With the Cincinnati Bengals having gone 8-0 through the first half of the regular season, it's time to hand out some midseason awards.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bengals not only look like one of the best units in the NFL, but also one of the best in franchise history. While Andy Dalton's improvement has been a big part of it, it's no coincidence his best NFL season is coming now that he finally has a stud tight end he can rely on. Dalton was deemed our Midseason MVP, but a different player is getting the offensive Player of the Year award at the midseason mark.
Offensive Player of the Year: Tyler Eifert
Tyler Eifert has been the driving force behind the Bengals' offensive resurgence. After the passing game struggled last year without a reliable tight end, Eifert returned this year following elbow and shoulder injuries in 2014 that limited him to just a quarter of football.
Eifert finished his most recent game against the Browns with five catches for 53 yards and three touchdowns. He is now tied with former Bengals great Bob Trumpy for the most touchdown grabs by a tight end in a single season. Trumpy set the record in 1969 with nine touchdowns through 14 games and Eifert already has reached that through eight contests.
Most impressively, Eifert is on pace to finish this season with 18 touchdowns. Only four players in NFL history have caught that many scores: Mark Clayton (18), Sterling Sharpe (18), Jerry Rice (22), and Randy Moss (23).
What makes Eifert so valuable is his ability to box out defenders for tightly-contested passes across the middle, as well as run crisp routes and put moves on defensive backs that make him look like a natural receiver.
Runner Up: Andy Dalton
In Cincinnati's most recent win over Cleveland, Dalton finished 21-of-27 passing for 234 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers for a passer rating of 139.8. That was the second-highest rating of Dalton's career and has rating for the season is now at 110.0, 2.5 points behind Tom Brady for the NFL lead.
Dalton also finished this game with an 85.3 QBR, putting his season total at 77.6, good for second best of any NFL quarterback and just 7.2 points behind Carson Palmer for first place. Through eight games now, Dalton is completing 67.4 percent of his passes for 2,226 yards with 18 touchdowns vs just four interceptions.
Defensive Player of the Year: Geno Atkins
Now that Geno is back to being Geno, the Bengals' defense is back to being one of the NFL's better units. Thanks to a torn ACL in 2013, Atkins was never himself in 2014 as he worked his way back from the injury, but now he's back playing at the All-Pro level we were accustomed to seeing.
Atkins is dominating the point of attack and pushing his way into the backfield more often than not and stuffing the run or pressuring the passer.
Atkins is now up to six sacks through eight games this season, but his countless QB pressures and tackles for no gain or a loss help him control the line of scrimmage and wreck offensive gameplans. It's also the constant double-teams he draws that free up other to make plays, which really makes a big impact for this defense.
While the Bengals defensive has plenty of solid playmakers, no one is as important to this unit as Atkins.
Runner Up: Carlos Dunlap
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap is the runner up for our defensive player of the year at the midseason point thanks to his 8.5 sacks through eight games. Dunlap is tied with Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt for the second-most sacks of any player, and is just one shy of Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones for the NFL lead.
But anyone who watches the Bengals knows how important Atkins is to this unit and how much easier he makes life for Dunlap on the edge. If anything, Dunlap's 8.5 sacks made it easier to pick Atkins for the award. He simply is a game-changer for this defense, but Dunlap is the perfect complementary player for him.
Which Bengals players would you vote for your Defensive and Offensive Players of the Year at the midseason mark?