After 17 seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers and the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Philip Rivers has decided to call it a career. While some quarterbacks like Peyton Manning undoubtedly belong in the Hall of Fame, Philip Rivers is a little bit different. The quarterback played at a high level for a very long time, but should his perceived lack of truly elite years and postseason shortcomings keep him out of Canton?
Is Philip Rivers Hall of Fame Worthy?
Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to make a case for Rivers deserving a spot in Canton. As of his retirement, Rivers currently ranks fifth all-time in both passing yards and passing touchdowns, trailing only the true greats like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, et cetera.
However, volume stats are more indicative of how long a quarterback played, rather than how well. If we want to look at efficiency, the best resource we can use is EPA. Since Rivers earned a starting job in 2006, there have been 41 quarterbacks to play 2,500 or more snaps. Of those 41, Rivers ranks fifth in EPA/play, sixth in completion percentage over expectation, and sixth in a composite metric combining the two aforementioned stats. He trails only Manning, Rodgers, Brees, Brady, and Wilson, all of whom are locks for the Hall of Fame.
The biggest knock against Rivers is that he was never the best quarterback of his time. While he had plenty of great seasons, he never won MVP or earned First-Team All-Pro honors. Playing at the same time as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady obviously hurt your chances of winning MVP, but Rivers had a few elite seasons where he rivaled those two all-time greats.
In both 2008 and 2009, Rivers was actually more efficient than Manning on a per-throw basis. Even though Manning won MVP both seasons, Rivers was the more efficient quarterback and probably should’ve won the award in 2008, whereas Drew Brees should’ve earned the honors in 2009. Essentially, he’s the 2000’s version of Jim Kelly – a fantastic quarterback that wasn’t quite as good as his generational piers.
For all the bad "Rivers never won an MVP" takez out there, just a reminder that he was the best quarterback in the league in 2008 but Manning won it for being Peyton Manning pic.twitter.com/uwNv41sH3D
— Dave Latham, Lifelong Bucs Fan (@DLPatsThoughts) January 20, 2021
The Postseason Accolades
Of course, you can’t talk about Hall of Fame credentials without discussing the postseason. For better or worse, ballots are cast with the postseason in mind, and this will hurt Rivers. Despite the regular season success, Rivers never made it to the Super Bowl and only appeared in one AFC Championship Game.
However, these are team statistics, and we shouldn’t blame Rivers for the shortcomings of his situation. Since 2006, there have been 26 quarterbacks to play 150 or more snaps in the postseason. Of those passers, Rivers ranks 12th in EPA/play, 13th in CPOE, and 13th in the composite. While he certainly didn’t set the world on fire, he wasn’t the reason they lost.
Frankly, blaming Rivers for the lack of postseason success is completely unjustified. The postseason is such a small sample and football is so volatile by nature that basing a narrative around the final weeks of a season is just bad process.
Would your opinion of Rivers change if he played the exact same way, except Marlon McCree went down in the 2006 Divisional Round? Or what if Rivers never tore his ACL and took down Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots? There are countless more examples to point to, all of which involve factors outside of Rivers’ control. He certainly played well enough to be successful in the postseason, he just had some bad luck.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that Rivers did all this despite playing for terrible ownership and even worse coaches. There is nothing I can say about Dean Spanos that hasn’t already been said, and Norv Turner, Mike McCoy, and Anthony Lynn are all below-average coaches. Even though he never brought home a championship, Rivers is the reason the Chargers weren’t the AFC West’s version of the Cleveland Browns. For that, he easily deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.
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