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Bengals vs Steelers: Andy Dalton's recovery remains the great unknown

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Quarterback Andy Dalton, who suffered a broken thumb last week, visits with the doctor on Monday. The outcome will obviously map out his availability this Saturday against the Steelers.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The pervasive unknown continues.

Will Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton play Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team against which he originally broke his thumb on Dec. 13? It's been 22 days since Pittsburgh's 33-20 win over the Bengals, who have relied on backup quarterback AJ McCarron -- the Alabama alum who has helped secure wins against the 49ers and Ravens, with his lone defeat being an overtime loss to the Broncos.

According to local reports, Andy Dalton is scheduled to meet with doctors on Monday."Just waiting to ... I'll have another doctor visit on Monday and we'll go from there," he said via the Cincinnati Enquirer. Dalton added that the doctor has "got to check it out and make sure he feels that would be a good thing. But I tell you what, I'm ready to get out of the cast."

Prior to Sunday's regular season finale against the Baltimore Ravens, Fox sideline reporter Tony Siragusa spoke to Dalton:

Tony Siragusa: If today was a playoff game, would you be out there today?

Andy Dalton: "As of right now, no. I couldn't be out there yet. I'm waiting to hear what the doctors have to say, waiting to get the cast off, and we'll kind of go from there."

Siragusa: If the Bengals don't earn a first-round bye, what do you think? Next week might be a situation (where you can play) or you really don't know?

Dalton: "It's just one of those things, I'm playing the waiting game. I'm going to see what the doctors have to say. I'm hoping I can get the cast off tomorrow (Monday), but I'm still waiting to hear what he has to say. I'm going to do whatever is smart, whatever is best for this thing and try to get back as soon as I can."

Unfortunately, Dalton's honesty isn't providing a sense of optimism with patiently nervous fans, who literally want a WWE-style promotion about his return this Saturday. Yes, it's understandable. His hand is in a cast -- it's not like you're monitoring a scab and watching it progressively heal. And you'd rather hear blunt honesty, as opposed to unsubstantiated optimism. Yet, it would have been cool if Andy Dalton yanked the microphone from Siragusa's grip and shouted, "watcha gonna do when the Red Rifle..."

However, pessimism has permeated recently. Prior to Cincinnati's Monday Night game against the Denver Broncos, NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported that Dalton is "still a few weeks" away and despite the team's usage of "accelerate healing", weekly scans continued showing that the bone hasn't healed. These reports came out on Dec. 28, a week prior to Dalton's optimistic viewpoint about healing last week.

Sports Illustrated's Peter King promoted a more sunny disposition during an interview with head coach Marvin Lewis, who added that there's a chance. "Andy's very optimistic," Lewis told King on Saturday. "I feel he's got an opportunity to play next weekend and we're going to err on the side of caution."

During NBC's Football Night in America, King reported that "Andy Dalton is very optimistic that he's going to be playing next weekend in the playoffs (against the Steelers). Marvin Lewis is not as optimistic... I'd call him cautiously optimistic."

Even if he returns, one must ask how effective he'll be. Cincinnati has an accelerated schedule due to their scheduled Saturday night game against the Steelers. It will have been 27 days since his injury (nearly an entire month), since his last completion. Rusty could become a favorable description.

We should learn about Dalton's eventual recovery on Monday. If the cast is removed, there is significant improvement regarding his chances to play Saturday. If not, then the obvious doubt applies.