The Cincinnati Bengals' promising season took a turn for the worse in Week 14 when quarterback Andy Dalton went down with a right thumb injury in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The impact of the injury is expected to be huge -- so big in fact that Cincinnati’s Super Bowl odds took a heavy hit with the loss under center.
Prior to Week 14, the Bengals had the seventh-best odds to win a championship at 8/1. After the injury their chances have plummeted to 30/1, according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook .
Dalton attempted a screen pass deep in Steelers territory when it was picked off by Stephon Tuitt. The quarterback hurt his thumb making the tackle and went off to the locker room with the medical staff. The Bengals ruled Dalton out of the game almost immediately with head coach Marvin Lewis announcing after the game that Dalton will miss next week’s contest against San Francisco. According to ESPN reporter Bob Holtzman, Dalton is likely to be out a lot longer than just next week. In fact, it could be the rest of the season.
Here's what I'm told about Andy Dalton's fractured thumb: likely season ending, best case scenario is playoffs, per multiple team sources.
— bob holtzman (@BobHoltzmanESPN) December 13, 2015
Having Dalton out potentially for the rest of the season is an enormous blow to a team just a few games removed from appearing like Teflon at 8-0. Cincinnati boasts a top 10 passing and scoring offense, paced by Dalton’s 3,250 yards, 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He was having his best season to date, completing a career-high 66.1 percent of his passes and on pace for a career-low in turnovers.
Prior to Week 14, The Bengals offense found itself in the top five for net yards per pass (7.6), scoring percentage (42.5 percent of drives) and total points scored per drive (2.4) Dalton ranked third in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (74.4) behind Carson Palmer (82.6) and Ben Roethlisberger (77.1). Wide receiver A.J. Green was in the top 10 for receiving yards (1,037) and tight end Tyler Eifert led the league in receiving touchdowns (12).
Dalton led the No. 4 scoring offense in the NFL to a substantial lead in the AFC North that is now getting smaller by the week. Cincinnati had an opportunity to lock up the division on Sunday, but lost 33-20, keeping the red-hot Steelers alive while the Bengals turn to a rookie backup quarterback who had a total of four career pass attempts entering Sunday.
Then numbers for McCarron weren’t porous—he completed 22 of 32 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The good was a 65-yards bomb down the sideline to Green for his first NFL touchdown. The bad was a pick-six on a pass behind the line of scrimmage in which McCarron never saw Steelers cornerback William Gay breaking on the ball.
Now, all eyes turn to McCarron as he’s thrust into the spotlight without so much as an NFL start to his name, attempting to fulfill the promise of a season that looked to be one of the best of any team. First, the fifth-round pick from Alabama will try to finish off the job of winning the AFC North. Then he’ll attempt to help Cincinnati grab the highest seed possible.
It took Dalton until this season, his fifth in the league, to display the consistency needed to go on a potentially long playoff run. It’s safe to say McCarron will have his work cut out for him as he attempts to finish what Dalton started.
The Bengals' hopes may rest squarely on their swarming defense. The defense ranks No. 10 in yards allowed (228.8) and No. 2 in points allowed (17.6) per game.
The Bengals (10-3) are currently the No. 2 team in the AFC. They will play at San Francisco 49ers in Week 15, at the Denver Broncos on "Monday Night Football" in Week 16, and host the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17.