Revisiting Philip Rivers' MVP-Caliber Season in 2013

Posted on October 14, 2014 at 8:30 PM

Six weeks into the 2014 NFL season, MVP-buzz has begun to follow Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.


  • His 116.7 passer rating would rank 4th in NFL history, behind only Aaron Rodgers in 2011 (122.5), Peyton Manning in 2004 (121.1) and Tom Brady in 2007 (117.2).
  • His 87.1 QBR would rank 2nd in history, behind only Peyton Manning in 2006 (87.2).
  • His streak of five consecutive 120.0+ passer rating games broke the record of four held by Johnny Unitas (1965) and Kurt Warner (2009). 


While Rivers' domination may strike many as surprising, it shouldn't. Had Peyton Manning not had, arguably, the greatest passing season in NFL history last year, Rivers' performance would have certainly warranted MVP honors, regardless of the lack of recognition he received. Tom Brady received an MVP vote he didn't deserve (the other 49 went to Manning), and Rivers was ranked 34th on the player-voted list for the Top 100 Players of 2014—placing him ninth amongst quarterbacks. Laughable results.

With a 29.0 QBS in 2013, Rivers ranked third, behind Peyton Manning (37.0) and Drew Brees (32.0)—but well ahead of Aaron Rodgers (13.0), Ben Roethlisberger (9.0) Russell Wilson (6.0), Tom Brady (5.0), Andrew Luck (0.0) and Cam Newton (0.0). His 71.7 total QBR ranked second in the league, behind only Peyton Manning (82.9).

Many unstudied players didn't realize the depth of Rivers' remarkable 2013 season, and the same could be said of the fans, who ranked Rivers 33rd overall and eighth amongst quarterbacks. Perception doesn't always recognize reality, which has left the masses dumbfounded as to how Rivers continues to out-peform the long list of quarterbacks "perceived" to be better than him. Such domination didn't begin this year when Rivers bullied the Seahawks' famed "Legion of Boom" to the tune of three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 124.2 passer rating—it began in 2013, when Rivers had one of the greatest, and most underrated, passing seasons in NFL history.


  • Malcom Floyd missed 14 games and Danario Alexander missed the entire season.
  • His running game ranked 21st in rushing yards per attempt.
  • His running game ranked 25th in rushing touchdowns.
  • His offensive line ranked 24th in pass-blocking (via PFF).
  • His defense ranked 23rd in total yardage surrendered.
  • His defense ranked 28th in allowed passer rating.
  • His defense ranked 30th in forced turnovers.
  • His defense ranked 31st in yards surrendered per play.
  • His defense ranked 32nd in DVOA.

The memo on Rivers' 2013 training camp locker could have read as follows:

"Philip, we're excited to begin the 2013 season! To starting things off, you'll be paired with a new head coach who has absolutely zero head coaching experience, but you should enjoy the challenge of learning a completely new system. On gamedays, you'll be handing the ball off to a collection of running backs who will regularly struggle to gain positive yardage and who almost never rush for any touchdowns. Our focus will be on the passing game, but you'll have to make do without your two starting wide receivers as Malcom Floyd will miss 14 games and Danario Alexander will miss the entire season. If you want to have a 1,000-yard receiver, you'll need to help 76th overall draft selection Keenan Allen out-gain Larry Fitzgerald, Victor Cruz, Marques Colston, Wes Welker and Steve Smith. Cross your fingers though as we hope your offensive line, which will rank 24th overall, will afford you the time and protection necessary to become the most accurate passer in the NFL (69.5 completion percentage). We expect you to complete seven out of every ten passes with no excuses. And just one more thing, sometimes, throwing four touchdown passes and scoring 28 points isn't going to be enough to win because on the other side of the ball, our defense is penciled in to close the season out ranked 32nd overall. Remember Philip, you're fortunate to be part of our incredible organization. We've given our all to provide you with this powerhouse of support, now go reward us—we deserve it."

To say that Rivers exceeded expectations is an understatement. While Tom Brady has often been falsely bestowed with the "more with less" label, Rivers' 2013 season was one of the rare instances in NFL history where such hyperbole became reality, as opposed to seeing a decline in performance covered up by the team's overall win/loss record (e.g. Tom Brady in 2013).

Regular season: 378 of 544 (69.5) for 4,478 yards, 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. 105.5 passer rating.

Postseason: 30 of 43 (69.8) for 345 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. 116.9 passer rating.

Rivers completed nearly 70.0 percent of his passes, threw multiple touchdowns, committed zero turnovers and posted a postseason passer rating higher than any player to start multiple postseason games last year. He wasn't afforded the New England luxury of throwing zero touchdown passes while his running backs rush for six of them, and as his defense intercepts the opposition four times. Of course, ringless-Rivers can't get it done the way Brady "willed" his Patriots to the AFC championship game.

2013 Postseason Passer Rating 

  1. Philip Rivers: 116.9
  2. Russell Wilson: 101.6
  3. Peyton Manning: 94.2
  4. Tom Brady: 87.7
  5. Drew Brees: 81.9
  6. Andrew Luck: 76.4
  7. Colin Kaepernick: 74.0
The result of team-sports left Rivers' 2013 season an afterthought amongst the masses. Forget on-field performance, as you probably head more about Colin Kaepernick "leading his team" to a second straight conference championship game or Andrew Luck "willing" the Colts to victory over a Jamaal Charles-less Chiefs squad. Those with an annual subscription to "Results Without Context" were undoubtedly surprised to see Rivers as the current front-runner for 2014 league MVP.

The reality though, is that Rivers has been playing at this level since last year.

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