This off-season saw quarterback Philip Rivers depart the Los Angeles Chargers after 16 long, relatively successful seasons (14 as a starter) for the greener pastures of Indianapolis. He very well may succeed with the Colts, but if he doesn’t, it’s fair to say he’s had a very respectable career. But is it enough for him to be immortalized forever in Canton? Has Philip Rivers done enough to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Does Philip Rivers Belong in the Hall of Fame?
The Argument For
Simply put, bad quarterbacks don’t start for the same team for more than 10 years. Even at a position as well-protected as quarterback, longevity is a gift of fortune, not practice. To say that Philip Rivers has been a good quarterback is an understatement.
In 11 of Rivers’ 14 seasons as a starter, he eclipsed 4,000 yards, and on six occasions, he eclipsed 30 touchdowns. Statistically, he’s currently sixth all-time in passing yards (59,271) and touchdowns (397). His Chargers had eight winning seasons, and took home the AFC West crown on four different occasions.
His 4,710 yards led the entire NFL back in 2010, and his 34 touchdown passes were number one in 2008. As a starter, Rivers averages 4,223 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. For comparison, his long-time division rival, Derek Carr, was a MVP candidate in 2016 with 3,937 yards and 28 touchdowns, but only six interceptions. Still, to average a division rival’s best season annually is pretty impressive.
His Chargers were always competitive, his numbers were always good, and he played for a long time. Hell, he’s still going. It’s not a stretch to say that Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks of the 2010’s. However…
The Argument Against
Philip Rivers’ Hall of Fame argument begins and ends with statistical accumulation, and frankly, in this era? That’s asking very little. If you were to rank the quarterbacks of the last 15 years, how high do you really rank him? Surely, he’s not better than Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees.
Sure, only Drew Brees has more passing yards than Rivers since 2006, the year he took over in San Diego, but Rivers has also started more games than anyone else over that span. He has eight more starts, half a season, than the next eligible passer. He actually averages fewer yards per game than the likes of Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger, and Jameis Winston.
And yeah, Rivers led the NFL in passing yards… once, and passing touchdowns… once, but that’s it. The only category that Rivers ever led the NFL in on more than one occasion was interceptions, which leads me to my next point.
Philip Rivers has 2,587 more passing yards than Tom Brady (he’s played 19 more games over that span), but he’s also thrown 84 more interceptions. Philip Rivers has more career interceptions (198) than the other three projected starters in the AFC South (116), his replacement in Los Angeles, Tyrod Taylor (20), the other starting quarterback in Los Angeles, Jared Goff (42), and reigning Super Bowl MVP, Patrick Mahomes (18) combined (196). And I know what you’re thinking, Rivers has been around since 2004, most of those guys are pretty young. But guess what! They combine for 278 career starts, 54 more than Rivers’ 224.
Philip Rivers isn’t just a turnover machine, he’s a turnover factory. Beyond his 198 interceptions (so far), he’s also lost 47 of his 102 fumbles. That’s a career total of 245 turnovers. Rivers averages at least a turnover a game in an era where you have to fill out a form and ask nicely just to touch the quarterback.
As we established, Philip Rivers is top six in passing yards and touchdowns. That means he’s ahead of every single Hall of Fame quarterback not-named Dan Marino and Brett Favre. How can someone that has better stats than 99% of the Hall be omitted? After all, Rivers only trails Marino by 2,090 yards and 23 touchdowns, both he could easily accomplish this year!
Because the NFL that Philip Rivers has played in is a completely different monster than the one that Marino played in. We actually wrote an article about it (click the link) before, but quarterback stats have been completely devalued as a result of inflation.
They say a quarterback really comes into his own in his third season as a starter. For Dan Marino, that was in 1985, where he was literally the only quarterback in the NFL to throw for 4,000 yards. In Rivers’ third season, 2008, he was one of six quarterbacks to break that mark, while his former teammate, Drew Brees, threw for 5,000 yards.
During Marino’s first ten years as a starter, only eight other men, Lynn Dickey, Bill Kenney, Phil Simms, Don Majkowski, Neil Lomax, Jay Schroeder, Jim Everett, and Warren Moon threw for 4,000 yards in a season. During Rivers’ first ten years? 26 different quarterbacks. That’s right, three times as many quarterbacks.
Quarterbacks in today’s NFL destroy legends of the game statistically because the rules have changed so dramatically to help them. The only claim that Rivers has to the Hall is that his numbers are good, but they don’t stand out today, and they’re only great all-time because he played in the modern era for almost 20 years.
Philip Rivers arrived in San Diego with a lot of hype, and took the Chargers to the playoffs in nearly half of his seasons as the team’s starter. His teams achieved some success, as his 5-6 playoff record isn’t actually that bad.
But half of his losses came against the same opponent, and he always looked completely hopeless against them. No surprise, that’s the dreaded Tom Brady era of the New England Patriots. In three playoff games against the Pats, Rivers averaged 257 passing yards, a touchdown, an interception, and a miserable completion rate of only 48%.
And that’s just New England, he averaged 241 yards, a touchdown, an interception, and a 59% completion rate in the other eight playoff bouts. Being honest, his numbers are actually way worse than they look, with six of his 10 post-season touchdown passes coming in the fourth quarter when the Chargers were down 17, 17, and 26.
Rivers usually got the Chargers to the playoffs, but once he did, he became a non-factor. He was inaccurate, he turned the ball over, and the only way his Chargers ever won in the post-season was because they ran into choke artist extraordinaires Jeff Fisher, Marvin Lewis, and Peyton Manning.
Ultimately, putting Philip Rivers in the Hall of Fame would defeat the institution’s very purpose. Rivers was a good quarterback, the numbers don’t lie, but he wasn’t great. The Hall should be reserved for the very best of the very best. Rivers was never a top five quarterback in the NFL, let alone the best. He was only really the best quarterback in his own division for a couple of years until Peyton Manning arrived, and then a breakout year from Derek Carr bridged the gap to Patrick Mahomes’ arrival.
He played in a few playoff games, but never really won a game that mattered. Even with Hall of Fame teammates like LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, the only stake his Chargers have to history is being Tom Brady’s doormat.
Long story short, no, barring a George Blanda-esque revival in Indianapolis, resulting in at least one Lombardi Trophy, Philip Rivers has no business in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.