Is Andy Dalton a franchise quarterback?

The Cincinnati Bengals don't need to draft a quarterback in the first round this year. They don't need to sign a free agent to replace quarterback Andy Dalton.

What the Bengals need to do is figure out whether Dalton is a franchise quarterback by the end of the 2013 season. That's a valid question after Dalton flopped for a second straight season in the playoffs and took a step back in his second NFL season.

At this point, you can't say with any confidence that Dalton should be the team's quarterback for the next five to six years. He threw three interceptions in his first playoff game last season (including a critical pick returned for a touchdown by J.J. Watt) and failed to complete half of his throws in his second postseason game Sunday.

The frustrating part for the Bengals is their defense played well enough to win Sunday. In fact, the Cincinnati defense scored the team's only touchdown. The Bengals managed minus-6 yards passing in the first half. Dalton didn't receive much help from Jermaine Gresham's drops and poor pass protection. But that doesn't make up for the fact that Dalton was his own worst enemy.

He didn't throw to A.J. Green in the first half (that should only be the case if Green is quadruple-teamed) and he missed his Pro Bowl wide receiver on a touchdown late in the game. Dalton failed to convert a third down and threw a fourth-down pass that was five yards short of the first-down marker.

The reason you can't write off Dalton completely is because he has potential. He has taken the Bengals to the playoffs the past two years, something that hasn't been accomplished since 1981-82. He has thrown 46 touchdown passes in 31 career games. The only quarterbacks who have passed for more in their first two seasons in the NFL are Dan Marino (68) and Peyton Manning (52).

But the Bengals need Dalton to be better than no touchdowns and four interceptions in two playoff games. They need Dalton to be better than a 47.5 completion rate on third downs. They need Dalton to be better than getting four interceptions returned for touchdowns.

This is a division where Ben Roethlisberger has a couple of Super Bowl rings and Joe Flacco has six playoff wins. Is Dalton the quarterback who can take the Bengals deep in the playoffs? They need to have that answer by the end of next season.