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NFL Week 15 Power Rankings roundup: Bengals falling after Andy Dalton injury

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Andy Dalton's injury will likely keep him out the rest of the regular season, which is why the Bengals are dropping in nearly every power ranking this week.

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The latest round of NFL Power Rankings haven't changed much at the very top. The Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots were all victorious in Week 14, and they all remain in the top three positions of every major power ranking. The undefeated Panthers once again claim the top spot in every ranking, but they'll get a compelling test in Week 15 when they face the Giants in New York.

As for the Cincinnati Bengals, they're taking the biggest hit in the rankings we've seen this season. It's not just their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that has them falling, but losing Andy Dalton is why they've been moved out of the top five in most major rankings. They're simply not the same team that started 10-2 with Dalton, and it's only fair to think they won't be as good without him. The Bengals have fallen on average, 3.4 spots this week.

The good news (or bad, depending on how you look at it) is that there are only three games left in the regular season and the Bengals have nearly won the AFC North. So, losing Dalton may not cost them the division or a home playoff game. That's a big reason why no one is dropping the Bengals too far, since this is a team that's going to end up in the playoffs, something only 12 NFL teams will do.

Still, the Bengals are dropping fast in nearly every power ranking this week, including the latest from SB Nation's Danny Kelly, who simply isn't ready to put faith in AJ McCarron carrying this team.

Disaster in Cincinnati. Following an intercepted pass by Andy Dalton on Sunday, the Bengals' franchise quarterback broke his thumb and the prognosis is murky. We know that he'll miss at least one game, but if Dalton misses extended time (or worse, is done of the year), it really hurts Cincinnati's chances of making a Super Bowl run. They're a deep, talented team with weapons at every position, but I'm not sure that's enough to make me put my faith in A.J. McCarron leading the Bengals to the promised land.

USA Today dropped the Bengals six spots and took a bit of a jab at Dalton in the process:

We'll see if AJ McCarron is next Tom Brady. With $90-plus million deal and no rings, injured Andy Dalton already compares to Drew Bledsoe.

NFL.com's Elliot Harrison dropped Cincinnati six spots as well, which is fair any time you lose an MVP candidate potentially for the rest of the season.

The worst possible scenario for the Bengals went down this past weekend: They lost their game against the Steelers and they lost their MVP candidate of a quarterback. Now, not only is a first-round bye in jeopardy, but so is the AFC North. Luckily for Cincy, Dalton won't need surgery and could be back for the playoffs, potentially keeping the team's postseason hopes from being doused by injuries for a second straight year. Still, Sunday's game will mark the first Bengals contest not started by Dalton since 2010, who has stayed upright his entire career (77 games) till now. Character-check time in Cincinnati.

Amazingly, the ESPN crew only dropped the Bengals one spot as they're not ready to fault them too much before actually seeing what McCarron can do now that he has a full week to prepare as the starter.

Andy Dalton is down. Former Alabama QB AJ McCarron takes over for Cincinnati, but an Alabama quarterback hasn't won an NFL game since Jeff Rutledge in 1987.

The same is true of Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab, who actually kept the Bengals in the same spot in this week's rankings:

The truth is, we have no idea if AJ McCarron is any good. He had four NFL passes before Sunday, and wasn't bad relieving Andy Dalton on Sunday despite little practice time with the starters. He has played in big games before, albeit at Alabama. He won't be freaked out by the big stage. And this is a really talented team around him. For now, I'm withholding judgment on the Bengals. I'm not sure yet they'll fade away as long as Andy Dalton is out, so they're not dropping out of the top five. Let's see what McCarron can do.

At this point, it really is too early to tell what the Bengals are without Dalton. It's possible McCarron steps right in and manages the offense enough that they're as good as they were with Dalton. It's also possible McCarron simply isn't ready for this responsibility and the Bengals crumble because of it.

Either way, we'll get a good feel of what this team is without Dalton when they take on the San Francisco 49ers this week. They're a team found near the bottom of every ranking and come in as low as No. 31 in multiple rankings. They also just lost by two scores to a Cleveland Browns team the Bengals have beaten by a combined 98-13 margin in their past three meetings.

Here's a roundup of each major power ranking from this week compared to last week.

SOURCE LAST WEEK CURRENT CHANGE
ESPN 3 4 -1
Yahoo! Sports 5 5 0
NFL.com 3 9 -6
SB Nation 3 8 -5
USA Today 4 10 -6
B/R 4 8 -4
CBS Sports (Pete Prisco) 3 5 -2
AVG. 3.57 7 -3.43