Friday, December 13, 2013

Philip Rivers, Not Peyton Manning, Should be 2013 NFL MVP

Philip Rivers and DJ Fluker - Courtesy of San Diego Chargers
Last night, the San Diego Chargers defeated the supposedly Super Bowl-bound Denver Broncos, 27-20, in a nationally televised beat down at
Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. In the one-sided game, Philip Rivers, the Chargers' untiring quarterback, outplayed presumptive league Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning, secured a Pro Bowl berth, and kept the Chargers in the playoff hunt. 

Rivers was flawless, again. And after reviewing this game and every game played by Denver and San Diego up to this point in the season, I submit that Rivers is the one who should be named league MVP - despite Manning's gaudy numbers, and especially if the Chargers finish at 9-7 and sneak into the playoffs.

Yeah, I know, Manning has been mostly great this year and Denver has a better record. Manning has 47 touchdown passes. But let's take a closer look at the numbers and other pertinent facts.
While Manning has far more offensive weapons with which to work, Rivers has played at an equally elite level all year without his two starting, towering wide receivers, Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd, both out for the year.

And while Manning has played all year behind an offensive line that ESPN recently said was the best in the NFL, Rivers has played all season with a patchwork offensive line that has suffered one injury after another after another.
While demonstrably improved over last season, the Chargers offensive front is now led by DJ Fluker, a rookie who will be a Pro Bowler. But not this year.

And while Denver has a lot of weapons on defense, including former Chargers pass-rusher Shaun Phillips and sack-master Von Miller, Rivers has played on a team this year that has had a mostly awful and unreliable defense -- though certainly not last night.

Manning has more touchdown passes this year, but Rivers has a higher completion percentage. Manning also has more interceptions than Rivers (10 to 9), and has far more fumbles lost than Rivers (6 to 1). And head-to-head, Rivers wins out. 

Manning has been throwing the ball this year to Demaryius Thomas, one of the league's elite wideouts, Wes Welker, a future Hall-of-Fame slot receiver, and Eric Decker, a proven veteran wideout. Rivers lost his two best wide receivers early and has been throwing all year to Keenan Allen, an overachieving third-round rookie, Eddie Royal, an often-hobbled veteran, and Vincent Brown, a somewhat disappointing second-year receiver. 

Here's the deal: Manning was given the keys this year to a Porsche Carrera GT, while Rivers was forced to drive a sporty economy car. And yet Philip has been every bit Manning's equal. None of the Chargers' seven disappointing losses this year can be hung on the good-natured, widely misunderstood quarterback, who's played one of the best seasons I've ever witnessed by a QB on a team without any superstars.

Well, yes, the Bolts still have Antonio Gates, but even the future Hall-of-Fame tight end has had an uncharacteristic number of key drops and fumbles this year. 

The Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer almost gets it. He suggests that while Manning will get all the awards at the end of the season - if not a Super Bowl ring - in terms of durability, productivity and efficiency, "Rivers has been No. 2 with a bullet in ‘13, and by no means is it a distant second."

In my view, he's not second: he should be MVP. No one means more to his team than Rivers means to the Chargers. Not even Manning, whose team is stacked with talent on both sides of the ball.

There are a few other quarterbacks who've had great years, too, including the Philadelphia Eagles’ Nick Foles, who only has one pic. He's been phenomenal since stepping in for Michael Vick, but he’s not played a full season. New Orleans’ Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the former Charger, should also be in the MVP conversation. But like Manning, he enjoys more offensive weapons than Rivers, a better ‘O’ line and a much-improved Saints’ defense.

Of course, the subtext of this rant is the fact that this has been a heartbreaking season for the Chargers, because this team has the potential to beat anyone. Beating the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver on the road are obviously huge accomplishments this year. But there are so many games the Bolts shoulda-coulda-woulda won. 

San Diego will miss the playoffs again this year unless the Baltimore Ravens and the Miami Dolphins both lose two of their remaining three games and the Chargers win their last two. It's possible. It could happen. But the games San Diego really should have taken, especially the Dolphins game at Miami and the Redskins game at Washington, in which the Chargers had the ball on the one-yard line on first down and could not punch it in for the win, will haunt the team and its fans for a long time. 

Still, there is room for optimism for first-year Chargers head coach Mike McCoy -- largely because of the play of Rivers. And I'm not the only one who thinks he is having an even better year than Peyton. David Marber of Bolts from the Blue wrote a piece this week in which he suggests that football fans should appreciate both Manning and Rivers this season because "they're both elite players having career years simultaneously." 

A day after after Marber wrote that insightful passage, it proved prophetic: Rivers went out and outplayed Manning. Need we say more?  

If I had an MVP vote - and I don't - I'd give this one to Rivers, with Manning a close second. But because of all the media hype, groupthink mentality and "conventional wisdom" in professional sports, it won't happen. Even if San Diego does beat the odds and makes the playoffs.