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Midseason 2015 Bengals Awards: Most Valuable Player

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With the season halfway over, the league MVP talk is starting to heat up. The Bengals' own Andy Dalton is in that conversation, but is he even the most valuable player on the Bengals? Yes, yes he is.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of this season, the narrative was the Bengals probably could win with Andy Dalton, but he'll need quite a lot of help to get it done. Nearly no one (especially in the national media) believed Dalton would be able to play at a top level consistently and carry the team on his back. With eight wins in eight games in the book and the NFL season half over, it appears the narrative has changed. While the Bengals are performing incredibly well as a team, the player who is most consistently playing at a high (dare I say, elite) level is Andy Dalton.

Back in July I wrote an article about Andy Dalton's potential to finish the season with the third most touchdowns by an NFL quarterback through their first five years. The magic number was 29 touchdown passes to sit with company like Dan Marino and Peyton Manning in early-career touchdown passes.

At the time, I said he probably wouldn't have the chance to reach that lofty number due to the assumed focus on the running game. That seems like a crazy thing to say now, as Dalton has driven this offense and thrown the seventh most touchdowns out of all NFL quarterbacks this season (18). That puts him on pace for 36 touchdowns by the end of the season, which will place him just three touchdowns behind Peyton Manning's record for touchdown passes through five seasons (138). I said in July that reaching Peyton Manning would be highly unlikely but possible, and here Dalton is trying to prove me wrong. I couldn't be happier to be wrong.

Bengals' Midseason MVP

The Bengals certainly are not sitting at 8-0 entirely because of Andy Dalton, but he has been the most consistently great player so far this season. Even in his worst game so far this season (Week 8 in Pittsburgh), he managed to keep the offense calm and ready to strike for the game winning touchdown when things mattered the most. Having a healthy A.J. Green to throw the ball to as well as a healthy Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert to keep the defense guessing helped. But, Dalton overcame a complete lack of momentum, an end zone interception, and poor snapping from Russell Bodine to throw a touchdown strike to Green through triple coverage.

With 2:57 left to go in the game, the Bengals were able to hold on for the key win and took a huge step toward locking up the division. Dalton threw two interceptions and only one touchdown, completing roughly 60 percent of his passes, but he got the job done when the team looked ready to accept their first loss of the season.

Other than that game, Dalton has yet to record a passer rating less than 95.6 this season. That 95.6 rating came during the Bengals' miraculous recovery while hosting the Seahawks in Week 5. His next lowest passer rating of the season checks in at 118.6 in Buffalo Week 6. That's the kind of season Andy Dalton is having. His stellar play has even landed him in the league MVP discussion, with a midseason passer rating of 111.0. That's good for the second best passer rating in the NFL for players with at least seven passes on the season, behind only Tom Brady.

Runner-up MVP Candidates

Dalton is having a career season so far, but there are still those that say that his prowess is overshadowed by other players who are also having great seasons.

Tyler Eifert

If you're looking for another MVP candidate, look no further than Eifert's five catches, 53 yards, and three touchdowns last Thursday to help the Bengals to a 31-10 walloping of the Browns. The Bengals clearly missed his production last year that has lead to nine touchdowns and 434 yards receiving through the first eight games of the season.

The reason that he isn't the MVP has to do with the fact that he has been notably absent in terms of production at certain times this season. Against Baltimore he was targeted three times yet was unable to haul in a single pass. There have also been multiple occasions where his inefficiency as a blocker and disappearing acts have gotten the team into trouble. Overall he is considered to be one of the best tight ends in the league, but he just hasn't displayed the kind of consistency that Dalton has through eight games.

Geno Atkins

Geno Atkins is back to his old form. Through eight games he has six sacks, placing him eighth in the league in total sacks, second in the league in sacks by a non-defensive end, and first in the league in sacks by a defensive tackle. He has made an impact in virtually every game this season, recording a sack in every game except in Week 3 in Baltimore and Week 6 in Buffalo. He's on pace for 12 sacks and 30 tackles this season, which is only 0.5 sacks and 9 tackles short of his best season in 2012.

Those are incredible numbers. They are also consistent numbers. But, his impact doesn't match up with Dalton's. Sure, there was the late sack on Ben Roethlisberger that helped to lock down the Bengals' comeback win and the sheer threat of his presence on the line has hurried many a quarterback this season. But, it hasn't quite had the same impact that Dalton's late rallies have had. The Bengals likely wouldn't be 8-0 without Atkins, but they certainly would be even less close without Dalton.

Carlos Dunlap

Carlos Dunlap is just a single sack away from leading the NFL in sacks this season. Dunlap has 8.5 while the Patriots' Chandler Jones has 9.5. Like Atkins, he has only failed to record a sack on two occasions (Week 3 vs. Baltimore and Week 8 in Pittsburgh), but he has also found himself constantly disrupting the backfield in virtually every game.

However, (once again) like Atkins, his impact is limited by the scope of his position. It's really hard for defensive lineman to have the same impact on their team that a quarterback has. If it weren't for Dalton, Dunlap's production against the run and the pass would probably have him at the top of the midseason team MVP discussion. But, when you have a quarterback playing at the level that Andy Dalton is playing at, it is just hard to argue with his impact.