After a fast start, the Cincinnati Bengals have found themselves limping to the midseason mark. With three losses on the bounce, the Bengals face some serious bye week questions.
It's not all bad, however, as a handful of players are continuing to keep the Bengals afloat. Seven games into their 2012 campaign there is no doubt who wears the crown in the Queen City.
Andy Dalton's performance in 2012 has been a mixed bag.
He has dispelled questions about arm strength and accuracy, while posting some 300+ yard games.
However, with Jay Gruden's focus on the passing game, Dalton has struggled with decision making, especially if his first read doesn't produce a throwing avenue.
It has also resulted in a bevvy of interceptions and pick-sixes that have cost the Bengals dearly.
Bengals' FC Chris Roling has summarized Dalton's performance best:
Dalton has thrown for 1,831 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a 87.7 quarterback rating through seven games. The numbers are average, at best, and the Bengals have suffered as a result.
For a full breakdown of Dalton's performance at the midseason mark, check out Chris Roling's analysis HERE.
Vontaze Burfict has taken his opportunity and run with it.
Burfict has filled the hole Thomas Howard left at SAM and injected some life into what had been thought of as a patchwork LB unit.
It's unclear at this point which of either Rey Maualuga or Thomas Howard should be more worried for his spot beyond 2012, but Burfict is certainly making a case for a starting role.
Maualuga's game has become incredibly safe of late and its hurting his stock. It also takes him out of plays on a consistent basis.
Burfict on the other hand is all instinct. Now, this can result in him biting on fakes, and ending up stranded in no-man's land, but so far in 2012, his gambling has paid off.
He has shown a real ability to burst through the line and has great anticipation skills to boot.
Here's the bottom line. Burfict had a bad game against Pittsburgh last Sunday, yet he still posted 13 solo tackles and two assists. He may still be raw, but Burfict is developing well and far ahead of schedule.
It may come as a surprise, but Pro Football Focus cited Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling as the Bengals' top rated lineman in Week 7 against the Steelers.
Both men remain in PFF's top ten guards through seven weeks of the NFL season.
Zeitler's strong play is perhaps the more impressive given that he is a rookie. He's featured in PFF's team of the week and remains in the top five guards in the league.
Boling has also impressed in his second year with Cincinnati, but he's taken more time and finally appears to be on the right track.
The run game struggled in 2011, and while it hasn't exploded in 2012, the little ground it has made has been thanks to Zeitler.
The former Wisconsin Badger and first-round pick is well and truly living up to his plug-and-play moniker.
Third-year defensive tackle Geno Atkins is the A.J. Green of the Bengals' defense.
Atkins brings a real fire to the defensive front, and judging by his performance thus far, he has his sights set on a return to the Pro Bowl in 2012.
He made the Pro Bowl in 2011 with 7.5 sacks. Fast forward to 2012 and Atkins has seven sacks through seven games.
He's on pace to break all of his stats from a year ago, besides assists and forced fumbles, and he's sixth out of all defensive lineman in terms of fantasy points.
The Bengals' defensive line created a name for themselves in 2009 under Mike Zimmer. Since then they have faded a little, but players such as Atkins are contributing to a revival of sorts.
Atkins is a constant source of pressure, and it may be a cliche to say it but he really brings out the best in his teammates.
He flew under the radar in 2011, but as was shown with his top billing on Sunday Night Football, he is fast-becoming a star.
At the midseason mark, A.J. Green has shown himself to be the most valuable player on the Bengals roster. He's also rapidly making ground on Calvin Johnson in the race for the top receiver title.
Green has seven TDs to his name through seven games and has averaged 14.5 yards per reception. We must take into account that Green has done so while being double-covered for the most-part.
On the odd occasion that Green has seen one-on-one coverage, he's dominated.
Green leads all fantasy wide receivers, with 106.7 points overall; two ahead of Victor Cruz. If you were to remove A.J. Green from the Bengals' offense, you would struggle to find a single legitimate threat in the lineup.
By simply taking to the field, Green gives the Bengals instant credibility.
A.J. has been their most important player up to this point, and will continue to be exactly that as the season continues.