Eli Manning’s Big Thursday Night: A Fluke, or a Sign of What’s to Come?

Eli Manning threw for four touchdowns on Thursday night, but was it just a fluke?

Entering Week 4, we'd already seen 38 quarterbacks drop back to pass at least 20 times. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, only six of those quarterbacks started the year off worse than Eli Manning.

We all weren't surprised. The Giants' preseason offense looked like a college unit, and Manning was coming off a season where he played more than 45 points below expectation, only better than Blaine Gabbert when you factor in rushing.

You could make an easy argument that Eli Manning was the worst NFL quarterback a season ago.

With new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, things were supposed to turn around. In Week 1, that certainly wasn't the case, as Eli posted a Passing NEP score of -8.22, fourth-worst in the league.

"Same old Eli," fans said.

But perhaps it wasn't. The Giants faced the Lions in Detroit during Week 1, and after three weeks, that same Lions team now holds the second-best overall defense in the NFL according to our metrics. That same Lions team hosted Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last week and limited the superstar's offense to a single touchdown. Though Rodgers didn't have as bad of a Passing NEP total as Eli against Detroit, he still played nearly two points under expectation, which is something not very Aaron Rodgers-like.

In Weeks 2 and 3, Eli Manning improved his Passing Net Expected Points total. He played above expectation. And he did this against the Cardinals, who are a top-10 defense according to our metrics, and the Texans, who rank 4th through three games.

The issue with Eli Manning may not have been his play, but rather the perception of his play. Because of his poor outing in 2013 and his awful Week 1 start in 2014, everyone wrote him off. Outside of his family, no one was starting Eli in single-quarterback fantasy leagues.

Maybe we were all being lazy. Maybe Ben McAdoo's offense is working in New York, but it's being overshadowed by a poor Week 1 performance against an underrated defense.

This could be the case, because last night, Eli Manning posted a Passing NEP total of 20.19. This, for the first time all season, was against a defense that could be exposed. And Eli Manning exposed them. Big time.

This now brings Eli's cumulative Passing NEP to about 16, which could end up being a top-15 total by the end of Week 4.

And I'm convinced he can keep up his pace given the Giants incredibly favorable upcoming schedule. In Week 5, the Giants host the Falcons, who have gotten off to a decent start defensively, but ranked dead last against the pass last year according to our metrics.

They'll then travel to Philly and face an Eagles team that allowed Kirk Cousins - yes, the same Kirk Cousins that threw four picks on 33 attempts last night - to throw for over 400 yards.

And after Philly comes Dallas and Indianapolis, two teams who have had their fair share of struggles on defense already this season.

That's four straight plus matchups for Eli and the Giants, and that's a far different defensive look than what they were used to seeing during Weeks 1 through 3.

So should we buy? It seems that way. This isn't just an overreaction to a Thursday night contest, either. Instead, it's a realization that maybe - just maybe - we didn't give Eli Manning and the Giants offense a fair chance.