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Bengals' quarterback situation continues to be underestimated

Is it fair to continue to place the Bengals' quarterback situation just barely above average?

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

There's a tired old narrative out there about Andy Dalton that won't die, despite the fact that he debunked the misconceptions regarding him last year. The narrative is that he is an average quarterback who simply does not have what it takes to get the Bengals to that next level. For some reason, analysts, experts, and NFL fans around the country stuck this label on him when he was young and developing. He just can't shake it now, even after an impressive 2015 campaign where he was on pace to have his best season to date, by a lot.

In 2015, Dalton recorded 255 completions on 386 attempts for 3,250 yards, 25 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He did all of that despite missing the final three games of the season and most of their Week 14 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which he fractured his thumb in the first quarter. With Dalton under center, the Bengals were 10-2, which was good enough to help the team finish with a franchise best record of 12-4.

Had Dalton not been injured on that first offensive drive in Week 14 against the Steelers and if he finished the season on the same pace as he started, he would have finished with around 4,170 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Without a doubt, that would have been the best season of his career and it's speculation at this point, but we'd like to think the Bengals would have had a final record of 13-3 or better. That also likely would have given them the top seed in the AFC, a first round bye and home field advantage through much of the playoffs.

During his run of impressive play, many NFL analysts and experts around the league were talking about how Dalton was beginning to establish himself as a very good quarterback who had finally taken that next step. But, once he got hurt, the hype died down and everyone returned to underestimating him. It makes you wonder what exactly he'll have to do to convince everyone that he's better than people give him credit for.

The Bengals were recently ranked by Rotoworld as having the NFL's 14th best starting quarterback situation. Note that the article is titled 'NFL's best QB Situations 2016', but only starting quarterbacks are discussed in this article. The emergence of AJ McCarron as one of the NFL's best backup quarterbacks means nothing in this particular ranking.

14. Bengals, Andy Dalton

Last Year's Ranking: 21

What is really the difference between Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco? Don't say the playoffs. Both are durable quarterbacks coming off the first significant injuries of their careers, and both prefer to manage games rather than take them over. Raw numbers is where the separation is found. Dalton has simply been the better player, and his 2015 was easily the best campaign of the duo's 13 combined seasons. Dalton's 106.3 QB rating and 8.42 YPA were marks Flacco has never approached. His 25 scores in 13 games were only two fewer than Flacco's high-water mark of 27. Flacco has the bigger arm, but Dalton is a (slightly) steadier and more accurate passer. The margin is thin, but if you were starting a team today and sorting through the league's second-tier signal callers, Dalton would be the pick. That's not a ringing endorsement, but it is life if you've missed out on the Mannings and Bradys of the world.

Here's a list of a few quarterbacks that made the list over Dalton: Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan. Admittedly, it would probably be a bit of an overreaction to rank Dalton too high here based on one breakout season. But, you could definitely argue that he should be at least four spots higher and in front of these three.

All three of these quarterbacks have could be considered about in Dalton's range based on their stats, but have also consistently produced more mistakes in greater quantities. One thing that Rotoworld note about Stafford is all of the weapons he will have to work with in 2016. But, Dalton's weapons outweigh any of these quarterbacks' arsenals without question. With A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, and a plethora of new guys to work with behind Green in the receiving corps, it seems like Dalton is living every quarterback's dream. Marvin Jones is now Stafford's No. 1 guy in Detroit, for comparison's sake.

It's pretty hard to argue that Dalton should be ranked too much higher based on one particularly impressive season that he finished with a serious injury. But, the 'average quarterback' narrative is old, tired, and obviously wrong.