He's the first rookie quarterback to win six of his first eight starts since Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. And the Bengals are winning because of Dalton, not in spite of him. He has guided Cincinnati to three fourth-quarter comebacks in his past five starts. The reason is he's coming through in pressure situations. When trailing in games, Dalton has completed 65 percent of his throws and compiled a 101.5 quarterback rating. When in the red zone, Dalton has been efficient with 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions.áThe fifth quarterback selected in the 2011 draft, Dalton has triple the amount of wins of Cam Newton and better stats than any other rookie passer in the NFL.
The easier choice would be picking the most disappointing player for the Browns (running back Peyton Hillis). The most consistent player has been kicker Phil Dawson (six field goals of 50 yards or longer), and middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson has been strong despite the team's struggles on run defense. But the biggest impact has come from Haden, perhaps the most talented player on the roster. The seventh overall pick of the 2010 draft, Haden leads the NFL's top-ranked pass defense with 10 passes broken up. He has been key in two of the Browns' three wins, quieting the Colts' Reggie Wayne and the Dolphins' Brandon Marshall.
Some might argue for running back Ray Rice or quarterback Joe Flacco, but the Ravens are among the AFC's best because of their relentless defense. And no one is more relentless these days than Suggs, who completed his best first half in the NFL. Offenses block Suggs every which way you can imagine, but he still makes more impact plays than anyone else on the NFL's No. 2 defense. In addition to his team-leading six sacks, Suggs has as many forced fumbles (two) as Ray Lewis and as many interceptions (two) as Ed Reed. Maybe this is the year when Suggs follows the footsteps of Lewis and Reed to become the Ravens' third NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
He's carried a team unlike any other player in the AFC North this season. With little success coming from the running game (and little attempt to make it work, to be honest), the Steelers have relied on the strong arm of Roethlisberger. It doesn't matter that the offensive line has been shaky at times. His signature remains making plays in the face of the pass rush. It doesn't matter that the defense isn't forcing turnovers to provide short fields. Roethlisberger continues to march the Steelers into the end zone with a new, controlled short-passing game that still features timely big strikes. He has thrown for 200-plus yards iná17 consecutive regular-season games and he just made Steelers history with three straight 300-yard passing games. Roethlisberger isn't just the team's MVP. You could make the case that he's the MVP of the entire AFC.