It's everyone's favorite debate: who's the best quarterback in the NFL. It seemed to be narrowed down to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but Aaron Rogers has now forced himself in to that conversation by winning a Super Bowl in just his third year as a starter.
This isn't that. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Eli Manning deserves to be in that conversation. I would love to tell you how severely underrated and unappreciated he is, but that's for another day.
This article is essentially a compilation of things that must happen in order for Eli Manning to make the 2011 (2012 really) Pro Bowl.
Eli is one of the most over-scrutinized quarterbacks in the game. His last name, the city he plays in and the fact that he was taken No. 1 overall all put immense pressure on him.
He's responded beautifully; his "aw shucks" demeanor is often criticized, but it's what makes him a perfect fit for the bright lights. Nothing phases him.
This gives him a steep hill to climb, when it comes to making the Pro Bowl, so in order for him to do so in 2011, he will have to have a spectacular year.
To be honest, if his receivers had just been able to hold on to the ball this past season, Eli likely would have been selected to his second Pro Bowl. He finished second in the NFC in yards, second in touchdowns, fourth in completion percentage and first in 20+ yard completions (a.k.a. big plays).
However, the number everyone remained focused on was the 25 interceptions and the 85.3 QB rating. Those numbers ranked last (most thrown) and eighth in the NFC. More often than not, a quarterback is forced to deal with the realization that the bad outweighs the good.
Not to mention that outside New York, Eli is just not as popular as the rest of the NFC's elite. Michael Vick is a one-man highlight reel, "Matty Ice" already beats out Eli due to him already having a nickname and Drew Brees is Drew Brees.
Also, these players simply had better stats than Eli. Matt Ryan was able to take care of the ball better than Eli, so his QB rating and popularity propelled him to the Pro Bowl.
However, if, as I said before, the Giants wide receivers had not been responsible for 10 interceptions bouncing off their hands, Eli's QB rating would have been much higher.
Now, It's not realistic to just take away all of them and say that's how many interceptions Eli truly had, because every QB has to deal with dropped passes. That said, the number of drops by Eli's receivers were ridiculous.
Let's take a look at how his QB rating would increase by steadily decreasing the number of drops.
QB Rating - NFC Rank
- With 22 interceptions: 87.6 - 7th
- With 20 interceptions: 89.1 - 6th
- With 18 interceptions: 90.7 - 6th
- With 15 interceptions: 93.0 - 4th
So taking away all those drops by his wide receivers would make his season look a lot better. Even just taking away a hand full brings his rating up to about 90, which is a good season.
Unless the football Gods just have it out for Eli, his 2011 season should return to normal. In 2008 and 2009, when it was agreed that he had turned a corner and was over his turnover-prone ways, he had only a combined 24 interceptions.
That said, it might take a down year by one of the NFC's elite players for Eli to make it. Not only are pretty much all of them more popular (even though only Rogers and Brees have won championships), but Eli is coming off a down year by most counts.
He and his receivers have been working though. A couple weeks ago about 10-12 players were meeting at Hoboken High School to workout at what was affectionately dubbed "Camp Eli." Among them were Domenik Hixon, Hakeem Nicks, Michael Clayton and of course, Eli.
This week has had an even greater turnout at Bergen Catholic High School, with about 30 offensive players showing up on Tuesday and Wednesday, and around 23 showing up today.
Nicks has apparently bulked up and been furiously working on making himself better on his own, which is huge because this offseason was the first that he was not recovering from an injury. Though he did miss the final game of the season, it was not a major injury that lingered on or required surgery.
The receivers are a big factor in the success of Eli's season, not just in eliminating those drops but just staying on the field. Last year Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden and Victor Cruz all missed significant time last year (Nicks only missed three games, but they were big games).
Eli struggled especially in Smith's absence, and the team responded by drafting a guy in third-round pick Jerrel Jernigan. A guy that they think can be a slot receiver and third down option like Smith is.
To bring it all together, for Eli to make the Pro Bowl in 2011 he has to cut down the turnovers (30 altogether), his receivers will have to stay on the field, and he might have to hope for a down year by one of the NFC's elite.