The never-ending debate over Eli Manning

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With a Super Bowl title, Super Bowl MVP and a Pro Bowl nod, Eli Manning believes he's in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

Eli Manning was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft. He's started every single game for the Giants since Week 11 of that season. He's got a Super Bowl ring, Super Bowl MVP award, nearly 23,000 yards passing, 156 touchdowns ...

And yet, seemingly every time we talk about the guy, it's the same conversation: Is Eli Manning an "elite" quarterback?

The reason that discussion has come up this time is that Manning himself said Tuesday during an ESPN radio interview that he is, in fact, one of the NFL's best, right alongside the Patriots' Tom Brady.

"I consider myself in that class. And Tom Brady is a great quarterback, he's a great player and what you've seen with him is he's gotten better every year.

"He started off winning championships and I think he's a better quarterback now than what he was, in all honesty, when he was winning those championships. It's funny. You say he won championships, but he's grown up and gotten better even year. That's what I want to do. I hope these next seven years of my quarterback days are the best."

Brady was recently voted the top player in the NFL by his peers; Eli's brother, Peyton, came in at No. 2. Poor Eli was nowhere to be found, unable to claim a spot in the top 100 list, despite the presence of a dozen quarterbacks.

Maybe it's the 25 interceptions that Manning threw last season or the fact the Giants have missed the playoffs two years running that has everyone questioning his worth.

Even Manning admitted he has to get better, saying in that same interview that he's "not a 25-interception quarterback." That said, he has developed and improved during his time with the Giants, especially as a team leader, a maturation forced in some ways by the departures of Michael Strahan, Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey, among others.

The last two seasons, in fact, have been his best statistically in the NFL -- he topped 4,000 yards passing each time and had 58 combined TD tosses; only the NFL-leading interception total last year dragged him down.

Is he as good as Brady? Absolutely not. As silly as that would be to admit out loud -- do you really expect or want a starting NFL quarterback to say he's not as good as another starting NFL quarterback? -- even Manning probably knows that deep down.

But is he "elite?" It sort of depends on your definition of the word.

Right now, Manning is irreplaceable as the Giants' quarterback -- there isn't an option on the roster or readily available elsewhere that could step in and provide New York what he does. And when you look around the league, at least half the teams (and probably up to as many as 20 or 22 of them) would take Manning over their current starting quarterback.

Yet, here we are, before Manning's eighth season in the league, wondering again just how good he is.

There's one way, of course, for Manning to put this all to rest: Win.

Getting back to the playoffs would be a start, but capturing a second Super Bowl as a starter would put him in ... well ... "elite" company. Only 10 QBs in history have multiple Super Bowl wins as a starter, a list that does not include Peyton Manning.