INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone by now knows about the Indianapolis Colts signing of veteran, eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers during free agency — and the move has been met with plenty of applause.
But regardless of the notoriety both sides and this new marriage holds, it could still prove to be an understated signing when we evaluate things this time next year.
Rivers' former team, the Los Angeles Chargers, was incredibly beat up last year, which helped lead to Rivers having a season that many consider to be below his standards.
Now 38 years old and coming off of a somewhat disappointing season, Rivers is being slept on by many outside onlookers.
However, after joining the Colts, could the 17th-year pro earn his very first NFL Most Valuable Player award in 2020? Chris Roling of Bleacher Report thinks it's a possibility, as he listed Rivers among his 2020 "dark-horse" MVP candidates. He writes:
Most seem to have written Philip Rivers off.
But it was just two seasons ago the new Indianapolis Colts quarterback completed 68.3 percent of his passes with 4,308 yards and 32 touchdowns against 12 interceptions while helping the Los Angeles Chargers to 12 wins.
In fact, Rivers just upgraded his surroundings by joining the Colts while the Chargers start over with a rookie under center.
The 38-year-old has had 4,200-plus yards every season since 2012—with a peak of 4,792—and 30 or more scores four times over that span. Now he'll get to drum up similar big numbers behind an elite Quenton Nelson-led offensive line while firing the ball to T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell and tight end Jack Doyle as well as a host of talented receiving backs headed up by second-round pick Jonathan Taylor.
These Colts drummed up a 7-9 record last year with a middling quarterback performance, and the AFC South continues to fluctuate (Jacksonville is rebuilding, Houston is doing odd things like trading DeAndre Hopkins). There's a chance Rivers erupts and shoves aside younger MVP contenders.
The Rivers-for-MVP movement has been quietly gaining steam behind the scenes for a little while now. In May, more wagers were placed on Rivers to win the MVP than any other player in the NFL, according to Oddschecker.com.
Although Rivers has never won the MVP, he's been a candidate in the preseason just about every year of his career. Now that he's changed teams for the first time after 16 years with the Chargers, there is new attention focused on him, which strengthens his chances of being considered for awards.
A huge advantage Rivers has is that he plays quarterback. Among the last 13 NFL MVPs, 12 have been quarterbacks, and more specifically, eight of them have been AFC quarterbacks.
This is a new team to Rivers, but it is not a new system. His experience playing for Colts head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni (and even tight ends coach Jason Michael) while they all were with the Chargers means there should be little to no speed bump in adjusting to (and learning) the Colts' offense. In fact, quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady said this week that the team has already installed about 90 percent of its playbook throughout its virtual offseason program, and the only thing Rivers has had to hone in on is the new verbiage used the Reich and Sirianni.
Comfortability within the offensive scheme for which he plays should result in some nice statistics for Rivers, and obviously players are far more likely to be named MVP if they've got the heavy stats to lean on.
The Colts have a well-rounded offense, which will help Rivers not have to take on too much pressure and play "hero ball" like he had to do at times in 2019.
The offensive line in front of Rivers is one of the most-revered in the NFL, which fuels a potent run game. The Colts finished seventh in the NFL in rushing last year at 133.1 yards per game, and after adding a former Pro Bowl fullback in Roosevelt Nix, a quality run blocking tight end in Trey Burton as well as one of college football's most-accomplished running backs ever in Jonathan Taylor to go with what they already have, we may very well see a top-five rushing attack in Indy this year.
While the Colts likely having a smash-outh run game again in 2020 may take away from Rivers having eye-popping stats as a passer, it should make the Colts very dangerous in the big-play department. Having a run game that defenses are forced to respect, it will provide opportunities for the Colts to gash defenses with play action. Rivers surrendering the possibility of having 40 touchdown passes in exchange for having 25-30 touchdown passes that include several downfield shots will still grab people's attention.
And, to be clear, Rivers isn't joining an offense void of talent in the passing game. Until proven otherwise, T.Y. Hilton is still one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. If he stays healthy, Parris Campbell might have a breakout performance featuring his elite speed, and Zach Pascal has proven to be a dependable pass-catcher as well.
The Colts also have some other players who fit Rivers perfectly, though. Running back Nyheim Hines, who has totaled 107 receptions in his first two seasons, should especially benefit as the Colts' version of a Darren Sproles/Danny Woodhead/Austin Ekeler type. Rookie second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr. has frequently been compared to Vincent Jackson, who was Rivers' top target during much of his prime with the Chargers. Lastly, the Colts' tight end trio of Jack Doyle, Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox fits right in with the comfortability Rivers has shown throughout his career for the likes of Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry and Ladarius Green.
Something else that should shine some light on Rivers — especially late in the season when people may remember accomplishments the most — are the milestones that he's likely to hit.
Rivers is likely to pass Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Marino in both career passing yards and touchdowns this year, needing just 2,091 yards and 24 touchdowns to pass the Miami Dolphins legend for fifth place in league history. Rivers has never had fewer than 3,100 yards as a starter, and he's only had fewer than 24 passing touchdowns in three seasons as a starter.
Last, and likely the most important factor in a quarterback winning MVP, is team success.
Among the 12 aforementioned quarterbacks who have won MVP, all of their teams went into the playoffs as their conference's first or second seed. The only exception was Peyton Manning's 2008 Colts, who were tied for the second-best record in the AFC but were the fifth seed because fellow their AFC South foe Tennessee Titans won the division.
The Colts having a nice record will certainly help Rivers, but especially if they capitalize on some of their bigger quarterback showdowns that Rivers will have. The Colts host games at Lucas Oil Stadium against reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9, two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Week 11, and Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans in Week 15. The Colts also have road matchups again with Watson in Week 13 and against Ben Roethlisberger's Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16.