Could Eli Manning be hurting his chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
It's a question that needs to be asked in light of his New York Giants being officially eliminated from the playoffs in Week 12 and subsequently benching Manning entering Week 13. And to give you an indication of just how bad it has gotten in New York, the other two teams with no chance of making the playoffs are the Browns and 49ers.
Manning's legacy and likely spot in the Hall of Fame were seemingly secured back in 2012, when he capped the 2011 season with a second Super Bowl victory over Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots.
For many, being the only person to quarterback a team that beat the most dynamic head coach/quarterback combination the NFL has ever seen -- TWICE -- is more than enough to cement his spot in Canton. That feather in his cap is only enhanced with the continued winning and subsequent championships that have been secured by New England after Manning and the Giants took them down on the game's biggest stage a second time. The fact that Manning's two Super Bowl victories are the only two losses for one of the unquestioned greatest quarterbacks of all time is unbelievably impressive.
And those two Lombardi Trophies aren't the only thing on Manning's Hall of Fame resume, mind you. He has started an incredible 222 straight games, including the postseason, and compiled some numbers that absolutely reinforce the positive things he's done during his career, as he ranks among the top eight in both yards and touchdowns for quarterbacks.
The problem for Manning is that ever since that second Lombardi Trophy, his Giants haven't done a whole lot of winning. In fact, they've had only winning season in the past five campaigns. That was last year's 11-5 record that was largely a product of arguably the best defense in the NFL. The two years prior to that, Manning's Giants had back-to-back 6-10 seasons, a mark they have very little chance of meeting this season, now that they're 2-9.
Before discussions begin about subpar draft choices by general manager Jerry Reese or a porous offensive line or injuries or any of those problems, it's important to note that football is absolutely a team game. But for Manning, that goes both ways. His 2007 and '08 squads had among the best offensive and defensive lines in the NFL. If you are going to give Manning a lot of the credit for those two Super Bowl victories -- the only two seasons in which he's won a playoff game, by the way -- then he must take a lot of the blame for what has happened since then.
It's rarified air when looking at the other likely Hall of Famers in his peer group.
His brother, Peyton, went 3-13 as a rookie and just 6-10 in 2001 when his head coach Jim Mora got fired. Other than that, Peyton won at least 10 games in the other 15 NFL seasons in which he played. Aaron Rodgers went just 6-10 in his first year as a starter in 2008 but has won at least 10 games in every season he played all 16 games since then. Brady had a 9-7 season in his first full year as a starter in 2002 but has otherwise quarterbacked the Patriots to double-digit victories every season he's been healthy.
The closest comparison for Eli Manning is probably Drew Brees, as Brees' Saints have won just seven games in four of the past five seasons -- although, with eight wins and counting here in 2017, he looks like he's poised for another season of double-digit victories and a potential playoff run. The difference between Brees and Manning, however, is that Brees has had to overcome a historically inept defense in recent years yet still is already in the top three all-time in completions and yards and has 19 all-time NFL records attached to his name.
This, however, is not about statistical nit-picking. It's about the belief that many have that a true Hall of Fame quarterback should be able to elevate the play of those around him to the point where they are at least competitive. Manning has shown in recent years that he's not able to do that and is on his way to a historically bad season with the Giants in 2017.
Will that be enough to prevent or even slow down his Hall of Fame candidacy? Maybe.
Will it be a major talking point when his case is presented? Absolutely.