Who are the Bengals offensive, defensive MVPs at midpoint of season?

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Carlos Dunlap #96 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after a defensive stop during the third quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Caption
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Carlos Dunlap #96 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after a defensive stop during the third quarter of the game against the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

At the midpoint of the season last year the Cincinnati Bengals were 8-0 and eyeing the possibility of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, or at least a first-round bye.

The outlook is much different this year with the team hitting the halfway point — and its bye week — with a middling 3-4-1 record.

That means since last year’s 8-0 start, the Bengals have gone 7-8-1 in the last 16 regular-season games, and 7-9-1 in you count the playoff loss to Pittsburgh.

The defensive looks like a shell of the unit that posted a franchise record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season last year, and the offense has struggled to run the ball and score in the end zone, although there were encouraging signs of life in both categories the last two weeks.

RELATED: Guenther hints at defensive changes after bye

Only two teams in franchise history have rallied to make the playoffs after being under .500 at the halfway point of the season. The 2012 team was 3-5 before winning seven of eight to finish 10-6 and a wild-card berth, and the 1970 squad was 1-6 before ripping off seven consecutive victories to win the AFC Central at 8-6.

But it has not been an unusual occurrence league wide. Since 2000, 40 teams have reached the halfway point of their season with a .500 or below winning percentage and advanced to the playoffs, including at least one in each season.

Last year there were five such teams: Houston (3-5), Kansas City (3-5), Washington (3-5), Seattle (4-4) and Pittsburgh (4-4).

Of those 40 teams to do it since 2000, five have advanced to their conference championship game, including the 2001 New England Patriots, who won Super Bowl XXXVI.

However, since the great stretch run in 2012, the Bengals have been a pretty average second-half team, going 4-4 in 2015, 5-3 in 2014, 5-3 in 2013.

The good news is the final eight games on the schedule don’t appear to be the meat grinder that the first eight were. The composite record of the eight remaining Bengals opponents is 27-32.

But before the team embarks on the start of the second half, let’s take a final look back at the notable plays, players and stats from the first half.

Offensive MVP: A.J. Green

Andy Dalton has been every bit as good as he was, if not better, when he was in the MVP conversation last year, but Green has been phenomenal.

He enters Week 9 leading the NFL in receptions (59) and receiving yards (896) despite drawing most of the attention from opposing defenses while Tyler Eifert missed the first six games. An average running game through the first six weeks didn’t help loosen the coverage either.

Bengals Report Card: Grading the first half of the season

Green has never had more than four games with at least 120 yards in his career. He already has four in 2016.

Defensive MVP: Carlos Dunlap

He hasn’t been the relentless force he was a year ago, but Dunlap has flashed at times on an otherwise struggling defense.

In addition to this team-high five sacks, Dunlap leads the Bengals with seven passes defended, which are three shy of the career high he set in 2013. He’s also forced two fumbles, matching his total from a year ago when he went to his first Pro Bowl.

Rookie of the Year: Tyler Boyd

Although he ranks just fourth on the team in both receptions (25) and receiving yards (283), the second-pick is the only choice.

Cornerback William Jackson (first round) and defensive tackle Andrew Billings (fourth) round haven’t played due to injuries, and offensive lineman Christian Westerman (fifth round) has been inactive all eight games. Third-round linebacker Nick Vigil has played 11 snaps on defense with no tackles, fifth-round wide receiver Cody Core has played 12 snaps on offense with no receptions and seventh-round safety Clayton Fejedelem has only played on special teams.

Biggest Surprise: Geno Atkins

You always know what you’re going to get from Atkins in the locker room — nothing. He’s refusal to speak to reporters is a constant.

The same, however, cannot be said of his play. He was great in 2012 and 2013 before tearing his ACL. Atkins was a shell of himself in 2014 after rehabbing the knee, but he was better than ever in 2015.

He’s been better than average this season, but that’s a glaring regression. His 3.5 sacks are second on the team, but he’s not getting the type of push he has in the past and isn’t spending as much time in the backfield as he should.

Most Memorable Offensive Play: The Hail Mary vs. Cleveland

It's memorable any time you get points on the final play of the half, but Green's juggling catch while surrounded by Browns defenders in the end zone will be a staple on his career highlight reel no matter what else he accomplishes before he hangs up his cleats.

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/790259098134511616

Most Memorable Defensive Play: Washington receiver Jamison Crowder's go-ahead touchdown in London.

It may not be a good memory but Bengals fans, but it certainly stands out given how wide open Crowder was — there wasn’t a Bengals defensive player within 10 yards of him — and the fact it was the latest, glaring example of opponents running free and clear through the secondary.

Biggest Win: At New York

There are only three to pick from, with all of the coming against teams who enter this weekend with losing records, but the season opener in New York on Sept. 11 was significant.

Had the Bengals not rallied to win the game 23-22 on Mike Nugent’s 47-yard field goal with 54 seconds to go, they would have started the year 0-3 for the first time since 2008, and who knows how things might have spiraled out of control after that.

BENGALS NEWS NOW: Like our Facebook page to join the conversation


Next game

Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1) at New York Giants (4-3)

When: 8:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 14

TV: Ch. 5, ESPN

Radio: 700-AM, 1530-AM, 102.7-FM., 104.7-FM