In his first season with the Indianapolis Colts, it does not look like Philip Rivers’ second act will be long-lived. His career will likely come to a close soon, so it’s time to look at where his place in NFL history is. Specifically, whether or not Philip Rivers belongs in the Hall-of-Fame. Staff Writers Ben Berg and Jorge Eckardt debate Rivers’ HOF case on this week’s edition of Point/Counterpoint.
Phil Rivers will always be remembered as a good but not great quarterback. In other words: Phil Rivers is not a Hall-of-Famer. All of his stats are unremarkable and his single greatest achievement is that he played a lot of games. He has a career record of 126-103, 401 touchdowns and 203 interceptions. While those numbers are nice, they’re largely a result of a 17-year playing career. He has led the league in touchdowns (34 in 2008) as many times as he’s led the league in interceptions (20 in 2019): once. His most common NFL comparable is Eli Manning because they were both talented but turnover-prone quarterbacks with longevity. While Eli Manning’s likelihood to make the Hall-of-Fame would seem to bode well for Rivers, the key distinction is Rivers’ career never had the high-points of Manning’s. His playoff numbers are dreadful while Manning’s are sparkling. In 11 career playoff games, Rivers went 5-6 with 14 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, a completion percentage of 59.4 and a passer-rating of 84.2. That’s not going to get it done. Without Manning’s two Super Bowl runs, he’d have a fine but unremarkable career. That’s exactly what Philip Rivers has.
Phil Rivers was never great? Phil Rivers was great more often than people think. Even with the past couple seasons not being great, he’s still No. 10 All-Time in passer rating. When you take out quarterbacks who haven’t played at least a decade in the NFL, he moves up to No. 7. Now I’m not saying this is an end-all be-all statistic or anything like that, but it does paint a good picture of how effective a quarterback was over their entire career. The sample size just needs to be large enough to take it seriously, and at this point in Rivers’ career, it is.
Want some more traditional stats though? Here you go. He’s No. 6 All-Time in passing touchdowns and passing yards. While he was never the best at limiting interceptions, he was never horrible and will end his career at about two touchdowns for every one pick — not bad at all. However, I’ve said in the past how I don’t like putting just accumulators into the Hall — which is what I consider Eli to be — and Rivers just isn’t that. In his prime, he was consistently one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He made eight Pro Bowls. He had a season where he led the league in passing and another where he led it in touchdowns. If you look at his Football Reference page you’ll see a ton of black ink, and it’s (almost) all good. He’s had the greatness and the longevity, and that’s what makes a Hall of Famer.
Phil Rivers should be inducted into the Webster Dictionary, right next to the word “accumulator.” Rivers has been averaging 1.72 passing touchdowns per game throughout his career. That’s a pretty mediocre mark. The reason he ranks No. 6 All-Time in passing TDs, is because he’s played 233 games at that clip. I’m sure Eli Manning’s TDs per-game were similar, but as I mentioned before, Eli has two Super Bowls. Rivers has one trip to the AFC Championship: A 21-12 loss to the New England Patriots in 2008. In that game, Rivers completed 19 of 37 passes for 211 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns. Considering that that playoff run was Rivers deepest as a starting QB and that he’s led one game-winning drive in his entire playoff career, it’s pretty obvious. Rivers does not have a clutch gene in his body. Furthermore, in his final five seasons in San Diego/Los Angeles, he made the playoffs once. That would be forgivable if those teams weren’t among the most talented in the NFL offensively and defensively. With studs like Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon, Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and Casey Heyward dominating the competition on a weekly basis, you need your supposed Hall-of-Fame quarterback to guide you to victory. Instead, Rivers guided those Chargers teams to a record of 35-45 record in his final five seasons. That’s just not good enough. Look, I like Rivers. But the Hall-of-Fame is just more prestigious than what his decent career ever offered.
Is 1.72 passing touchdowns per game a pretty mediocre mark though? Let’s look at the stats. Here are some quarterbacks who averaged more touchdowns passes per game than Rivers (probably not all of them, just some notable ones, I didn’t do the math on every quarterback ever): Aaron Rodgers (2.04), Peyton Manning (2.02), Drew Brees (1.98), Tom Brady (1.90) and Dan Marino (1.74). Now here are some who averaged fewer touchdown passes per game (or per start because a couple played in noticeably more games than they started in which would have skewed the numbers unfairly) than Rivers: Brett Favre (1.68), Joe Montana (1.66), Steve Young (1.62), John Elway (1.28) and Troy Aikman (1.00). Oh, and how can I forget, Eli, who you seemed to focus on more than Phil, threw 1.55 touchdown passes per game.
All of those guys are either already in the Hall or destined for it, even Eli, unfortunately. Why should Rivers be any different? Because he never had postseason success? I’m sorry, but so what? That’s not a requirement; not every Hall of Famer won a ring. Let’s take the one from above who is closest to him in passing touchdowns per game, Dan Marino, because he never won a ring either. In fact, he has an 8-10 career record in the playoffs. He did make it to one Super Bowl, which he does have over Rivers, but he threw one touchdown and two picks in the loss. Was he not deserving of his Hall of Fame spot? I don’t think anyone can argue he wasn’t. Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes.
Not every hall of famer won a ring.
Phil was never great in the playoffs, but the Chargers organization also didn’t afford him the opportunity to prove himself often. Even in his eight Pro-Bowl seasons, the Chargers only made the playoffs three times. More often than not, it just simply wasn’t his fault. He did all he could do. There’s a great SB Nation video I’ll recommend to you before I go titled “One of the all-time greatest NFL teams didn’t even make the playoffs | Dorktown” that is the perfect example of what Rivers had to deal with throughout his career. This video details the season of the 2010 Chargers, and essentially, it makes note of how the Chargers statistically had the best offense and the best defense in the NFL. However, their special teams unit was ranked dead last in the NFL. It was atrocious, and as a result, the 2010 Chargers finished the season 9-7 and missed the playoffs. If you want to know how that’s possible, watch the video, it’s horrifying.
To sum it up, yes, Rivers never had the postseason success that some other quarterbacks had, but that shouldn’t erase the fact that during the regular season, he was one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. He was the most talented quarterback to come out of his draft class, and even though Manning and Roethlisberger each have two rings to their name, if I’m picking one quarterback from the trio to lead my team with all other variables being equal, I’m taking Rivers without hesitation.