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SI picks Andy Dalton to be AFC North MVP; Marvin Lewis as coach with most to prove

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This is an unexpected take.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 NFL season is approaching fast, and the Bengals will be looking for their fifth-straight playoff berth this year with Andy Dalton as their starting QB.

Since being drafted in the second round out of TCU, Dalton has thrown for 99 touchdowns and 66 interceptions while going 40-23-1 in his first 64 NFL starts. While he's been a good player for the Bengals, he's rarely even been the second or third-best player on offense, let alone the most valuable player in arguably the best division in football -- the AFC North.

That same division features the likes of Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell, Ravens QB Joe Flacco, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and the Bengals' own A.J. Green and Jeremy Hill. With such talent in the AFC North, it's hard to see Dalton being the division's MVP.

However, that's what Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar predicted in his AFC North preview:

Those who believe in Dalton as a future star will point to his 40-23-1 record in the regular season and two Pro Bowl appearances, but quarterback wins are poor measurements of quarterback quality, and Pro Bowls pale in comparison to Super Bowl berths. Every year, Dalton's coaches make all the right noises about his maturity and leadership, swearing that this is the year Dalton puts it all together.

(Hue) Jackson also said that he's ready to open "Pandora's Box" in regards to Cincinnati's offense, which is sadly appropriate, because with Andy Dalton, you never know quite what you're going to get. He's the most valuable player in this division because so much rests on his ability to finally get out of his own way.

Farrar does make a good point in that the Bengals' success will largely rest on the shoulders of Dalton, even if they want their physical run game to be this offense's signature. In this league, you simply aren't going to make it far if your QB can't take over a game when he's called upon to do so. If the Bengals are to finally win a playoff game and make a deep postseason run, it will likely be because Dalton had an MVP-like season.

Speaking of, Cincinnati's inability to win a playoff game in their past six tries is why head coach Marvin Lewis is on the hot seat from a national standpoint entering 2015. While he may not be on the hot seat within the Bengals organization, Lewis is still under a lot of pressure to get his team over the hump and win a playoff game for the first time in two decades.

That's why Farra tabbed Lewis as the AFC North head coach with the most to prove in 2015:

His postseason record stands out like a sore thumb, and it's the primary reason the front office was unwilling to commit to Lewis beyond the 2015 season. Lewis received a one-year contract extension in April—it's an odd decision for a coach who ranks behind only Bill Belichick when it comes to current tenure with one team, but it's clear that if more doesn't happen in the postseason, Lewis will likely be given his walking papers.

Farrar also deemed the Ravens the favorites to win the North, for what that's worth. I still don't think there's any way both Lewis and Dalton aren't back in 2016 outside of the Bengals having a disastrous season. They'd just about have to finish last in the division for owner Mike Brown to consider firing the franchise's winningest coach, not to mention the QB who's led them to as many playoff trips as any QB in the team's history.