Jul 31, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) looks to pass during training camp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
3. Cincinnati Bengals
Starter: Andy Dalton
Backup: A.J. McCarron
Andy Dalton is an enigma.
While the Cincinnati Bengals have swung and missed on many first round picks like the Cleveland Browns, they now have a quarterback who is likely here to stay. Despite analysts’ and fans’ agitation at the Bengals’ inability to win a playoff game, Dalton has been an exceptional quarterback in Cincinnati, given Cincinnati’s not-so-glorious quarterback history. Dalton only needs seven wins to pass Carson Palmer on the Bengals’ all-time win list; in doing so, he would have more wins than every Bengals quarterback outside of legends Ken Anderson and Boomer Esaison.
But no matter how good Dalton is, he still has a 0-4 playoff record; the Bengals’ quarterback will eventually have to win a playoff game if he wants respect. Dalton has a career record of 40-23 and the highest winning percentage in Bengals history, yet he has zero playoff wins and four losses. The Red Rifle is known for his shaky play in big games and his tendency to turn the ball over when the team desperately needs him not to.
The 27-year old is entering his prime, and he already has 111 career touchdowns (99 passing, 11 rushing and 1 receiving). His career completion percentage is at 61.6 and his passer rating is a solid 85.2. Dalton has a solid foundation to build on, but the primary question that the Bengals quarterback will have to answer is if he can come through when his team needs him to, whether in primetime or in the playoffs.
Dalton delivered a memorable victory over the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football in Week 16 of last season, but that victory was a huge team effort rather than an outstanding effort by the quarterback. To advance himself into the upper echelon of top quarterbacks, Dalton needs to take over in more than a few games this season and prove that he can be a dominant player.
If Dalton can’t manage to keep progressing, he could be in trouble. His backup, A.J. McCarron, has drawn high praises and has had a fair share of difficulties throughout this offseason. And although McCarron is far from a certain success, he will have a chance to replace Dalton next season if Cincinnati decides it wants to cut ties with the incumbent quarterback whose contract is structured to increase in value if Dalton stays on the roster past 2015 (and will skyrocket if he is still on the roster come 2016 and beyond). Plus, McCarron has three BCS Championships as evidence of his ability to win in big games.
Dalton’s seat could heat up if he doesn’t perform this season; he needs to prove his worth in 2015.