Discussions on the best quarterback of the past decade generally land on four names—Manning, Brady, Brees, Rodgers. But there's an argument to be made for two more additions, both of whom are having MVP-like seasons in 2014

By dombonvissuto
October 16, 2014


Ask anyone who the best quarterback is of the past decade, and you will hear the same few answers: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and maybe Aaron Rodgers.

But what if I told you that two of the most scrutinized and heavily criticized NFL quarterbacks deserve consideration for the velvet-rope, elite quarterback club?

Enter Philip Rivers and Tony Romo. Neither has won a Super Bowl, the way most measure quarterback success. But both Rivers and Romo have been two of the most effective quarterbacks of the past decade, and they’re proving to be elite once again in 2014.

Just how good have they been? To evaluate their play and efficiency, we’ll use our internal metric at numberFire.com, Net Expected Points (NEP). A quick refresher on NEP:

NEP compares every single play over a season to how a league-average team should perform on that play. Every situation on a football field has an expected point value; that is, how many points an average team would be expected to score in that situation (given down, distance-to-go and yard line). For example, the Chiefs may be playing the Steelers, facing a third-and-two on the 50. That’s a ton of variables, but numberFire has data from the past dozen years of every single play, so most situations have come up at least once. According to our data, an average team may be “expected” to score 1.23 (estimated number) points on that drive. However, Jamaal Charles reels off a 32-yard run to bring the Chiefs into the red zone, increasing the “expected” point value of the next play to 4.23 (still an estimated number) points. Jamaal Charles then gets credit for the difference, in this case 2.96 points, as his NEP total. That’s Net Expected Points.

Since 2000, the average passing NEP for a quarterback with at least 400 passing plays is +42.0. That means a league-average quarterback will add about six touchdowns over expectation to his offense throughout the course of a season. This may be counterintuitive since you would think the average quarterback would add nothing over expectation, but in today’s NFL, passing is the much more efficient option to running. Quarterbacks, in turn, tend to make up for poor rushing efficiency. Here are the top 10 quarterbacks so far in 2014:

Quarterback 2014 Pass NEP
Philip Rivers 94.46
Andrew Luck 86.23
Peyton Manning 68.42
Tony Romo 52.92
Joe Flacco 50.86
Matt Ryan 48.94
Aaron Rodgers 48.76
Colin Kaepernick 41.97
Drew Brees 40.36
Cam Newton 31.77


Since 2000, there have been just 63 seasons where a quarterback registered an NEP greater than +100. Of those, only six quarterbacks have had at least four seasons over +100 passing NEP. You guessed it: Peyton Manning (11), Drew Brees (8), Tom Brady (7), Philip Rivers (5), Aaron Rodgers (4), Tony Romo (4).

Rivers has been over 100 for five of the past six years, and looks to be a lock to make that six out of the last seven years. Only Manning and Brees have accomplished that feat (although Rodgers may join the group this season). All told, despite the criticism, Rivers and Romo are both consistently great quarterbacks.

So, who is the better passer, and do either deserve MVP consideration for 2014?

Romo’s Résumé

Tony Romo has put up a passing NEP greater than zero in every season of his career. For Romo, 2013 was a “down” year—he added only 70.1 passing NEP compared to his yearly average of 90.0.

With that being said, we mentioned that a league-average quarterback adds just 42.0 points in a year. In 2014, Romo has already added 52.9 NEP, No. 4 in the league. What is more impressive is how he has led the Cowboys to a 5-1 record, posting these numbers against some impressive opponents: San Francisco, New Orleans, Houston with its revamped defense, and most recently, Seattle ... in Seattle.

• GREG A. BEDARD: Where did it all go right for Cowboys?

Romo is putting together a fantastic year, but is he MVP-worthy? Not quite. With Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers all still ahead of him in terms of passing efficiency, the Cowboys would need to show true domination in the NFC for him to be considered.

Rivers’ Résumé

Just like the Cowboys, Rivers has led the Chargers to a hot 5-1 start. While San Diego played Arizona and Seattle, two stout defenses, to start the year, their last four games have been against the Bills, Jaguars, Jets, and Raiders.

Through six games, Rivers leads the league with 94.5 passing NEP. He’s on pace for 251.9 NEP, which would rank No. 3 all time behind only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s record setting seasons in 2007 and 2013 respectively.

• ROBERT KLEMKO: How Philip Rivers raised his game

Rivers’ per play passing NEP is a ridiculous +0.46, which projects as the highest figure since 2000 among quarterbacks who threw at least 400 passes. He has also been successful on 55.6% of his passing plays this year, the top figure in the NFL. And who comes in at No. 2? Tony Romo at 54.7%. With remaining games against the 49ers, Patriots, and two against the Broncos, Rivers certainly still has his work cut out for him.

In the 14 seasons since 2000, a quarterback has won Most Valuable Player 10 times. Nine times, that MVP award went to the most efficient quarterback—the passer with the highest total NEP. The only time a quarterback won and the award didn’t go to the top guy was in 2008 when Peyton Manning won his third MVP with the No. 2 NEP total at +146.3. The top producer that year was Drew Brees with +176.0. All told, if Rivers finishes 2014 as the most efficient signal-caller, it’s extremely likely that he takes home his first MVP trophy.

Keith Goldner is the chief analyst at numberFire.com, the leading fantasy sports analytics platform. Follow him @keithgoldner.

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