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The league
Posted at 12:42 PM ET, 01/20/2012

NFL Playoffs: Eli Manning, Alex Smith on the rise


Would a second Super Bowl title move Eli past Peyton in the ranks of all-time great quarterbacks? (Jeffrey Phelps - AP)
1. Eli Manning started the season by inspiring some laughs and quiet head-shaking when he pronounced himself one of the league’s elite quarterbacks. His work the past two months should silence his doubters. No, he’s not in the same class with Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees or Tom Brady, but he’s certainly placed himself in the group that follows them.

2. And speaking of Eli Manning, if he can lead the Giants to a Super Bowl victory in February, a feat that looks less improbable with each passing week, we might have to reassess the unofficial Manning family quarterback rankings. Eli’s always been considered a notch or two below brother Peyton and perhaps even a notch below father Archie. But a Giants Super Bowl victory would leave the Super Bowl rankings as Eli - 2, Peyton - 1, Archie - 0. That has to mean something.

This isn’t to suggest that a Giants victory would catapult Eli past Peyton into the ranks of the all-time greats. No, even were he to retire today, Peyton would be considered one of the top 10 of all time . . . perhaps top five . . . perhaps top three. Eli is nowhere there that. But what if Eli did lead the Giants to a Super Bowl victory, and what if Peyton’s career in fact is over? Eli looks like he still has a long career in front of him and, remarkably, still appears to be improving in some aspects of the game. He is a more precise passer than he was just two years ago, and he seems to play with almost as much confidence as his brother. Could he catch Peyton on the all-time list? Well, anything’s possible, but that sure seems unlikely.

3. And speaking of the Mannings, Dad Archie has deservedly taken some heat for opining publicly about whether the Colts should draft Andew Luck. This isn’t the first time that Archie has stuck his nose in his son’s business. Few remember Archie’s comments when Eli was coming out of college, saying that Eli would never play for the Chargers, who owned the first pick. Eli’s hangdog expression when the Chargers in fact drafted him despite Archie’s warnings was priceless. But, of course, Archie’s statements led to the Giants trading for Eli a few minutes later. You have to admit that worked out well for Eli. But for his father’s intrusiveness, Eli wouldn’t be playing in football-crazy New York, and he wouldn’t have a Super Bowl ring.

4. And speaking of the Chargers, who inexplicably retained the GM and coach tandem that has led a talent-filled squad into the depths of mediocrity, how much do you think they enjoy seeing former first-round pick Eli Manning leading the Giants to the NFC championship game? And how much do you think they enjoyed seeing former quarterback Drew Brees teaming with former halfback Darren Sproles to lead the Saints into the playoffs? Look, Philip Rivers is a fine quarterback. But as history has proved, he’s no Drew Brees and, apparently, he’s no Eli Manning either.

5. And speaking of the Saints, was it just me or did Sunday’s Saints-49ers game look peculiar? It had been so long since a team from Northern California hosted a playoff game, and we’ve all grown so used to seeing playoff games played either indoors or in overcast weather, that seeing a game played on a brisk sunny day seemed odd.


Patience is paying off for the 49ers with former No. 1 pick Alex Smith. (Tony Avelar - AP)
6. And speaking of the 49ers . . . where the heck did this season come from? The next time someone tells you that coaching is meaningless, point to this 49ers team. Somehow, Jim Harbaugh and his staff took a 6-10 team that seemed headed to fight it out for a shot at Andrew Luck and, with a shortened training camp and little roster turnover, turned them into a team that is effective on both sides of the ball.

7. And speaking of that, he may never be able to compete with Aaron Rodgers, but suddenly Alex Smith looks like the quarterback the 49ers thought they were drafting seven years ago. The last few minutes of Sunday’s game, when he led two improbable scoring drives — that’s an Alex Smith that 49ers fans have been waiting for and thought they’d never see. That’s what the right coaching staff can do.

8. And speaking of the right coaching staff, what on earth are the New York Jets doing? And when did Jeff Fisher become such a hot commodity? And why?

9. And speaking of Jeff Fisher, new Rams coach, the hosts and callers on sports radio keep talking about the Rams trading away Sam Bradford and using the second pick to draft Robert Griffin III. Interesting thought. But until someone in the Rams front office suggests that is a possibility, it seems highly unlikely. Why? Because the Rams have already invested countless millions in Bradford, that’s why.

10. And speaking of countless millions invested in a quarterback, Sunday’s game against the Patriots certainly feels like the game that could make or break Joe Flacco’s career with the Ravens. Teammate Ed Reed made some comments to the press about Flacco that may have accurately expressed Reed’s concerns about Flacco, but aren’t the type you want your team making before a championship game. Flacco already had a chip on his shoulder about not being considered an elite quarterback. Sunday, he can either prove everyone right or prove everyone wrong.

More from Washington Post Sports:

Early Lead: Has Eli Manning arrived as an elite NFL QB?

Cruz, Nicks, Giants’ passing game is taking over

Is New England’s defense peaking at the right time?

Early Lead: Flacco says Reed’s comments are ‘not that big of a deal’

Carlos Rogers discovers life after Redskins

By Michael Kun  |  12:42 PM ET, 01/20/2012

Tags:  Michael Kun

 
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