December 23, 2011.
It is a day before the New York Giants face the New York Jets in a battle of New York. The Philadelphia Eagles are preparing for a game against Dallas that could mean everything or nothing, depending on what happens in the Giants-Jets game. The Giants are reeling from a 23-10 loss to the Washington Redskins that was not as close as the scoreboard would make it appear. A bottom 5 offense had a field day against the Giants defense, and to say there are doubts about the Giants would be an understatement. No one is saying they think this team can make the NFC Championship. Most are questioning whether or not they can make the playoffs. Everyone proudly boasting "Eli is ELIte" after the Giants ripped apart a bad Patriots defense no longer proudly boasted this. Perhaps this only done hauntingly enough as to only foreshadow what was to come, but on December 23, 2011, no one publicly stated Eli was ELIte. Hell, few even held that belief privately. The Giants and Eli were a game away from their third December choke job in three years. That was the only thing on everybody's mind.
December 24, 2011
Mark Sanchez is a twatdonger. Brian Schottenheimer is an idiot. Say them over and over again, whether they be in nodding acceptance or trying to outwardly deny what you know inside is true, these facts presented themselves this day. Mark Sanchez threw the ball 59 times. In case that failed to register, Brian Schottenheimer had Mark Sanchez throw the ball 59 times. Fifty-nine. 5-9. If that sounds crazy to you, it is because it is. Perhaps calling Sanchez a twatdonger is a bit harsh as even the greatest of QBs are bound to make mistakes when that many passes are called, but good grief, Mark Sanchez was awful. Maybe the Giants defense were prepared and expected pass. After all, once you've thrown 45 passes a game, pass #46 is not exactly going to catch a defense off-guard. But even if that was true, Sanchez made mistake after mistake. And the Giants won. They stayed alive. The Eagles playoff hopes died. Eliminated in the end because Brian Schottenheimer is an idiot and Mark Sanchez is not very good at what he does. The cries of "ELIte" are few and far between, but the Giants are now one win away from an improbable and undeserved NFC East Championship.
Fast forward to tonight.....
The Giants are going to the NFC Championship game. They beat one of the best teams in the league. Eli is ELIte again. It certainly is a surprise to everyone who intelligently follows football, but while people are credit to shower Eli with praise and affection, it is almost a disservice to a maligned Giants defense that has stepped up and played well in the playoffs and the Giants have been fortunate enough to face an Atlanta team who embarrassed themselves offensively, in spite of their defense which may be a tad underrated. As despicable a player as Dunta Robinson is, they do have a top 10 defense. And Eli had a very good game against them. But again, I go back to the fact that Falcons managed zero offensive points in this game. Zero. And even if the Giants played better defensively than they had in the regular season, to not score any points against them is just an embarrassment. But credit where credit is due, Eli Manning had a very good game against a top 10 NFL defense in the playoffs. How many people were saying Eli Manning is ELIte after this? A few, maybe? Some of the diehard Eli supporters, perhaps? It certainly was not a football-wide circle jerk, but again, Eli had a good game against a good defense. And yes, a scumbag like Dunta Robinson can still be part of a good defense.
Back to tonight, the Giants beat the Packers. The Giants defense held the Packers to 20 points. The Giants with Eli at the helm put up 37 points against the 24th best defense, according to DVOA. You know what this means? "ELI is ELIte ZOMG look at how perfect it goes together? E-L-I is how you spell Eli AND it's the first three letters in 'elite.' Why are you staring at me, dude? The brilliant writers of The Big Bang Theory would make the same joke!"
Chances are you, or someone you know, or someone you watched on SportsCenter uttered the above sentences. Because, you know, in three weeks Eli has gone from an afterthought to elite again.
So instead of making judgments based off of any single game or string of games, let's answer the question once and for all, is Eli Manning ELIte? Going by Football Outsiders, we see Eli Manning is 6th in DYAR among 47 qualifying QBs and 8th in DVOA among the same 47 qualified QBs. Now let's remember the definition of elite: "the most powerful, rich, gifted, or educated members of a group, community, etc." In other words, while we can throw the words "good" and "great" around willy-nilly, elite clearly is a word saved for the best of the best. Click on the FO link and look at the numbers. Three QBs stand among a tier of their own, in both DYAR and DVOA. These three, the elite three QBs of the 2011 NFL Season:
Nowhere in this list is Eli Manning.
I get why people like Eli Manning. He is a goofy-looking, somewhat off-beat guy who does not have any character flaws that would drive people away from rooting him. While he is on a rival team, I don't dislike Eli Manning. Hell, I get a kick out of watching him. He is fun to watch. Call Eli Manning "very good," or maybe even "great," if you consider "great" to be any QB that is top 10 in the league. Eli Manning fits that definition. Eli is very good at what he does. He has a Super Bowl ring. He is two wins away from another.
But Eli Manning is not among the NFL's elite. He never has been. And until he can consistently perform at a level that puts him right with the league's best on a long-term basis, he will never be elite, no matter how many Super Bowls the New York Giants win under his watch.