a hopefully healthy O-line, Eli Manning has a chance to really do some amazing things, if the season ever does get underway.
Finally, we have the receiving corps.
During his tenure, Eli has been part of elite seasons for guys like Plaxico Burress, Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks. He had success with Amani Toomer and Tiki Barber catching balls as well, and Mario Manningham looks like the real deal, provided he gets more touches. Don't be surprised if he and Nicks are the best receiving tandem in football within the next few years.
The point here is this: Are these players that good, or does Eli have something to do with it? I won't go so far as to say it's all Eli, because it isn't. But he helps. Because Eli can make every throw there is to make, his receivers have be to up to par, up to his physical capability.
Eli has one of the strongest arms in the game, and while his accuracy tends to let him down at times, this ability to make all the throws allows Tom Coughlin to send his offense out there confident that they will score.
I think it must be mentioned that Eli is also unfairly scrutinized because of his last name. Listen everyone, he isn't Peyton. He never will be.
Fans and the media need to stop using this as a means to lower Eli Manning's importance and impact on the field. While I don't consider this a major factor, it is certainly strong enough to put people in a particular mindset.
Before he even plays, there are expectations of him because of his name. Because he doesn't meet those expectations, many consider him an overrated quarterback. There are plenty of reasons to think otherwise. Don't drink the Kool-Aid, as they say.
Thank you for your time, and let the debate begin.
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