The Cincinnati Bengals are halfway through the season, sitting at 5-3 and just behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
Despite struggles on defense, some inconsistencies in the offense and a slew of injuries, there have been plenty of bright spots for a team trying to bounce back from a 7-9 finish last year.
Below is a look at our midseason awards:
MVP: Andy Dalton
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Dalton is having arguably the best season of his career, completing 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns with eight interceptions, and he leads an offense that is putting up 27.6 points per game. According to ProFootballFocus.com, he has earned an 84.1 overall grade through Week 8, ranking seventh among quarterbacks with 200-plus dropbacks this season.
Where he’s been the best, though, is in leading the team down the field for game-winning drives, as he did in Week 4 against Atlanta and Sunday against Tampa Bay. The Bengals have scored points on the last meaningful drive of six games this season, and the Bengals wouldn’t be where they are now without Dalton.
Offensive Player: A.J. Green
Green continues to be the life-blood of Cincinnati’s offense when Dalton needs someone to make a play. His 14 redzone targets are tied for the most in the NFL this season, his six touchdown receptions are tied for third most among wide receivers and he has converted third- or fourth-down targets at a rate of 52.9 percent, which ranks 12th among qualifying receivers. He has 687 yards on 45 catches overall.
Defensive Player: Carlos Dunlap
Dunlap leads the team with seven sacks, which puts him on pace for his best career total, and he’s been the most consistent player on the Bengals defense when it comes to disrupting opposing offenses. He has five passes defensed, two forced fumbles and he’s played a key role in two defensive touchdowns this season.
Rookie of the Year: Jessie Bates
Bates became the first rookie starter on defense to open the season since Rey Maualuga in 2009, and he hasn’t disappointed as George Iloka’s replacement. He leads the team with 60 combined tackles and is tied for the lead with three interceptions, including one that he ran back for a touchdown against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Bates isn’t just among the best on the Bengals’ defense — he owns the fourth-highest overall grade (83.8) among all qualifying NFL safeties, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Biggest Surprise: Tyler Boyd
Boyd’s breakout season has been a big reason for Dalton’s success. Coming off an up and down 2017 campaign, Boyd has been outstanding in his third year, leading the team with 50 receptions for 620 yards and five touchdowns. According to ProFootballFocus.com, he currently has an overall grade of 85.2, which ranks 10th among qualifying receivers, and when targeted, Boyd has generated a passer rating of 136.3, good for the best mark among active receivers with at least 40 targets.
Super Sub: Trey Hopkins
The Bengals’ backup right guard has been stellar filling in for center Billy Price the past six weeks, despite this being his first NFL experience at the position. Cincinnati has had just one negative rush behind the center this season. In what might have been his last start at center with Price expected back from a foot injury, Hopkins posted a PFF grade of 82.8 last week, which was the highest grade for a Bengals center since Week 2 of the 2015 season.
Biggest Disappointment: William Jackson
After a big comeback season last year, expectations were high for the 2016 first-round draft pick but he hasn’t quite lived up those through the first half of the season. Teams were targeting away from him the first four weeks, but DeSean Jackson blew by him for a 60-yard touchdown last week and he’s had some big missed opportunities to make plays. Jackson has 19 tackles and is still waiting for his first interception.
Must Improve: Vontaze Burfict
Burfict missed the first three games because of suspension but hasn’t been as effective as he has in the past when coming off suspension. He was sidelined last week with a hip injury but was almost a non-factor at Kansas City in Week 7, as he missed four tackles and finished with only two that game. For a player who has been such a big part of the defense before, he is going to need to step up once he’s back on the field.