Unpopular Opinions

Unpopular Opinions: Philip Rivers least respected MVP candidate

Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.

In this space, I articulate positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Here is my take on a QB who's not getting enough run in debates about who's most deserving of the NFL's highest individual honor.

Philip Rivers is cruising through this season like a classic Volkswagen Westfalia motoring down the road, its driver looking to get in one last ride before sunset. A fitting description when you consider the Chargers' training facility is in Costa Mesa, California. It's a hard-working Orange County town, just a tight spiral away from Newport Beach, which is home to some of the most expensive real estate, Kobe Bryant and bougie shopping malls. It's not unusual to see trust-fund millennials rolling up and down the road in cars that probably cost as much as a house in most parts of the country. But still, nothing will garner the attention of Pacific Coast Highway onlookers quite like a well-oiled VW bus. Heads turn whenever one rolls by.

If only the NFL had such appreciation for vintage charm. Fans and pundits alike are currently debating which young-money quarterback -- Patrick Mahomes or Jared Goff -- is the MVP. And I'm not going to sit here and suggest that Rivers should be leading that list. He shouldn't. That honor goes to Khalil Mack. Seriously, the Bears have 18 sacks this season (second-most in the league -- and they didn't play last week) and they don't even bother to blitz. It's even more amazing when you consider Mack missed all of training camp, showed up at the last minute, waltzed onto the field and started dismantling quarterbacks. But this isn't about Mack. We're talking about Rivers.

I don't want Rivers to be at the top of the MVP conversation. I just want him to be in the discussion. Like when people talk about the greatest wrestlers of all time. The list starts with Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels. Maybe Bret Hart, too. I know that Chris Jericho is not going to top that list, but it would just be nice if he were thrown in there, out of appreciation.

And this isn't merely throwing Rivers a bone. He deserves to be in the conversation. His Chargers are 3-2. The losses came at the hands of the league's two undefeated teams. He didn't lose to the Buccaneers in Week 1, like Drew Brees did. He also didn't get pushed to the brink the following week by the Browns (again, like Brees did). He didn't lay an egg in Week 3 against a Lions team that was winless at the time, like Tom Brady did. Yet, Brees and Brady are certainly getting more love than Rivers when it comes to the MVP discussion. And I'm old enough to remember when Alvin Kamara was an MVP candidate, too.

I also want to point out that those two losses were not Rivers' fault. The Chargers' defense hasn't been the same without Joey Bosa, who has yet to play a down this season. I know it's unfair to give Rivers credit for overcoming his defense's shortcomings while not giving Brees and Brady the same kind of consideration. But the world is not fair, so that's what I'm going to do. Fine, I won't. Here's something that is fair to say: Nobody is playing better at quarterback right now than Rivers. Let's look at the numbers.

Rivers is 12th in the NFL with 1,495 passing yards, which is fine because he's second in the league with 13 touchdown passes. Ten of those have come in the red zone. He's been nearly perfect down there, too, with no interceptions and a league-leading passer rating of 125.6 (for quarterbacks with at least 20 attempts), per Next Gen Stats. He's also third in overall passer rating (116.4), but leads the NFL with a passer rating of 128.8 when under pressure (had less than 2 yards of separation from the nearest pass rusher).

He's made stars of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. Austin Ekeler! He was an undrafted free agent last season out of Western State! Rivers is doing this while not completely taking advantage of his top wideout, Keenan Allen (he's been targeted 45 times, 15th-most in the league), and he's kept his team moving in the right direction despite some devastating injuries to key players on both sides of the ball (TE Hunter Henry and CB Jason Verrett went down before the season even started).

I mean, I look at some of his classmates from the 2004 NFL Draft. It's amazing. It mirrors real life. You know how you'll run into some of your classmates from college or high school at the local TGI Friday's. And you'll notice that they've put on a few pounds. Maybe started losing their hair. And then there's always that one guy who looks better than he did in high school. Wearing medium Travis Mathew polos with nary a dad bod. That's what Rivers looks like right now. He's out there playing some of the best football of his life.

Again, I'm not trying to say he's the clear-cut MVP right now. (Give him time.) But when you and your friend are sharing endless apps at happy hour or lining up for some waves at glass-off, please include Rivers in your conversation. I implore you.

One more thing: Houston's the best under-the-radar team

Since we're talking about the AFC, has anybody noticed how the Houston Texans are kind of sneaky good? It's tough for me to admit, considering my affinity for my friends down in Duval County, and the Titans are my side-piece. But the Texans look really good after putting together a nice couple of wins following an 0-3 start.

A big reason for the optimism: Deshaun Watson, who in Week 5 became the third-youngest player in NFL history with four consecutive 300-yard passing games. (Drew Bledsoe and Patrick Mahomes are the only QBs to accomplish the feat when they were younger than Watson, according to Elias.) Plus, the Texans have a defense that is finally starting to settle in, now that J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are healthy.

As things currently stand in the AFC South, the Jaguars and Titans clearly have better defenses than the Texans. But Bill O'Brien's bunch has a much better offense than those teams, which makes up for the disadvantage on the defensive side of the ball. This division race is going to be a lot of fun, but I'm just about ready to hop aboard the Houston bandwagon.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.

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