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The hidden genius of Andy Dalton
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Looking back at my league's fantasy draft halfway through the season has always been a source of enjoyment for me.

"You paid how much for Roddy White?" (Guilty. I forked over a cool $14 for that underachiever.)

"Matthew Stafford for four bucks ... you're kidding me!"

Strange, but true. But the biggest bargain at this year's auction draft? Well, that would be none other than Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton.

Dalton was claimed, presumably at 11:30 at night when most of us were already half asleep, for the price of one U.S. dollar. You can't even get songs on iTunes for that cheap.

And here we are, nine weeks later, with Dalton's red mop on the cover of every sports publication in the country, including this one located in humble Hatboro, Pa.

Sounds about right, doesn't it?

Dalton, a third-year signal-caller from TCU, doesn't have RG3's legs or Joe Flacco's cannon for an arm. And he's not a mind-reader like Colts brainiac Andrew Luck. But somehow, he's been more impressive than all of them.

Put the football in Dalton's hands and good things will happen. Take Sunday, for example. A week after pummeling the Lions for a season-best 372 passing yards, Dalton sliced up the Jets for five touchdowns in a 49-9 win, the NFL's most lopsided victory of the season.

"Dalton-mania", as it's being called (by me), isn't exactly a new development. The 26-year-old's touchdown parade is going on its fourth week. Since Week 6 versus Buffalo, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has been piling on touchdowns like he's stacking Jenga blocks. He's ripped apart opponents to the tune of 11 touchdowns, 1,034 yards and a 126.0 QB rating over that stretch.

That's Peyton-like. And with the Dolphins (four-game losing streak) and Browns on the schedule (three-game losing streak) for Weeks 9 and 10, it doesn't look like this Jenga tower is going to fall down anytime soon.

Who cares if he looks like a younger version of Brian Scalabrine? Dalton is good. Really good. And finally, at long last, some of you have noticed.

But not all of you. Though Dalton's ownership in ESPN leagues has climbed to 43.5 percent (it was at 25 percent a few days ago), he's only being started in 17.2 percent of those leagues.

Here's why that's a mistake.

- His 65.6 completion percentage (a career-high) is eighth in the league

- Dalton's 99.0 QB rating (also a career-high) is sixth-best in the NFL

- He's tied for fourth in touchdowns with 16

- He's fourth in yards (2,249) and seventh in yards per game (281.1)

These sound like all the familiar symptoms of a top-10 quarterback, which is exactly what Dalton is. He'll enter Week 9 as the eighth-highest scorer in fantasy football and the sixth-highest at his position.

If you think about it, didn't Dalton do this last year, too? Maybe not quite to this extent, but he still threw for 27 TD (tied for seventh) while completing over 62 percent of his passes (12th).

That's why we put him at 11th in our preseason quarterback rankings. Yahoo, Fox and ESPN all had him ranked significantly lower (16th, 18th and 19th respectively). Forward thinking is what we do here at TSN.

But you didn't think Dalton was headed to fantasy glory all by himself, did you? No way. Andy's bringing his whole crew with him.

That crew includes Marvin Jones, the recipient of four Dalton touchdown throws in Week 8. He and teammate A.J. Green are both on pace for double-digit touchdowns this year. Want to know the last time that happened in Cincinnati? Try never.

Pouring on the touchdowns against Jacksonville is one thing. Going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers is quite another. Three of the Bengals' last four wins have come against teams with winning records.

A huge part of Dalton's success has been his ability to stay upright. Only eight offensive lines have allowed fewer sacks than the Bengals this season (16), and five of those eight teams have already had their bye weeks. So props to Clint Boling, Kyle Cook, Andre Smith, Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler for holding it together in the trenches. Maybe Dalton will take a page out of Adrian Peterson's book and reward them with snowmobiles after the season.

This year it's been a perfect storm of accuracy, protection and red hair in Cincinnati. Not a bad way to spend a buck, am I right, fantasy owners?




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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