So Far, Philip Rivers Is Easily the NFL's MVP
Philip Rivers is on pace to have the best season for a quarterback in the history of the NFL.
It may seem crazy or premature to start handing out superlatives like that only five weeks into the NFL season, but Rivers has gotten off to one of the best starts in league history, according to our data, and staying on that pace would leave him with the most impressive season for a quarterback ever.
That title currently belongs to Peyton Manning, who had the most productive season for a signal-caller in 2013 when he posted the highest Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) total we've ever seen, or in 2004, when he set the high mark for the best per-drop back NEP for a season.
Rivers is set to meet or exceed that 2004 average this season, and will do with with significantly less help around him. Let's examine just how good Rivers has been so far this season.
Rivers' Impressive Start
Through five games, Philip Rivers currently sits at the top of the NFL in Passing Net Expected Points, with a 6.0 NEP lead on Andrew Luck. That may not seem like a huge margin, until you consider that Rivers has accomplished his current NEP total on 50 fewer drop backs.
That gives Rivers a per drop back NEP of 0.45, which is the same as Peyton Manning's 2004 season. This is a full one-tenth of an expected point better than the next closest quarterback with more than 50 drop backs (Manning himself), meaning that for every 10 opportunities this season, Rivers is a full point better than Manning.
The circumstances under which Rivers has achieved these numbers is equally impressive. His leading receivers are an aging Antonio Gates, the fluky Eddie Royal, and a handful of other good, but not great, receiving options. He spent most of his last game playing with the team's fourth option at center and running back, as injuries have decimated both positions.
Yet Rivers continues to dominate, even against formidable opponents. He's faced the third-best passing defense so far this season (according to our data) in the Buffalo Bills, along with games against the Cardinals and Seahawks (who are underperforming this season, but are still talented and should match up well against the Chargers). That sort of schedule should pose a big challenge for a quarterback, but Rivers has conquered every game at historic pace.
So is it safe to say that Rivers has been the MVP so far this season? Let's compare Rivers to MVPs at the quarterback position over the past 10 years and find out.
Doing More With Less
One of the narratives we've heard over the last couple of years was that Tom Brady deserved to be the NFL's MVP because he was helping a team win with a bad receiving corps.
The numbers simply didn't support that argument, but in the case of Rivers, a look at other MVP candidates and their leading receivers reveals just how little Rivers has to work with, and how well he's performing under those circumstances.
The chart below shows every NFL MVP quarterback over the past 10 years, with their leading wide receiver listed along with his NEP total.
|Year||Player||NEP||NEP per Drop Back||Leading WR||NEP|
|2013||Peyton Manning||278.42||0.41||Demaryius Thomas||130.03|
|2011||Aaron Rodgers||231.3||0.43||Jordy Nelson||117.33|
|2010||Tom Brady||152.66||0.3||Wes Welker||72.45|
|2009||Peyton Manning||188.8||0.32||Reggie Wayne||117.57|
|2008||Peyton Manning||148.93||0.26||Reggie Wayne||107.65|
|2007||Tom Brady||259.4||0.43||Randy Moss||156.95|
|2004||Peyton Manning||231.1||0.45||Reggie Wayne||114.01|
|2014||Philip Rivers||245.57||0.45||Eddie Royal||87.14|
The final entry is the pace Rivers is on this season, along with the pace of his top wideout, Eddie Royal. Apart from Brady in 2010, every other MVP quarterback has played alongside a dominant receiver who ranked near the top of the league in Reception NEP.
Rivers does have Antonio Gates, who is off to a strong start and is outpacing Royal at the moment. But the fact remains that Rivers is accomplishing with no star receiver what Manning, Rodgers and Brady accomplished with some of the greatest to play the game in this generation.
The Chargers' quarterback is on pace to finish with the third-best passing NEP total since 2000, and with the best per drop back average over that span. Even if we don't consider his supporting cast, that's more than worthy of MVP honors.
Tom Brady had a similarly weak supporting crew in 2010, and finished 0.15 points worse on a per drop back basis than Rivers is currently. That's a massive difference, and one worth keeping in mind when MVP discussions start in earnest in a few weeks.
Because when you stop to realize just how average his teammates on offense are, and just how impacted by injury that offense has been, it's a no-brainer. If Philip Rivers stays on anything resembling this pace for the rest of the season, he deserves to be named MVP, and should earn the title as the most impressive quarterback in NFL history.