The Bengals got a bit of good news on Monday afternoon. Quarterback Andy Dalton does not need surgery on his thumb, a club source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Whether or not he returns at this point will depend on how quickly he heals. Had he went under the knife, Dalton likely would have been finished for the 2015 regular season and the postseason.
Though the Bengals essentially have a playoff berth (and probably, the AFC North) locked up, Dalton’s injury is a massive blow to their chances of receiving a first-round postseason bye. As it stands now, Dalton is hopeful for a Week 17 return, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter), but nothing is certain given the nature of the injury. Dalton, coach Marvin Lewis, and the rest of the Bengals have suffered first-round exits in each of the last four playoffs, so a bye — and home-field advantage for much or all of the tournament — would be a big help. Dalton will assuredly miss next week’s contest against the 49ers, and even in a best case scenario, he’ll likely miss the following week’s game against Denver. If Dalton does return in Week 17, he’ll have a somewhat cushy against division foe Baltimore.
As it stands, second-year quarterback A.J. McCarron, Cincinnati’s fifth-round pick in last year’s draft, is expected to take over at QB while Dalton heals up. The 25-year-old did not play or practice last season, having been relegated to the non-football injury list all year. Until this week, McCarron had seen just three snaps in relief of Dalton. Against the Steelers on Sunday, McCarron completed 22 of 32 attempts for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Luckily for McCarron, the Bengals have plenty of weapons to utilize. The club ranks first in offensive DVOA, and while much of that ranking can be attributed to Dalton posting the best season of his career, Cincinnati’s offense includes A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill, and Gio Bernard. One issue, however, is that Eifert left Sunday’s game with a concussion, so his status for next week could also be in doubt.