The Bengals went from being the laughing stock of the league and a possible frontrunner for a shot at Andrew Luck to being one of the best young teams in the league. Cincy appears built to be a contender in the near future.
Rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have certainly played a major role in turning the franchise around, but the Bengals are loaded with talent all over the field.
It's time to give some other guys their props.
Here 10 active* players that play a key rule on this Cincinnati Bengals team.
*Leon Hall and Bobbie Williams are not on the list due to their being placed on IR.
Position: Middle Linebacker
Season Stats: 76 tackles, 3 forced fumbles
Maualuga always flashed potential with the Bengals when he played on the outside, but he really became the player we thought he'd be when he moved to the middle this season.
He's always battled to overcome injuries. And, while his play isn't always the most consistent, there are times when he runs down a ballcarrier and simply amazes you with his speed and athleticism.
Rey is one of the key building blocks on this defense, and he can only improve as he continues to better learn angle-tackling and coverage.
The talent is there, and he seems to be finally tapping into his potential.
Position: Defensive End
Season Stats: 3 sacks, 3 tipped passes
In 2010, Dunlap emerged as the Bengals best pass rusher, with 9.5 sacks in 12 games.
He's one of the most talented players on the team.
For many reasons, 2011 has been a disappointing season for Dunlap. Injuries have only allowed him to play in 10 games, and they kept him off the field a lot in some of those games. And, offensives have acknowledged him as the Bengals best edge rusher and he has struggled with some of the protections against him.
Still, Dunlap has made some big plays. His fumble recovery touchdown against Indy was huge, and two of his sacks came at big moments in the Tennessee game.
Dunlap is still not 100 percent, but I have no doubt once he's healthy he will be an elite pass rusher once again.
Season Stats: 27/29 FG's
A kicker on a top-10 list, really?
It's simple—the Bengals would not be 8-6 if they did not have one of the league's most reliable point-scorers in Mike Nugent.
Nugent doesn't kick field goals a mile away like Sebastian Janikowski or Matt Prater, so you won't see many highlights from him. But, what he does do is provide automatic points from inside 50 yards.
The kid is fan favorite and a very consistent player.
Position: Tight End
Season Stats: 46 rec, 468 yards, 5 TD
Gresham's numbers might not compare to those of the other dynamic tight ends in the league. But make no mistake, Gresham is a dynamic talent and has made great strides since a solid rookie year.
Admittedly, he commits stupid penalties sometimes, but he's a very good blocker and a walking mismatch when he runs over the middle or goes deep down the sideline.
He's big, strong, very athletic, and has phenomenal hands.
After AJ Green, he's by far the Bengals most consistent pass catcher. I look forward to continuing to watch Gresham develop into one of the best tight end in football.
Position: Outside Linebacker
Season Stats: 88 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles
Thomas Howard was an under-the-radar signing this offseason, but now he is one of the Bengals best players.
Next year, the Bengals will have an overabundance of talent with him and Keith Rivers vying for the same starting position.
Howard is one of the most athletic linebackers in the league. This allows him to run around the field to make all sorts of tackles and to cover very well. He even chases down receivers.
Howard was simply supposed to provide some experience and insurance. Instead, he has developed into one of the key players for the Bengals' in their push for the playoffs.
Position: Left Tackle
Season Stats: Started all 14 games
In 2010, Whit quietly became one of the best left tackles in the league.
His protection hasn't been quite as elite in 2011, but he is still a very good left tackle in pass protection. He's big, but is surprisingly quick on his feet.
He's also one of the most respected players in this locker room, so he is vital in rallying together a unit that dealing with a lot of injuries at the moment.
Position: Defensive Tackle
Season Stats: 14 starts, 55 tackles, 1.5 sacks
Peko is a rock at the center of the defense.
He is one of the best run-stuffers in the league, and his penetration constantly holds ballcarriers to short gains and losses, even when he isn't in on the tackle.
He's been one of the leaders of this defense for years and finally appears to be getting recognized by fans for his great work in the middle.
And he's very, very strong.
Season Stats: 59% completion rate, 3,012 yards, 18 TD, 13 INT
In case you haven't heard, Andy Dalton has had a pretty incredible rookie season.
He's smart, efficient, gets rid of the ball quickly, and throws a really good deep ball that most scouts did not project he could.
Dalton's play hasn't been quite as pretty in the last few weeks, but I wouldn't worry.
He's not hitting a rookie wall; but rather teams are starting to realize that you can expose the offense by focusing on AJ Green.
Dalton is obviously the quarterback of the future in Cincinnati, and a steal in the second round of NFL draft.
Position: Defensive Tackle
Season Stats: 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Atkins has emerged as, perhaps, the top pass-rushing interior lineman in the entire NFL.
The burst and speed he possesses at the weight of 300 lbs is ridiculous.
How many times have we seen him chase down a running back from behind?! Defensive tackles aren't supposed to be able to do that.
Atkins has emerged as the Bengals top defensive threat, but he will have to have two big games if the Bengals want to have a shot at the playoffs.
Position: Wide Receiver
Season Stats: 61 rec, 1,006 yards, 7 TD
What can be said that hasn't already?
The Bengals struck gold and got a Calvin-Johnson-type talent with Green.
He's already established himself as an elite NFL receiver and is one of the top deep threats in the game. His NFL highlight reel already looks like that of a five-year Pro Bowler.
Dalton-Green is a combination that has the Bengals very excited for the future. Teams must game-plan around this guy every week.
Green has not only established himself as the top rookie receiver, but also as the best player on one of the NFL's more talented rosters.