NFL round-up: Philip Rivers sets up best chance at a Super Bowl
Game of the weekend was back and forth affair between rivals 49ers and Seahawks
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in action against the Kansas City Chiefs. Photograph: EPA
Week 15’s biggest takeaway: After 14 seasons, 37-year-old Philip Rivers has his best chance at a Super Bowl - and perhaps the Hall of Fame.
San Diego Chargers general manager AJ Smith took a calculated risk when he drafted quarterback Eli Manning out of the University of Mississippi with the first overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, as Manning was on record saying he did not want to play in San Diego and would not sign with the team.
There were two other quarterbacks with first-round grades - Ben Roethlisberger from Miami University (Ohio) and Philip Rivers from North Carolina State - available that year, but neither carried the bloodlines of Manning, whose brother Peyton and father Archie were proven NFL commodities at the position.
Upon hearing rumours the New York Giants were interested in trading up for Manning from the fourth pick in the hours leading up to the 2004 draft, Smith had a choice: select another quarterback he liked and guarantee the Chargers first pick played his rookie season or select Manning with the hopes of trading him.
Many pundits will say Smith’s gamble paid off, as he selected Manning then completed a trade with New York Giants for the fourth pick, which was Rivers. In the trade, the Chargers also received draft picks that turned into Pro Bowlers Nate Keading (third round, 2004) and Shawne Merriman (first round, 2005).
Others, however, believe the Giants got the better end of the deal, as Manning has led New York to two Super Bowl victories over the New England Patriots, while Rivers has taken the Chargers only as far as the 2007-2008 AFC Championship game, which the team lost to the Patriots, 21-12.
The third quarterback in the draft, Roethlisberger, has matched Manning with two Super Bowl victories of his own to go along with six Pro Bowl appearances.
To the untrained eye, Rivers was the wrong pick in 2004, but the numbers have told a different story: Rivers leads the three in career completion percentage, passing touchdowns and passer rating.
He has also thrown the fewest interceptions of the trio, and is the only quarterback selected from the 2004 draft to have led the league in passing touchdowns (2008), passer rating (2008) and completion percentage (2013) during a single season.
Regular season statistics alone do not determine the value or greatness of a quarterback, however. If that were the case, Peyton Manning or Dan Marino would be considered the greatest quarterback of all time, not Tom Brady or Joe Montana.
In the NFL, the only thing that matters is the number of Super Bowl rings on your hand, and Rivers has zero.
If a quarterback has one, there is a good chance he will make it to the Hall of Fame, even if his regular season numbers appear pedestrian compared to other NFL greats. If he has two rings, his chances skyrocket (Eli Manning’s candidacy will be the ultimate litmus test of this theory).
Roethlisberger is a shoo-in when his time comes, while Manning would arguably have a stronger case for induction than Rivers if the two stopped playing tomorrow.
In 2018, the eye test backs up Rivers as the best quarterback selected in 2004. The numbers, as they always have, do as well.
Rivers leads the three in completion percentage, touchdowns and passer rating, and has led his team to an 11-3 record, while Roethlisberger has been hobbled and Manning has looked like a shell of his former self.
After leading the (now Los Angeles) Chargers to a comeback victory against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, LA sits tied atop the AFC West standings at 11-3 and has a legitimate shot at securing a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC play-offs.
The Chargers will likely need to win their final two regular season matches against the Ravens and Broncos and hope for at least one Chiefs loss during that time period to win the AFC West and capture the conference’s no. 1 seed.
Over the past five seasons, the AFC’s no. 1 seed has ridden the first-round bye and home field advantage to the Super Bowl, resulting in three league championships for the conference.
Surrounded by the best Chargers team in his 14-year career, this season is Rivers’s best shot at capturing an elusive Super Bowl title.
If Rivers can lead the team to the promised land in February, he will all but book his place among the greats in Canton.
And perhaps more importantly, he will put an end to a 14-year debate and prove that the Chargers were right to draft him all along, it just took a while to come to fruition.
Play of the weekend: Jamison Crowder’s tipped pass turned clutch 33-yard reception.
Trailing 13-6 with just over eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter, back-up Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson tossed a third-and-15 pass down the field to wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who was surrounded by three members of the Jaguars secondary. In a savvy move, Crowder swatted the ball away from a diving Jaguar safety Tashaun Gibson to prevent an interception. The wide receiver then spun around and collected the ball off the tipped pass, giving the Redskins a crucial first down in Jaguars territory. Four plays later, Washington tied the match with a touchdown.
The Redskins won the match on a last-second field goal, but the victory likely would not have been possible without the tipped-pass reception. A loss would have eliminated the Redskins from play-off contention, but thanks to Crowder’s craftiness, the team lives to fight another week.
Game of the weekend: 49ers defeat Seahawks, 26-23 (OT).
The back and forth affair between the two division rivals ended with a field goal by 49ers kicker Robbie Gould in overtime. Gould’s 36-yard match-winning kick came after San Francisco’s defence stopped Russell Wilson and the Seahawks attack on three straight possessions, producing a far different final result from the teams’ week 14 matchup, which the Seahawks won, 43-16. The 49ers victory snapped a 10-match losing streak to the Seahawks dating back to December 8th, 2013 and gave the San Francisco team a chance to play play-off spoiler for Pete Carroll’s Seattle squad.
Next week’s key matchup: Chiefs at Seahawks .
The Chiefs (11-3) will travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks (8-6) in a grudge match with significant play-off seeding implications. The Seahawks currently hold the first NFC Wild Card spot but need a victory to fend off the Eagles (7-7), Redskins (7-7) and Panthers (6-7, will play New Orleans Monday night). The Vikings (7-6-1) are in the second wild card spot and will likely need victories in their final two regular season matches to maintain play-off position.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have lost two of their past four matches and now sit tied with the Chargers (11-3) atop the AFC West. Kansas City appeared a clear-cut favourite for a first-round play-off bye and home field advantage throughout the regular season but must hold off the surging Chargers to avoid settling for an AFC Wild Card spot.
Teams eliminated from play-off contention in week 15:
NFC - Packers, Giants, Lions, Falcons, Buccaneers
AFC - Broncos
Teams that are barely hanging on:
NFC - Eagles, Redskins, Panthers (contingent on Monday night matchup)
AFC- Colts, Titans, Dolphins, Browns