With the Bengals scheduled to check out of Paul Brown Stadium on Monday with physicals, exit interviews, and one final team meeting, here is a quick-look cheat sheet for the end of the season.
MVP: He is the new straw that stirs the drink. When rookie wide receiver A.J. Green is rolling, so are the Bengals. In the games he had either 100 yards receiving or a touchdown catch, the Bengals were 6-3. He didn't score a TD in the last five games, had 100 yards once, caught more than five passes once, and the Bengals went 2-3.
Offensive Player of the Year: There will be concern about rookie quarterback Andy Dalton's 0-8 record against playoff teams, his three interceptions in the Wild Card Game, and the fact he threw just four touchdown passes in the last six games and none in the last two.
But given that he had no OTAs and was working with a rookie NFL offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden and a rookie NFL No. 1 receiver in Green, nine wins and four fourth-quarter victories (two on the road) can't be underestimated.
Quote of the Year: Now is a good time to conjure up former Bengals NFL MVP quarterback Boomer Esiason's midseason take on Dalton: "He's so far ahead of me when I was a rookie, it's not even funny. After my rookie year (general manager) Paul Brown and (head coach) Sam Wyche were going into the offseason looking at each other crosseyed."
Defensive Player of the Year: Second-year tackle Geno Atkins. He not only led the Bengals in sacks with 7.5, he led all NFL tackles with Oakland's Tommie Kelly. On Saturday, a day after being named a second team All-Pro by the Associated Press, he had a sack, a tackle for a loss, and one of the team's three quarterback hits against a very good Texans offensive line and center Chris Myers.
Special Teams Player of the Year: Safety Jeromy Miles. Miles edged running back Cedric Peerman for the tackling title (15-13) and set a record in nine seasons under special teams coach Darrin Simmons with four tackles in one game. Miles keyed a kick coverage team that was third in the league, but he may have made the special teams play of the year in the Christmas Eve win over Arizona. With the Bengals punting from about their 5 leading, 23-16, and Arizona having no timeouts with 57 seconds left, Miles dumped Andre Roberts at the Cardinals 40 for a one-yard loss.
Comeback Player of the Year: Right tackle Andre Smith. He ended the season at about 320 pounds, his lightest since college, and in his third season was able to finally get through an entire training camp and season healthy. He ended up starting 15 of 17 games and showed his first-round promise.
Story of the Year: Another rookie who played a big role. Free agent Andrew Hawkins, cut after one practice with the Rams, surfaced in training camp, stuck to the practice squad, and was promoted when Jordan Shipley ripped up his knee in the second game. Hawkins, a Toledo product, couldn't get a sniff after college and worked as a caddie as well as an assistant coach at his alma mater while sleeping on one of his player's couches. After two seasons in Canada, he chipped in 23 catches, had five tackles on special teams, ran it five times for 25 yards and was a gunner on a top 10 punt cover team.
Play of the Year: If wide receiver Jerome Simpson had the most sensational play of the year, then Green may have had the most important on the first series of the second half against Buffalo. After a 40.8 passer rating the week before against the 49ers, Dalton was 7-of-20 and a rating of 15.8 in the first half, and the Bengals came out looking into the abyss down, 17-3. Until Green made an acrobatic leap and fingertip catch over his head for a 40-yard gain that put the ball on the Bills 7.
The Bengals only got a field goal out of it, but the 23-20 comeback win over Buffalo was underway, and so was the Bengals five-game winning streak with Dalton coming off the ropes.
(Close second: The Bengals trade for Carson Palmer that netted them a first-rounder in 2012 and a second-rounder in 2013.)
Defensive Play of the Year: Left end Carlos Dunlap's 35-yard crazy legs TD run on a fumble with 2:22 left in the game that sealed the win over the Colts, 27-17. The Texans got theirs in the playoff game from J.J. Watt with 52 seconds left in the first half. Game, set, match.
Best Moment of the Year: Cornerback Nate Clements, last Sunday after playing his 165th game, receiving well wishes from his teammates for making the postseason for the first time.
Stand-up Play of the Year: Saturday in the locker room in Houston after the 31-10 loss to the Texans, cornerback Adam Jones taking blame for allowing Andre Johnson's 40-yard TD bomb that made it 24-10 late in the third quarter.
Biggest disappointment: The running game and defending the run in the crunch time of December and January. The physical play was supposed to be Cincinnati's staple. But in the last six games while running backs Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott averaged 3.5 yards per carry, the Bengals allowed an average of 140 rushing yards per game.
Guess for biggest offseason adds: No team has the luxury that is staring at the Bengals. With the franchise player and the franchise quarterback taken for the offense with the first two picks in last year's draft, look for the Bengals to consider beefing up their defense with the two first-round picks waiting in the April draft.
With Leon Hall on the mend and two of Saturday's top three cornerbacks potential free agents in Jones and Kelly Jennings, the Bengals could use another young first-round corner.
The defensive line, with the trio of Frostee Rucker, Jon Fanene and Pat Sims potential free agents, may need a shot of depth. With safety Reggie Nelson also a potential free agent and the run defense bruised from giving up 409 rushing yards in the last two games, that position figures to be reevaluated.
Other draft help: Four of the nine offensive linemen are potential free agents, along with injured right guard Bobbie Williams. Both guards that started Saturday, as well as both backup tackles, are up and it's a longshot the Bengals can keep Anthony Collins as a backup as a 2008 fourth-rounder with 18 career starts.
Biggest question mark on the field: Benson. He's a free agent and didn't seem enamored of his rotation with Scott and the club didn't seem enamored that he wasn't enamored.
Biggest question mark off the field: The status of defensive and offensive coordinators Mike Zimmer and Gruden, respectively.
A week ago Gruden was characterized as the leading candidate for the Jacksonville head coaching job. He said himself he was a longshot because he's only been a coordinator for a season and former Bills head coach Mike Mularkey has emerged as a powerful player down there. If Mularkey isn't named soon, indications are Gruden is going to get an interview.
Reports have linked Zimmer to Miami and Tampa Bay, and given this is his second time around the circuit and Hall of Fame finalist Bill Parcells is no doubt in his corner he's got some juice.
According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Zimmer is on a Tampa Bay list with a slew of former head coaches that includes Marty Schottenheimer, Wade Phillips, Brad Childress and Mike Sherman.
FOX reported that Zimmer is in the mix in Miami with Mularkey and Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.
It doesn't look like anything has been done officially as far as permission given from the Bengals, but permission can't be denied for a head coaching job.