PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Coming into this season we knew that A.J. Green was going to be the primary weapon in Cincinnati's offense. High-definition cameras sparkle against the autumn Cincinnati air, with mountains of hard drives prepping for insane highlights that would impress even McKayla Maroney.
Though many of his receptions could be summarized as verticals and comebacks, Green is currently second in the league with 428 reception yards, fifth with 27 grabs and second with three touchdowns.
All of this followed by an impressive rookie season without an offseason to prepare, littered with "did you just see that moments" that firestormed the league. Given a full offseason, training camp and preseason, along with a developing quarterback and offensive coordinator, both entering their second seasons at their respective positions, the jump in production was going to be impressive. Green is currently on pace for 108 receptions, 1,712 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. Yep. That's a pretty good jump.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Andy Dalton has put together as good a start as anyone. Arm strength questions have been tabled, replaced by relevant intangibles that's defined his 21-game NFL career. Twenty-one games. TWENTY ONE! Currently fifth in the league with a 103.0 passer rating (which is better than Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees), Dalton also ranks fourth in touchdowns (8), second in passing average (8.8) and seventh in completion percentage (67.5 percent). During his last three games Dalton has generated eight touchdowns against three interceptions for a 118.7 quarterback rating with a league-best 151.7 passer rating in the fourth quarter. Currently the Bengals have more plays of 40 yards or more (6) with Dalton responsible for five, which still ranks No.1 in the NFL.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The Bengals second first-round pick, offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, is quietly developing into a fairly productive offensive lineman in the NFL. Though a slow start against the Ravens and the Browns, with a quarterback sack allowed against the former, Zeitler has picked it up recently, allowing only one hurry against the quarterback in the past two games combined. According to Pro Football Focus' grading scale, Zeitler has produced a run blocking score of 3.2 against the Redskins and Jaguars combined. In fact as of this posting, Zeitler's season grades have well eclipsed the positive scales.
MOST EXCITING PLAYER OF THE YEAR
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Perhaps the greatest form of flattery for any player is when your opponent is benched. That's what happened to Jacksonville Jaguars offensive guard Eben Britton, benched at half time because he was unable to contain one of the league's dominating defensive tackles. Atkins currently leads the team in quarterback sacks (5), hits on the quarterback (3), quarterback hurries (13) and testosterone (a bazillion).
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
In only three months, rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict went from a narcissistic egomaniac undrafted free agent to the team's humble and appreciative starting outside linebacker. If we could do an expose about any player on the team, Burfict would be our top candidate. In his most recent game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he was nominated for the Pepsi Max NFL Rookie of the Week after posting a team-high eight tackles, two for loss, a quarterback sack and a pass broken up.
VICTORY OF THE YEAR
It wasn't the prettiest game of the year, but it reinforced the grit and poise that this team exhibits during adversity. Cincinnati traveled to Washington during the Redskins home opener, the first home game for this year's rookie quarterback turned media darling Robert Griffin III. And despite losing a 17-point lead, the Bengals set that aside and outscored Washington 14-7 in the fourth quarter to win 38-31.
Not just that. They punished Griffin with six quarterback sacks, 11 additional hits during passes, 12 quarterback hurries and an unlimited amount of hits after pitch during the triple option. At one point Manny Lawson's hit on Griffin left an imprint of the quarterback's body on FedEx Field's turf. We're thinking crop circles here.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
Though many Bengals fans will instinctively jab their finger in Rey Maualuga's direction, my biggest disappointment was the team's showing against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night football. Baltimore's offense scored on seven of nine possessions (not including the knee at half time), as if Cincinnati's defense was nothing more than canon fodder during a Baylor/West Virginia shootout. Cincinnati's offense, equally as horrific, turned the football over and went three-and-out on six combined possessions. It was so bad that out of fear of sustaining an unnecessary injury, the Bengals substituted Andy Dalton for Bruce Gradkowski. It's not that we expected a win that let us down; it's that the team began the season with a 31-point loss in front of the entire country.
HOLY SMOKES MOMENT OF THE YEAR
How many times have you watched a Bengals game with that eyebrow raising moment realizing that they just did that? And it was something that the Bengals actually meant to do, and it wasn't something the other team did. That was my moment watching Mohamed Sanu launch an arching pass over the Washington Redskins defense, where A.J. Green snagged the football for a 73-yard touchdown reception.
Actually my predraft version of the game update before publication went... "Mohamed Sanu in wildcat-like formation. He takes the snap and targets the middle of the field where A.J. Green just ******* caught the ******* football and ******* scored on a 73-yard **************** touchdown. Holy mother ******* ****.