All this week, there has been one interesting, quasi-controversial question on my mind, prompting a Cincinnati Bengals installment of "Five wonders." Specifically, I have been wondering what might happen if Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron -- the player slated to take starter Andy Dalton's snaps in Saturday's wild-card round game against Pittsburgh -- does the one thing Dalton has been unable to accomplish to this stage of his career.
What if McCarron gets the Bengals playoff win Dalton couldn't?
First, let's make it clear there is no right or wrong answer here. This is just an interesting observation I'm sure many of you have pondered in recent days, too. Dalton was ruled out Friday for Saturday's game with the right broken thumb he suffered against the Steelers on Dec. 13. It was an untimely injury for Dalton, who appeared poised this season to finally overcome the big blemish that is his record in the playoffs. Had he not been hurt, the Bengals might have won one of the two games they lost with him on the sideline. If they had, they would be off this week awaiting their divisional-round opponent in Cincinnati next week. It would have been the perfect storm for getting him that elusive first career postseason victory. Dalton was on that kind of trajectory. Now, he may have to wait another year before getting his chance in the postseason.
Even if the Bengals do win this weekend, Dalton still might not be ready next week when the Bengals would have to travel to New England to take on the Patriots. In that scenario, McCarron would get the chance to push the Bengals further in the playoffs than they have been since before he was born. The last time Cincinnati went deeper than the divisional round was just after the 1988 season, when the Bengals made the second of their two Super Bowl trips.
What would the fallout of a McCarron win look like? The city would probably crown him a hero. Even if the players and coaches would be ready to focus on next week, Cincinnatians might be ready for an impromptu parade next week. I mean, you're talking about a city with an entire generation of sports fans who have no idea what true postseason success looks like. In addition to the 25 years since the Bengals won a playoff game, the city is going on 26 years since the Cincinnati Reds won a World Series. Like a balloon under immense pressure, sports fans here are ready to burst into celebration of something.
Would one or more playoff wins mean McCarron would have the inside track on the starting quarterback job next year? No. A quarterback controversy will not result from this. In July when Dalton is fully healthy, expect him to open training camp as QB1. McCarron still would be right behind him. What the Bengals would learn with a playoff win (as well as what they've learned the last three weeks) is that they have a capable backup. One could argue McCarron is one of the best QB2s in the league.
So, does Dalton then deserve to keep his starting status? Yes. Again, remember this is a guy who was having an MVP-caliber year for many of the 14 weeks he played.