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The Curious Hall of Fame Case of Eli Manning

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He’s got two Super Bowl rings, is one of the NFL’s all-time most durable players, became known as one of the league’s best playoff performers at the quarterback position and has the last name Manning. But as his 13th NFL season draws toward an end, and he appears likely to take the New York Giants to the playoffs for a sixth time, the debate rages on about just how good Eli Manning is.

Everybody has an opinion on Eli.

Those who support him will point to those rings and the fact that he was as good as they come during New York’s Super Bowl runs in January 2008 and 2012. They’ll note that until Odell Beckham Jr. came along, Manning’s supporting cast on offense has always left quite a bit to be desired and that he turned undrafted guys like Victor Cruz into star wide receivers, the mark of a great quarterback, something his brother Peyton and long-time rival Tom Brady get quite a bit of credit for.

They’ll also point to his endurance. Since Manning took over for Kurt Warner midway through the 2004 season, no other quarterback has started a game for the Giants while seemingly every other quarterback from his era, Peyton and Brady included, has not only missed games but long stretches of seasons. That kind of consistency at the game’s most important position can be priceless to a franchise. His steady hand under center keeps New York in games and keeps seasons alive. That along with the level of success the Giants have had under his reign, unmatched in franchise history, should be enough to get Eli to the Hall, they’ll tell you until they’re Big Blue in the face.

Manning’s detractors will look at it from a different angle. They’ll note that winning a championship is a team accomplishment and if you’re not going to put every guy who played for both the 2007 and 2011 Giants in the Hall of Fame, why should those accolades apply so heavily to Eli’s resume? They’ll acknowledge that, while durable, Manning has been consistently inconsistent over the course of his career, just as likely to throw up a season with a sub 60% completion rate and nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns while leading the Giants to a mediocre record as he his to have a great season and lead them to the playoffs and a championship.

The thing is, all of these arguments are correct and they make the question of Eli’s perceived greatness one of the most polarizing conversations in the sport, something that’s been up for debate for nearly a decade, since David Tyree somehow pinned a football to his helmet and gave Manning and Co. that first ring back in Super Bowl XLII.

Those Giants were underdogs, they paved a path to a championship on the road and Manning’s star shined in the postseason, where he completed better than 60 percent of his passes, threw six touchdowns and just one interception and led three game-winning drives, including two fourth quarter comebacks, capped by an epic one in the Super Bowl to defeat a previously unbeaten New England Patriots team.

The following year, New York was a favorite. They marched to the NFC East title with a 12-4 record behind a stout defense and a strong season from Manning that earned him his first Pro Bowl nod. But in the postseason, things unraveled and he had a lot to do with it. In a divisional round loss to the Eagles, Eli was terrible, barely completing 50 percent of his passes, held without a touchdown while throwing a pair of back-breaking interceptions.

Since then, the Giants have never posted a record better than 10-6, though a win on Thursday night over the Eagles to clinch a playoff spot would give them exactly that. And they’ve reached the playoffs just once. Of course that one time, back in 2011-12, they again ran the playoff gauntlet on the road and Playoff Eli was even better that time. Over four postseason games, he completed 65 percent of his passes, threw for over 1200 yards and had nine touchdowns against just one interception. While the Giants defense was again their biggest asset, there is no denying that Manning contributed greatly to that run.

But that came directly following the worst season of his career to date in 2010, and two years after the Super Bowl run, he had an even worse year. Such is the case of Eli Manning, consistently inconsistent.

The truth is, to some degree, the jury is still out on Manning’s career. He’s coming up on age 36 next month, but without a single significant injury in his career, and with no successor in sight, he’s certainly still got a few more years in the tank, years that could make or break his resume. This season is an excellent example of that.

Manning has never been the league’s most efficient passer, but in 2016 he’s completing passes at a career-high rate while again keeping his turnovers down. And a look at the numbers shows that’s actually a trend that’s going on three-straight seasons now for Eli. He’s (finally) consistently been a 62-63 percent passer, throwing for well over 4,000 yards with 30-something touchdowns and about half as many interceptions. That three-year run has immediately followed arguably the worst season of his career in 2013, when he threw for just 18 touchdowns and was picked off a whopping 27 times, completed less than 58 percent of his passes, posted a near five percent interception rate and led the Giants to a 7-9 mark.

That he made such a big and successful adjustment as a passer so late in his career is important, and after a couple more down years in 2014 and 2015, due in large part to their lack of talent on defense, the Giants are thriving again behind him.

If he can parlay the regular season success he’s had this season into one more postseason to remember, his Hall of Fame case has the potential to be set in stone. It’s hard to say the chances of that happening are slim because we’ve seen it happen twice before. Barring an epic collapse by Dallas over the final two weeks, the Giants are going to be a Wild Card and have to take their show on the road again this postseason, where Eli is 6-1 during his playoff career. They’ll have to go through places like Detroit or Green Bay, Seattle or Atlanta and possibly Dallas to get another chance at a championship. And if Playoff Eli can deliver in those spots one more time, it will be hard to doubt him anymore.

But until he does, the debate will rage on and nobody with an opinion on the matter will technically be wrong because for a rare time the arguments on both sides are valid. Such is the Curious Case of Eli Manning.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys