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Eli, Coughlin riding high on legacy roller coaster

Legacies are a funny thing. We write them in stone when they should be in pencil.

What if one play goes a different way, say Wes Welker catches Tom Brady's pass late in the fourth quarter on Sunday? I'm writing a column about how Bill Belichick is the greatest coach in NFL history and Brady is its best quarterback. But Welker dropped it. So it's not about that.

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Instead, it's about the new best quarterback in the NFL, and its new best coach. See what I mean about pencil? Eli Manning first.

Heading into the 2011 season, who were the top five quarterbacks in the NFL? Your list probably would have gone something like this:

1) Brady
2) Peyton
3) Rodgers
4) Roethlisberger
5) Brees

Eli? Forget it. Eli would have been a periphery top-10 QB -- maybe -- even though he claimed he was elite. Top-five Eli is now Top Gun Eli. At this very moment, he's the best. And you can't even argue it. Twice, he's led final-minute drives to win Super Bowls. He's a prolific passer -- having just missed the 5,000-yard barrier in the regular season -- with the rings to back it up. He leaps past everyone who's won one Super Bowl, and he jumps over Roethlisberger because, let's be honest, beating Bill Belichick twice is a tad more impressive than defeating Seattle and Arizona. And he's ahead of Brady because, even though Brady has three rings, he hasn't won since Spygate and twice has lost to Eli head-to-head for the Lombardi Trophy.

But wait, detractors will say: "Eli? He just gets lucky. He throws the ball up and sometimes it's a duck and his receivers make plays to get it."

Well, not really. You can only play the "lucky" card for so long. Hey, I played it for a great while with Eli, but now you have to give him credit. When you've been doing it as long as he has, it's who he is. I remember when Chad Pennington was the Jets QB, how all I would hear is how frustrated fans of other teams got because he had no arm but still found a way to get the ball to his receivers. But the thing with Pennington was, he was so smart that he knew where the ball had to be before anyone else did. So despite his weak arm, he was successful. Eli's the same way. Except he's much better. He gets the Giants into the right formations at the line every time, and he's acutely aware of ball placement. Let's take the Mario Manningham catch as an example.

We've spent a lot of time the last day or so talking about what a great catch it was, how Manningham got his feet down and cleanly corralled the ball, and all of that is true. Yet, you can still hear the undertone of fans yelling how lucky Eli was that it was caught between two defenders. OK. Just what did Eli do on that play? He put it in a perfect spot, and threw it early enough so the safety wouldn't be able to get over in time to make a play on the ball. It was a typical Eli throw: On the surface it looked dicey, but it was actually genius. We said the same thing about Peyton when he came into the league. His ball wobbled, his feet were a little too happy. But a Hall of Fame career later, we believe. Believe in Eli (... as Deion would sing).

For Tom Coughlin, it's easier to say he's the best coach in the game, and he's going to the Hall of Fame. Don't forget, before he won two Super Bowls, he took an expansion team in Jacksonville to the playoffs year in and year out, making an AFC title game in the Jaguars' second year of existence. Coughlin surpasses Belichick because he's upset him twice. That's something for a guy we thought was on the chopping block a couple months ago.

Coughlin is old school, and his style can grate on you as a player, but he gets the necessary players to buy in. How? He makes sure he has enough team leaders spreading his message, so things don't get out of control. And it's also about the Giants' philosophy. They don't go after free agents. They don't have to because they draft extremely well every year. Nearly everyone is homegrown. So no one has anything else to compare it to. Sure, you can hear stories from other players in the league, but when all you know are the ways of Coughlin, and you know his style can win the Super Bowl, you fall in line. Coughlin's almost like Bill Parcells, in reverse: Parcells won and then built programs; Coughlin built a program and then won. It always takes longer for a coach to get to Canton than it does a player, but it'll happen.

All because Welker just couldn't hang on to the ball.

Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith daily for Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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