There has been so much chatter about the two quarterbacks for so many years now that it’s easy to forget one simple (yet important) fact: Philip Rivers and Eli Manning have never played against each other on an NFL field.

The two highest-drafted quarterbacks of the 2004 NFL draft — remember, Manning went first overall to the San Diego Chargers — finally get to compete in the same game when the Chargers and New York Giants meet in the Meadowlands this Sunday.

Manning had no interest in playing for the Chargers and expressed such sentiments prior to the draft. The Chargers picked him anyway and then traded his rights to the Giants after New York selected Rivers with the fourth overall pick. The Chargers also got three other picks in the transaction and two of the picks were used to select linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding.

Manning’s refusal to toil for the Chargers has worked out well for him. He’s got a Super Bowl ring and has developed into an upper-echelon quarterback. He probably wouldn’t have that impressive piece of jewelry if he played for the Chargers.

Rivers sat and learned behind Drew Brees for two years and has been a solid starter since 2006. With the decline of LaDainian Tomlinson, Rivers is now the guy who makes the Chargers’ offense go and the franchise is hoping he will eventually possess his own Super Bowl ring.

Rivers is having a better statistical season than Manning despite his team playing one fewer game. Rivers has passed for 2,036 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions while Manning has thrown for 1,855 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Manning has been bothered by foot pain the last three weeks and his play has suffered — six interceptions against three TDs — as the Giants have lost all three games. That’s probably not good news for the Chargers in that it is hard to believe the Giants (5-3) could lose a fourth consecutive contest.

The Chargers (4-3) certainly need a big win as their four victories are far from impressive. They beat the sad-sack Oakland Raiders twice, the even sadder-sack Kansas City Chiefs once, and took advantage of Chad Pennington’s shoulder injury to outplay the Miami Dolphins in the second half of a game that could’ve gone either way. 

The Chargers probably need a boost from their sagging running game (31st best in the NFL) to slay the Giants. Tomlinson (267 yards) is 36th in the NFL in rushing and averaging a woeful 3.4 yards per carry. If he struggles, it will again be up to Rivers to carry the load — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as both Vincent Jackson (third in the NFL with 664 receiving yards) and Antonio Gates (tied with Jackson for the team lead with 37 receptions) are having solid seasons.

The Giants have found a go-to receiver in Steve Smith (fourth with 662 receiving yards) and often control games with the running of Brandon Jacobs (550 yards) and Ahmad Bradshaw (476). And San Diego’s defense has been substandard in stopping the run (27th at 132.1 yards per game) since losing Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jamal Williams.

Who knows, perhaps the outcome will be decided by the play of the two quarterbacks. You can debate which team got the better quarterback from the 2004 draft class — don’t forget, the Pittsburgh Steelers took Ben Roethlisberger in the same draft and have won two Super Bowls with Big Ben — but one thing is real clear.

Picking a quarterback in the first round in 2004 worked out better for the Chargers than the previous time they picked a signal caller in the first round.

Or did you forget Ryan Leaf, taken second overall in 1998 after the Indianapolis Colts picked Peyton Manning first?

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