The Cincinnati Bengals are currently focused on beating the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday — then pulling for the San Diego Chargers to upset the Denver Broncos — as the rest of the Week 17 fallout will determine the final seeding for the NFL Playoffs. Unable to play this weekend, Andy Dalton may be guilty of looking just one day past Sunday’s game against their division rivals. On Monday, the Bengals starting quarterback meets with his doctor once again. He’s hoping the cast on his right thumb will be ready to come off in time for the post season.
In Week 14, the Pittsburgh Steelers came to Cincinnati and handed their division leaders a solid loss at 33-20. But a potentially bigger loss was that of starting QB Andy Dalton, who broke his thumb during that game. Hoping to help minimize the damage of his own mistake, Dalton tackled Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt after Tuitt intercepted one of Dalton’s passes, as reported by ESPN. In the process, Dalton broke the thumb on his throwing hand. While the Bengals will still win the AFC North, no team likes to see their starting QB sidelined, especially this close to the NFL Playoffs.
Since Dalton went down against the Steelers, AJ McCarron has had to fill in as the Bengals quarterback. AJ helped Cincinnati defeat San Francisco in Week 15, but dropped a game to the Denver Broncos in Week 16 that would have guaranteed the Bengals a first round bye in this year’s post season. It was, however, just AJ McCarron’s second NFL start, he was put up against the league’s top-rated defense, and he kept Cincinnati’s hopes alive long enough to take the Bengals to overtime.
Then, during the last play of the game in Cincinnati’s overtime loss to Denver, McCarron was hit with a hand injury of his own. Luckily, as AL.com noted, it was a sprain to the wrist on his left (non-throwing) hand. Bengals (and Crimson Tide) fans need not worry: AJ McCarron is good to go against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. He’ll be starting in Sunday’s game when they host Baltimore, and possibly starting again the next week in the first round of the playoffs. If the Bengals fail to beat the Ravens, or the Chargers can’t find a way past the Broncos, then the Bengals will miss out on the first round bye and will host a Wildcard team in the first round of the NFL post season. If that’s how things end up on Sunday, and Dalton isn’t ready to go in eight or nine days, then McCarron will be leading the Bengals at home, most likely against the Steelers, New York Jets or Kansas City Chiefs.
As he has been doing every week since first injuring his thumb, Dalton will see a doctor again on Monday. Although no clear signs have been given, Dalton remains optimistic.
“They said everything’s going in the right direction and everything’s healing how it should. So I’m hopeful that I will soon get out of this… I’ll have another doctor visit on Monday and we’ll go from there… I’m thinking as soon as I can get back, I’ll be back. Whatever week that is, whatever time that is. I’m hoping it’s sooner than later.”
For the final game of the season, the AFC North champs (11-4) host the third-place Baltimore Ravens (5-10). In Week 4, Dalton lead the Bengals to a 28-24 victory in Baltimore. While the Ravens really have nothing to play for, they would love to insure that the Bengals are forced to play in the first round of the playoffs — and crushing any possible momentum on their home field — by delivering an upset loss in Week 17. As Cincinnati.com highlighted, even third-string quarterback Keith Wenning is ready for Sunday, if needed.
By the end of the evening on Sunday, the AFC playoff picture will be set. When Cincinnati will play, who they will play, and which quarterback will be taking snaps is still up in the air. Odds are that the Bengals won’t earn a bye — but Dalton could be cleared to play as early as January 9 or 10. Then again, the Bengals could end up with a bye in the Wildcard round — but there’s a chance Dalton wouldn’t be cleared to play, even by the divisional round of the playoffs, taking place January 16 and 17.
While waiting for the final word, Dalton has been doing as much as he can to stay in shape, short of throwing the ball or putting his hand at risk of further injury. He’s found a pretty solid injury work-out routine, thanks to some input from throwing coaches Adam Dedeaux and Tom House.
“I’m still doing stuff as much as I can that will simulate my throwing. All the stuff that I do working with Tom and Adam, you’re not touching a football for an hour anyway, and then you go out and throw. There’s stuff that you can do where it’s not throwing, and you can do things that are essentially working the same muscles and doing the same stuff that help you with throwing.”
The final game of the regular season for the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens is scheduled to begin at 1:00 EST. You can watch Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens on FOX or the NFL RedZone.
[Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images]