For much of Andy Dalton's young NFL career, the red-haired gunslinger has rarely got the respect a quarterback of his caliber deserves.
The perception of Dalton prior to the 2015 season largely centered around his 0-4 playoff record and his frequent duds in primetime affairs. Much of that changed in 2015 as Dalton became an elite passer while on pace to break most of the franchise single-season passing marks.
That was until Dalton suffered a torn thumb ligament in Week 14, effectively ending his season on the spot. Because of that, Dalton and the Bengals were unable to get over that dreaded playoff hump, though they have all of the tools to do so this coming season.
Even if they falter in the postseason again, we should expect Dalton and/or other Bengals players to be in contention for various NFL awards, which only factor in the regular season. Among those awards could be NFL MVP, which NFL writer Robert Klemko predicted to happen for the Bengals quarterback in 2016, in a Sports Illustrated roundtable.
Other names bantered about for NFL MVP included Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady and reigning MVP Cam Newton. Despite all of those guys being great picks, Klemko went against the grain and picked Dalton as his MVP.
But can that actually happen? We decided to make the case both for and against Andy Dalton winning the NFL MVP award this coming season.
The Case for Dalton Winning NFL MVP
If we're going off just last year, Dalton figures to once again be in the MVP race after being a contender for it until his thumb injury. Not only did Dalton complete 255 of his 386 passes for 3,250 yards and 25 scores vs just seven interceptions, but he helped the Bengals jump out to a 10-2 start before going down with his broken thumb.
He set career highs in QB Rating (106.3), yards per attempt (8.42), completion percent (66.1%), and a TD to INT ratio of 3.57:1, more than twice his previous best (1.69:1 in 2012). He had the NFL's eighth-best completion percentage, second-best yards-per-attempt average, second-highest passer rating and fifth-best QBR.
As if his overall numbers weren't enough to show Dalton's big improvements, he also played much better in primetime games, an area he'd struggled in mightily over his first four seasons. In three primetime games last year, Dalton completed 65 of 104 passes (62.5%) with five touchdowns and one interception. He also guided the Bengals to a 4-0 mark in AFC North games, including wins at Baltimore and Pittsburgh, before that Week 14 loss to Pittsburgh.
Against playoff teams in the Chiefs, Steelers, Texans, Seahawks and Cardinals, Dalton led the Bengals to a 5-2 mark with both losses coming down to the wire. When Dalton was on the field, Cincinnati could beat anyone and as long as that's the case again in 2016, Dalton should be in the MVP hunt.
It also helps that several other contenders either regressed in 2015 or may miss time in 2016. Aaron Rodgers had arguably his worst year as a pro last season. Tom Brady could miss the first four games of 2016. Russell Wilson has played in a run-heavy offense, though that could change.
Cam Newton plays a style of football conducive to many more hits and potential injuries. Carson Palmer is another contender to mention, but can he keep his 2015-level play up at age 36 this year, not to mention much of the Cardinals roster aging as well?
All of this may allow Dalton to sneak into the MVP discussion and possibly win it depending on how much those other contenders are affected by their issues. Andrew Luck had an injured and down 2015 season, but 2016 could be a bounce-back season for the Colts quarterback.
The Case Against Dalton Winning NFL MVP
It's hard to see Dalton being much, if at all better than he was last season. As great as 2015 was for him, Dalton was significantly behind Palmer, Brady and Newton in the MVP race. It's hard to see all three of those guys taking a big enough step back in 2016 to make Dalton better than they are, and that's not even accounting for what guys like Wilson and Rodgers are capable of doing.
It's also no secret that Dalton has lost a lot of firepower this offseason. Between the departures of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones to Tyler Eifert possibly being out to start the season, Dalton is going to be throwing to a group of pass-catchers more resembling that of the 2014 team than the loaded 2015 squad.
Making matters worse is a brutal three-game stretch to open the year at the New York Jets, at the Pittsburgh Steelers and hosting the Denver Bronocs. We probably shouldn't expect Dalton to put up MVP-like numbers in those games, and a slow start may be all that's needed to fall too far behind in the MVP race.
And then there's Hue Jackson departure. There's no ignoring the fact that Jackson helped Dalton improve in both of his seasons as Bengals offensive coordinator. Even with a depleted unit in 2014, Dalton still finished with a career-high 64.2 completion percentage, which again increased in 2015 with a 66.1 mark.
Having lost the best Bengals offensive coordinator of Dalton's young career and with so many talented pass-catchers gone or shelved due to injury, it's almost a given that Dalton will take a step back in production this year.
Do you think Dalton can win the MVP award this coming season?