Mark Sanchez or Eli Manning: Who's Best?

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The most fun argument floating around the internet and on talk radio these days - besides whether or not the Yankee are going to get Cliff Lee -- is who is the best quarterback in New York (or should we say New Jersey?), Eli Manning or Mark Sanchez?

Well, who is? Before the season, Sports Illustrated polled NFL players asking "Who is the most overrated player in the game?" Sanchez finished third and Eli fourth. The results were interesting but meaningless as Sanchez had played just one full season in the league while Eli had put in six. Someone immediately shut the door on the debate because Manning has a Super Bowl ring. But realistically, even Manning's supporters must concede that the Giants' defense was the primary reason for that.

So, how do they stand this season?

Eli has a much better QB rating, 92.1 to Mark's 80.5, but I've never put a great deal of stock in the NFL's quarterback rating because it includes an irrelevant stat, pass completion percentage, in which Manning has a much better mark, 66.1% to Sanchez's 54.7%. (I don't see the point in keeping track of how often the quarterback connects when it's how far downfield the ball goes that counts. Would you rather complete two out of three passes for nine yards or one out of three for ten?)

I've argued for years that there are only three relevant passing stats: simple yards per throw (or the number of yards a passer gets divided by the number of time he throws the ball), interception percentage, and TD pass-to-interception ratio.

So far this year, Eli has a healthy lead in the first (7.67 yards per throw to 6.68). Mark has a sizable lead in the second (just 2% of his passes have been picked off this season with Eli is twice as high at 4.08%). Sanchez also leads in the third category (12 touchdowns against only six interceptions vs. Eli at 19 and 13 respectively).

None of this, of course is conclusive. Manning is allowed to play a much more wide open game and gets to throw more passes down field than Mark; perhaps that will change as Sanchez gains experience.

There are, however, two other factors that tilt the ledger in Sanchez's favor. First, Eli's effectiveness tends to fade in the second half of the season -- since 2005, when he became a full-fledged starter, he's been 36-12 in the first half and just 19-22 in the second. As the Daily News' fine football writer Manish Mehta wrote earlier this week, "The 'Mad Minute' comes with a scripted beginning, chaotic middle, and typically a productive conclusion. For all the statistics that tell you Mark Sanchez is nothing more than a middling quarterback, the Mad Minute -- that seemingly never-ending moment when Sanchez moves in and around the pocket -- offers an altogether different story.

"Sanchez's growing pocket presence has been on display in recent weeks, clear evidence that sometimes the numbers lie. Although only two quarterbacks have a worse completion percentage than Sanchez's 54.5%, the second-year signal-caller has proven in recent weeks that he can deliver when it matters most. His improvisation and ability to throw on the move have been vital."

To put it another way, if Sanchez hadn't come through in both overtime victories on the road, the Jets wouldn't be at the top of the toughest division in the league's toughest conference.

The second number in Mark Sanchez's favor: Eli Manning's career passer rating for seven seasons is 80.5. That's also Sanchez's number after just 27 games of NFL experience. And his best years are still ahead.


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