Give Eli Manning His Due

Cody SwartzSenior Writer IDecember 1, 2008

I am a die-hard Eagles fan and I admit I can be a little biased at times. Who isn't? And I hate the Giants and Cowboys, like every other Philly guy.


I hate all the big-name guys: Romo, Eli, T.O., Plax, Roy Williams, and so on. I feel most of them get too much hype and they're just not that good.


But I do have to say one thing. I have never given this man his due, but Eli Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.


I hate to admit that. I really do. I love watching his failures: from his first NFL game ever when Jerome McDougle jacked him up and spun his head around, to his first two playoff losses.


I didn't think he would make it as an NFL quarterback. I was one of those critics who kept comparing him to his older brother.


I ignored the fact that Peyton lost his first three playoff appearances, and that Eli had more playoff wins after four seasons than Peyton had after eight.


And I said Eli would never develop into the type of quarterback who could be counted on when the stakes are high.


And even after Eli played well down the stretch last season, outplaying Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo, Brett Favre, and three-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady, I still didn't believe in him. I thought he just got lucky.


Look at his regular-season numbers from last year. His 20 interceptions led the NFL. He completed just 56.1 percent of his passes, a lower percentage than Brodie Croyle.


Also, his 6.31 yards per attempt was lower than both Kyle Boller and Joey Harrington, two QBs who shouldn't be allowed to start in the NFL. He really wasn't that good.


So while I was willing to admit that Eli did play well in the postseason (no interceptions in the first three rounds of the playoffs, and the Super Bowl MVP award in an improbable win over the undefeated Patriots) I still didn't believe in him.


I thought he had a few lucky games when it really counted. And I chose to give the credit for the Super Bowl win to the Giants' D and that dominating line of theirs.


However, this year, I have to give Eli his due. He has the Giants at 11-1 and tied for the best record in football. He's matured as a quarterback, and no stat is more evident in that regard than his interceptions.


Eli has cut down on his mistakes, with just eight picks this season. He's completed 62 percent of his passes and his 91.0 passer rating is well above his previous career high.


And Eli has done this without the services of four-time Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey, who departed after last season for New Orleans.


He has also been without a healthy Plaxico Burress, his top receiver, who now could be heading to prison. He has never had an All-Pro playmaker who can stretch the field, like T.O. or Randy Moss.


Eli actually seems to play better when surrounded by fewer playmakers. He won his first Super Bowl last year without Pro Bowl runner Tiki Barber (retired the previous off-season) and Shockey (injured in December).


And this year, he has performed at a top level despite Burress's nagging injuries and off-field issues. And now with Burress out for an unknown period of time, expect Eli to step up his game even more.


At the three-quarter mark of the NFL season, the MVP race seems to be between Kurt Warner or Drew Brees (although Brett Favre will get some votes).


What about Eli Manning? I don't want to say he's the single most valuable player in the NFL this season...because he's not. But he should definitely be considered. The Giants would not be where they are now without Eli as their QB.


The Giants are just the fifth team in the Super Bowl era to win more regular-season games the year after they won the Super Bowl. And they are favorites to represent the NFC, with the road to the Super Bowl all but guaranteed to go through New York.


Last year, I predicted the Giants to lose in the first round of the playoffs. This year, they're my pick to repeat as Super Bowl champions. And all because of Eli Manning.