Playing on a non-playoff team that didn’t have many primetime games, Philip Rivers’ season didn’t get much national media attention. That’s a shame because it was one of Rivers’ best seasons in recent memory and one of the best seasons that any quarterback had in 2017 period.
The Chargers were a couple of errant kicks away from a division title and home playoff game, and that was largely due to the lights out play by Philip Rivers during a stretch that saw the team win six of its last seven games.
After the Chargers’ playoff hopes went down in flames, they quickly receded from the public eye. Everybody suddenly forgot that Rivers was once being talked about as a dark-horse MVP candidate. The year he had suddenly went relatively unheralded in all of the offseason discussion across the NFL.
How did Rivers throw for the second-most yards in the league, behind only eventual MVP winner Tom Brady, and not receive more national media attention? In order to break down just how good of a year Rivers had, and why more people aren’t talking about it, I took a dive into the numbers. Here’s what I found:
THE ADVANCED METRICS LOVE RIVERS
According to Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics and statistics, Rivers easily had a top five season among all quarterbacks. He finished second in their defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR), which controls for the strength of opponent defenses, behind only Brady. He was third in defense adjusted value over-average DVOA and was towards the top of every single advanced metric.
These numbers are important of course because in football, the raw numbers often don’t tell the full story. Once you control for the opposing slate of defenses a quarterback faced and add in plays like defensive pass interference drawn, like DYAR and DVOA both do, the numbers begin to look much kinder to Rivers.
HIS TURNOVER NUMBERS WERE EXCELLENT
Long known as a gunslinger capable of putting up huge numbers but with lots of turnovers, Rivers quietly was very protective of the ball in 2017. He had his usual great passing stats, but his giveaways went way down.
He turned the ball over just 11 times (ten interceptions and one lost fumble), which was his lowest number since his first season as a starter in 2006, when he also had 11. That number is so low in fact that only Drew Brees had fewer among quarterbacks who started all 16 of their team’s games. To put that in perspective, Rivers had 26 turnovers the year prior.
THE CHARGERS WERE MOSTLY HIDDEN FROM THE PUBLIC EYE
The Chargers played just two primetime, nationally televised games last year. One of them was in Week 1 way before the Chargers started their midseason run, and the second one was the Week 15 Saturday night game against the Chiefs. Since that game would essentially decide who won the AFC West title, it got a ton of attention. Most people watching were undoubtedly people who hadn’t seen much of the Chargers up to that point. It also happened to be by far Rivers’ worst game of the season, as he threw three interceptions.
For the casual fan, that was most of the exposure they had to Rivers and the Chargers all season. The poor performance, an outlier, almost certainly played a role in the lack of recognition for his otherwise stellar season.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Like so many Chargers seasons, the year was defined by things far out of Rivers’ control. This year it was the kicking game, or lack thereof. If Broncos coach Vance Joseph didn’t ice Younghoe Koo’s first attempt back in Week 1, would things be much different? What if Koo’s 44-yard attempt at the end of Week 2 had been a couple inches to the left?
They’re questions that will play over all offseason in the heads of Charger fans and Rivers himself. A couple of kicks early in the season were the difference between a division title and possible MVP contention for Rivers, as well as the current anonymity of their second-place finish. Regardless, it’s important for the Chargers’ future moving forward to recognize the great season that Rivers just had. He’s clearly still capable of playing at a high level, and his season undeniably should’ve got more attention.