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Bengals’ quarterback situation still underestimated

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Despite possessing two solid, young, starting-caliber quarterbacks, the Bengals’ quarterback situation continues to be underrated.

NFL: Preseason-Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

All but a few NFL teams would like to have the kind of talent at the quarterback position the Bengals possess. But, for one reason or another, NFL fans and analysts alike don’t seem to want to agree on how good the Cincinnati Bengals really have it at this position.

This debate has become a yearly annoyance. Save for a small hiccup in 2014, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has improved every year. Despite missing the final three games and three quarters of a fourth game in 2015, he has never thrown for less than 3,000 yards in a single season. Twice (2013, 2016) he has thrown for more than 4,000 yards. In both of the last two seasons, Dalton has thrown eight or fewer interceptions. Sure, we didn’t see what his interception numbers would have been with a full season in 2015, but he only threw eight this past season. Still, he has the stigma of being an average quarterback who too often lets his inconsistencies hurt the team.

He did throw the least number of touchdowns of his career in 2016 (18). But, that was primarily due to losing so many offensive weapons in the offseason, not having touchdown hawk Tyler Eifert for half of the season and A.J. Green’s injury keeping him out for essentially seven games. With three rookie receivers and a veteran in his first year in Cincinnati, it took time for Dalton to develop chemistry with his pass catchers. It didn’t help that backup tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft were both also hurt on-and-off throughout the season. Obviously Dalton is half of the equation when it comes to scoring passing touchdowns, but it would be tough to argue that he was even half at fault for the low numbers in 2016. In addition to the personnel issues that limited Dalton’s touchdown production, the offense was also working with a rookie offensive coordinator.

Below Dalton on the depth chart, the Bengals have AJ McCarron in the backup role. That will likely only last for another year, two at most as McCarron will be a restricted free agent in 2018. He could also be traded at any point this season, but for right now, the Bengals’ quarterback situation is the envy of many teams in the league.

That’s why, when websites like ESPN rank the Bengals’ quarterback situation as low as they did recently, it is confusing. Sure, there are more elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger; it would be silly to claim Dalton is superior. But, save for the Patriots, the Bengals backup quarterback is clearly far superior. So, then, why did Dan Graziano recently rank the Bengals’ quarterback situation as the 18th best in the league?

18. Cincinnati Bengals

Like Flacco in Baltimore, Andy Dalton isn't the reason the Bengals don't win. He was a fringe MVP candidate two years ago and can play at a high enough level to win games if he has the right support around him. No one in Cincinnati is pounding their chest in the faces of Patriots fans and yelling, "We got DALTON" -- but they know they could do much worse.

Here is a list of the teams ranked ahead of the Bengals on this list, whom you could easily make the argument that the Bengals should be ranked ahead of: Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants, Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, and Detroit Lions.

Sure, Dalton isn’t better than Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, or Matthew Stafford. But, he isn’t that far off and AJ McCarron is miles ahead of any of those teams’ backups in terms of starting experience or starting performance. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be one of the most talked about trade candidates this offseason.

When purely looking at the starting quarterback situation, you have to place the Bengals higher than 18th. We don’t even know what is going to happen next with Teddy Bridgewater, Kirk Cousins, or Philip Rivers. Furthermore, guys like Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, and Alex Smith are up there in age and could fall off a cliff at any time. You could even say that Dalton was better than Manning, Palmer and Smith this season. After all of that, I would argue the Bengals have the Ravens and Redskins beat at starting quarterback.

But, when you look at the position as a whole, who has it better than the Bengals? Sure, the Patriots have arguably the greatest quarterback of all time and a backup who is near McCarron’s level. The Falcons have the 2016 league MVP backed up by a former franchise quarterback. Other than that, there is no question that the Bengals are better set at the quarterback position than all of the other teams. That will change as soon as McCarron departs from Cincinnati, but he was a fifth round draft pick and is replaceable. As long as Dalton is on the Bengals’ roster and healthy, the team shouldn’t have an issue at quarterback and should be ranked better than average in any positional ranking.