In October 2009, Neil Paine wrote that Eli Manning had seemingly turned the corner, starting with the five-game stretch from week 17 of the 2007 season that ended in the Super Bowl. And since that post, Manning has been even better, with his 2011 season standing out as the best year of his career. I thought it would be fun to chart Eli’s career game-by-game according to ANY/A. Actually, since that chart would be incredibly volatile, I’m going to do it in five- and ten-game increments.
The chart below shows the average of Manning’s ANY/A in each of his last five games (playoffs included) beginning with the fifth game of his career in 2004. Of note: the black line represents the league average ANY/A (which, if we’re talking about the last 2 games of Year N and the first 3 games of Year N+1, is 40% of the Year N league average and 60% of the Year N+1 league average), and the two big purple dots show the two Super Bowl victories (or, more accurately, the Super Bowl win, the prior three playoff wins, and the week 17 game).
Even though a five-game sample still has a large amount of variation in it, you can make out the general trend. As you go to the left of the first Super Bowl, you can see that much of Manning’s performance was far below average. In fact, he had a couple of five-game slivers during that Super Bowl season that fall below the 3.5 ANY/A line. If we use a ten-game sample, things smooth out a bit, and we can really see some trends. Take a look:
Manning was a below-average quarterback for most of his career, prior to his first Super Bowl. Even his trailing ten-game average ending in Super Bowl XLII comes in below that line. But he appears to have used that victory (or, perhaps, the week 17 game against the Patriots a month earlier) as a launching point for his career. And, by the time he won his second Super Bowl, Manning had placed himself squarely among the league’s best quarterbacks (although he struggled in 2012).
This just shows in graphic form what Neil posited earlier, that Manning suddenly flipped from below-average to above-average right after that Super Bowl. It’s hard to argue with that conclusion. Perhaps Joe Flacco will be able to do the same. In any event, we know one thing: Eli’s wildly exceeded postseason expectations. And while Manning’s story may be inspiring, there is one negative aspect to all of this: his remarkable turnaround gives fans, coaches, and general managers hope for all quarterbacks who struggle in their first four seasons.