Originally posted on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 11/2/13
Click here for Part 1 and Part 2. 9. Philip Rivers Philip Rivers is back in the top group? Great! I missed old Philip Rivers. The guy who once compared favorably to Peyton Manning has spent the past few years vacillating between national whipping boy, Norv’s excuse, and angry child. Like Michael Vick, he was in danger of watching his legacy get engulfed by a few bad years rather than the good ones. Watching Rivers turn his career around is like watching a mid-40s divorcee slowly learn to love again. He’d been stuck in a loveless marriage with Norv for so many years that at first, he didn’t quite know how to react when Mike McCoy actually coached and encouraged him (hence, the Houston and Tennessee collapses). Now, he’s happily remarried while friends can’t stop remarking how nice it is to see the old him again. The Chargers are suddenly a borderline playoff team without an above average running back, receiver, offensive line, pass-rush or run defense. In other words, if you’re looking for a non-Manning/Luck MVP candidate, Rivers is your guy. In the meantime, let’s all rejoice in joy of having one of our best quarterbacks back. 8. Colin Kaepernick What’s with the ridiculous “Colin Kaepernick is regressing” nonsense we keep hearing? Take away the disastrous games against Seattle and Indianapolis and he has a nine-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio, over 1,300 yards, and a 61.7 completion percentage, along with his usual rushing numbers. So...does that seem like regression to anyone? And all of that is before we consider just how well the 49ers have played despite losing one of the best pass-rushers in football and their entire receiving corps. You realize that Colin Kaepernick has done all of this without four of his five leading receivers from last year while the fifth has battled injuries. Wait until Michael Crabtree comes back, Kaepernick is fine. 7. Matt Ryan Poor Matt Ryan. For years, I’ve used him as cover boy for quarterbacks who are great but will never quite crack that absolute top tier. I’ve gone back and forth on it early this season, but over the past few weeks, hasn’t Matt Ryan essentially put that question to bed? Peyton Manning led the 2010 Colts to the playoffs despite a creaky offensive line (fell to 18th in pass-blocking by Football Outsiders in 2011 without Manning to boost their ranking), absolutely no running game (no one ran for more than 500 yards on the team), and losing both Austin Collie and Dallas Clark for the year while watching Pierre Garcon battle injuries. Tom Brady made the 2006 AFC championship game with Reche Caldwell, Ben Watson, Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk and Doug Gabriel as his best receivers and without a 1,000 yard rusher. As much as football is a team game, when you have a legendary quarterback like Manning or Brady, you can make the playoffs no matter what. It’s the ultimate elite test. Manning, Brady, and Rodgers make the playoffs every year no matter who’s around them. Andrew Luck looks like he’s headed in that direction. Matt Ryan? As good as he is, he’s a slave to his front office. He can’t take a team to the playoffs on his own. That question has been put to bed forever this year. 6. Russell Wilson I have to say, I’ve been kind of confused by Russell Wilson this year. Running quarterbacks typically get more comfortable in the pocket after their rookie year and run less. Wilson’s rushing attempts are up 2.4 from last year and he’s averaging 12 more yards per game. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword because Seattle is just trying to weather the receiver storm until Percy Harvin comes back, but at the same time, Wilson has fumbled eight times in eight games compared to only six all of last season. His sack rate is also up dramatically, all the way up to 11.6% (up nearly four full points). Are the Seahawks just not doing enough to protect Wilson’s health? Remember, Wilson isn’t Cam Newton. He logically shouldn’t be able to sustain that many hits. Yet he’s been so quick to get out and run this year. It’s starting to show in his numbers. To preface this, Wilson has still been fantastic. But he hasn’t improved nearly as much as a pocket passer as we would’ve hoped after his encouraging end to last year. He’s currently completing only 61 percent of his passes, down from over 64 percent last year, and those completions haven’t been traded for longer gains as his 7.9 yards per attempt is identical to last year’s total. His fourth quarter passer rating is also down significantly. Last year, he dominated late in games with a rating of 97.7, but now he’s down to 82.8. It’s starting to seem like these might just be the limitations of a shorter quarterback like Wilson. He has to roll out of the pocket far more than someone who’s 6’4", and thus cutting his passing options down significantly. With less people to throw to, he’s being forced to run more than we’d like. He’s absolutely still a top-six quarterback and the kind of player who can lead a Super Bowl team, but we’re suddenly starting to see that even a fully-developed Russell Wilson is probably going to struggle with his height for the rest of his career. 5. Tony Romo Tony Romo is quietly having one of the best seasons any quarterback has ever had. On his current pace, he’ll end the season with 36 touchdowns, 4,432 passing yards, a 66.1 completion percentage, and only 10 interceptions. In a normal year, that would win a quarterback not named Tony Romo MVP. But he’ll never get the respect he deserves because of what happens in the fourth quarter. Ah, the fourth quarter. Romo’s kryptonite. If kryptonite meant something that makes you better. Romo has a fourth quarter passer rating of 121.4 this year. That’s the second best rating in the league, behind only some guy named Peyton. My feelings on the Denver game are clear, but what’s even more egregious is the criticism he’s gotten since the Cowboys lost to Detroit last week. Let me get this straight: the Cowboys blow a chance to close the game on a holding call, and then the defense gives up the game winning touchdown, and this is somehow indicative of how well Romo plays in the clutch? Really? This immature Romo hatred needs to stop. 4. Drew Brees There’s nothing interesting to say about Drew Brees. He puts up a workmanlike 4,500 yards every year with more than 30 touchdowns and around 15 interceptions. He’s never really involved in controversies, and even when it started to look like he’d fall apart without Sean Payton last year, he proceeded to put up 43 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards. He’s even less interesting on the field. Everything looks so methodical when he does it. People criticize him for checking down too much, but he does it because his backs are so good as receivers that it’s not really a check down. He doesn’t have a signature motion like Manning does with his hop, Brady does with his statue-like poise and Rodgers does with his calm “I’m better than you” demeanor. He’s the most boring legend to watch since... maybe ever. There’s never that “uh-oh, Brees is hot, this could be a 40-point blowout” feeling that the others give off even if Brees does it just as often. He just produces. Is Brees the NFL’s answer to Tim Duncan? It’s not too far off. Payton and Gregg Popovich have plenty in common, Marques Colston is Manu because they’re both hurt more than you’d like, and Jimmy Graham is Tony Parker because you silently wonder whether or not he’s more important to the team than Duncan/Brees. I’m sold. Brees is the NFL’s Tim Duncan. 3. Andrew Luck 2. Aaron Rodgers I originally wanted to go against everything I believe in and rank Luck ahead of Rodgers. Rooting for Luck is just fun. There’s no stigma attached to him because he’s so young and so personable. His team hasn’t surrounded him with veteran stars yet. He just wins, but not in the obnoxious way that we say that about Tebow. But Luck isn’t Rodgers yet. The key word there is yet, because Rodgers and Luck are very similar players. They’re both so good as passers that defenses forget how mobile they are. Both of them have throwing motions that are more fluid than mechanical (think Peyton or Matthew Stafford). They both fall into the rare group of quarterbacks that bucks the “close games are statistically random” trend along with Manning and Tom Brady. Over the next few years, we’re going to watch Luck evolve into another Rodgers. But right now, Luck getting MVP talk is too much. To put it simply, there’s no way that a quarterback on pace for 22 touchdowns is beating one on pace for 58. It’s just not happening, and rightfully so. Luck is a worthy third-place finisher, and he’ll get a few later on, but people tend to give him a bit too much credit in that regard. But Rodgers? You won’t talk me into it, but I at least see the argument. To have these Packers at 5-2 despite losing Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb, and James Jones for extended periods while continuing to put his usual big numbers might be his best feat yet. This ends any arguments about Rodgers relying on his great receivers to dominate. Aaron Rodgers really is that good, and honestly, Andrew Luck is too. 1. Peyton Manning For the Colts to beat the Broncos at home, it took a special teams turnover, a questionable fumble recovery, an incorrectly called safety (it was a touchdown), and injuries to both Denver tackles. And they still only won by six. Beating the Broncos requires a perfect storm of excellent execution, a few timely injuries, and sheer dumb luck. The odds of it happening again are fairly slim. That’s because stopping the Broncos, not just over a full game, but over a single play, is nearly impossible. They go three-and-out only 15% of the time. They average 6.4 yards per play. They average almost four more first downs per game than any other team in football. They average an astonishing 72.6 plays per game. No defense in football is good enough to stop them 72.6 times. All of that is a testament to Manning. He has this offense humming so consistently and at such a high level that even if a defense slows them down for a half they can still walk away with 45 points. They’ve scored at least 30 points 19 times in their last 21 games. In a game played under normal circumstances, the Broncos are essentially unbeatable. There’s nothing left to say about Peyton Manning. He’s playing the quarterback position at a higher level right now than it has ever been played. On his current pace and assuming he doesn’t have another three-interception game, he will break every significant single-season passing record this year. He is the MVP. He is the best player in the league.
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