Is Rivers better than Manning this season?

Will Peyton Manning be the best player on the field Sunday night when the San Diego Chargers visit Indianapolis?

Usually, it wouldn’t even be a question. Of course, he would. He’s Peyton Manning, one of the best players ever to step on an NFL field. But, for one night, in this season, Manning may have competition. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is playing as well as anybody in the NFL in 2010, including Manning.

Rivers, who is No. 2 on ESPN.com’s MVP Watch this week (Manning is No. 5), is playing out of his mind. He has thrown for 3,177 yards. He has thrown for 23 touchdowns and he has been intercepted nine times. Manning has thrown for 3,059 yards. He’s thrown for 20 touchdowns and he’s been picked off seven times. Rivers is less than a yard shy off the pace of Dan Marino’s single-season passing yardage record of 5,084 yards in 1984.

Like Manning, Rivers is playing with a less-than-stacked deck. He’s been playing without his top four receivers and star tight end Antonio Gates the past two games. It is not going unnoticed.

“Philip Rivers reminds me of what Peyton Manning has been doing,” ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer told me last week. “Manning does it with not a great supporting cast, but so has Rivers. These guys are really playing at another level.”

Added Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: “Nobody is playing better than Rivers this season. Nobody.”

Again, this is not to say that Rivers has replaced Manning atop the NFL quarterback mountain. Manning is an all-time player. But Rivers is joining the conversation. Monday night, after Rivers tore up Denver in a 35-14 win, Hall of Fame quarterback and current ESPN analyst Steve Young said that Rivers is a potential Hall of Fame player. Wednesday on “SportsCenter,” Young ranked Manning as the No. 2 quarterback in the league and Rivers is No. 4.

Rivers is certainly putting up the numbers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers lead the NFL this season with 19 completion of 30 yards or longer. That should increase when his favorite deep threat, Vincent Jackson, joins the team Sunday after ending his holdout and spending time on the roster-exemption list. Rivers has the longest current streak by throwing a touchdown pass in each of the past 22 games.

There’s no doubt Manning is special. But he will not be the only special quarterback on the field Sunday night.