Let's start things off with a bang and break down the most prestigious award on the list—Most Valuable Player.
Cincinnati seemingly has an excess of talent at most positions, but it is the star players who will come through and take the team to the next level if it is meant to be.
This means the MVP award is going to come down to three likely candidates—quarterback Andy Dalton, receiver A.J. Green and defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
Coming off a campaign in which he threw for 3,669 yards and 27 touchdowns, Dalton could take another step statistically. He has shown progression this offseason, especially in Week 2 against Tennessee when he threw for 115 yards and a score on 14 attempts. The competition was not exactly top-tier stuff, but it was a good sign. That said, much of Dalton's production will still hinge on his star wide receiver, especially if he fails to make progress in the accuracy, pocket presence and time of release departments.
Green is a great candidate considering he's an elite player who has made Dalton look better than he truly is on numerous occasions in the past thanks to his ability to get his fingertips on any ball thrown in his vicinity. Chances are he'll have a lower statistical output than last season (1,350 yards, 11 scores) because of the wealth of other options on the offense, and his presence alone will free those weapons up.
The only true defensive candidate, Atkins is the cog in the machine that allows other parts to work effectively. Atkins was the best tackle in the NFL a year ago according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required) by a long shot—he graded at 85.4, the next player at No 2 graded at 31.7.
Atkins' ability to apply unorthodox pressure up the middle opens lanes for the classic Mike Zimmer double A-gap blitz and also ushers the passer into the arms of defensive ends rushing up the field at the edge.
This crop of players has been hosted up by an elite defense led by Atkins the past few seasons, especially down the stretch last year. Dalton may falter and in turn hurt Green's chances for the award, but it does not look like anything is going to stop the NFL's best defensive lineman. What he does in the trenches cannot be matched.
WINNER: Geno Atkins
HONORABLE MENTIONS: A.J. Green, Andy Dalton