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NFP puts the heat on Eli Manning

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The always-enlightening Matt Bowen of The National Football Post is doing a 'Road to '09' series where he analyzes each team in the NFL. A couple of days ago Bowen got around to our New York Giants, and he had some interesting things to say.

Most interestingly to me, Bowen sharpens his dagger and points it directly at the right arm of Eli Manning.

I still have my doubts about Manning’s ability to move the ball through the air without a big target on the outside.

As I said earlier, the Giants envision (Hakeem) Nicks as that guy, and I can see it, too — in the future. But to expect that type of production from a rookie WR in this league is a big leap of faith. Then why the questions about Manning — a guy who has a Super Bowl ring?

Let’s examine his games after (Plaxico) Burress was involved in an off-the-field issue that led to his suspension from the team:

At WSH, 23-7 W: 21-34-205-1TD-1INT (88.5 QB Rating)

PHI, 20-14 L: 13-27-138-1TD-0INT (73.5 QB Rating)

At DAL, 20-8 L: 18-35-191-0TD-2INT (43.9 QB Rating)

CAR , 34-28 W: 17-27-181-1TD-0INT (94.8 QB Rating)

AT MIN, 20-19 L: 11-19-119-0TD-0INT (76.4 QB Rating)

Divisional Playoffs: PHI, 23-11 L: 15-29-169-0TD-2INT (40.7 QB Rating)

The numbers don’t lie, folks. Outside of the Redskins and Panthers games, Manning struggled to close out the season, including his performance against Philly in the postseason. As much as we ridicule Tony Romo of the Cowboys for his late-season collapses, Manning didn’t do much to keep himself out of the same conversation.

I love this football team from a physical and defensive standpoint, but Manning needs to play consistent football for them to return to Super Bowl form. He has the talent to play with some of the best quarterbacks in the league, but until he does it every Sunday, I’ll have my doubts.

OK, gang. Fair or unfair? I cringed at the comparison to Romo, which is undeserved since Eli DOES have a Super Bowl ring and Romo DOES NOT even have a playoff victory on his resume.

I do, however, think that it is fair to ask this question. Has Eli, entering his sixth season, reached his ceiling as an NFL quarterback, or will he take that next step and become one of those top 5 type quarterbacks who consistently makes the offense around him better?

Statistically, Manning is coming off by far the best season of his career. An 86.4 quarterback rating and a 60.3 percent completion rate, both career bests. He also threw just 10 interceptions, a career-low since becoming a full-time starter in 2005.

So Manning, it seems, has either reached or is entering the prime seasons of his career.

Yet, I think by now we all know what Eli is. He is a tough guy. He is a winner who has no fear of the big moment. He is a very good quarterback who can make all the throws, and occasionally looks like a superstar.

I also think that by now we know what Eli is not. He is not John Elway, meaning that he does not possess a cannon arm and his throws can be affected by the Giants Stadium winds. We know he is not his brother, Peyton, and that the Giants can't ask him to throw for 300 yards every week. We know that, while he has improved, he will likely never be Troy Aikman in terms of accuracy. He will get the ball there, but receivers will always have to be ready to catch a pass that may not be in the perfect place.

I think that what Bowen is really asking is can Eli play well enough, and hit his targets consistently enough, to make his receivers better?

Of course, it will help immensely if Nicks makes a smooth transition to the NFL. If Steve Smith continues to develop. If Domenik Hixon is ready to step into the spotlight.

It will also help if the Giants -- whether this is on offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, head coach Tom Coughlin, or Manning himself -- learn to be a little smarter in their play-calling decisions in the blustery, late-season Giants Stadium winds.

I have complete confidence in Eli, though. He has one ring, and I doubt it will be the last one he gets before he is done.