The Cincinnati Bengals find themselves underdogs at home in Saturday’s AFC Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Much of that has to do with the absence of starting quarterback Andy Dalton, who will sit out as he recovers from a fractured right thumb.
Dalton threw a goal-line interception to Stephon Tuitt in the last meeting between the two teams. After Dalton attempted to tackle the defensive lineman, the play resulted in both a turnover and a fractured right thumb for the Bengals starting quarterback. The hope was that Dalton would be able to return for a playoff game, preferably one in the divisional round after the Bengals clinch a bye in the NFC North.
Despite a 10-2 start, Cincinnati couldn’t hold onto one of the top two spots in the conference and must play a wild-card game. Even though he was able to shed the cast, Dalton didn’t throw a pass with his right hand all week and was ruled out for Saturday’s matchup with Pittsburgh. Backup AJ McCarron, who went 2-1 as a starter, will make his postseason debut.
But if the Bengals are able to beat the Steelers on Saturday night, would Dalton be able to play next week?
With Dalton out of a cast, the outlook seems more promising that he could make a return in the postseason. The team remains hopeful Dalton could potentially return against either the New England Patriots or the Denver Broncos.
The severity of a thumb injury can vary greatly. Earlier this season Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick tore a ligament in his thumb and used New York’s bye week to have surgery, allowing him to not miss any additional time after the day of the injury. Cleveland Browns quarterback Connor Shaw had a torn thumb ligament in preseason and was forced to sit out the entire year.
In Dalton's case, his thumb injury is a bone fracture, not a ligament tear. It was hurt badly enough to keep him out several weeks but not bad enough to require surgery. Coach Marvin Lewis has said Dalton's recovery would not be based upon managing his pain and that it’s a "healing situation." The team wants to get Dalton as close to fully healthy as it can before getting him back on the field and it’s unknown at this time whether that would be a potential divisional round playoff game next week.