Dalton unlikely to play in Bengals' playoff opener

The Cincinnati Bengals might have to go with AJ McCarron in the wild-card playoffs.

Appearing on Monday's edition of NFL Total Access, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Andy Dalton is still a few weeks away from returning to game action. As a result, he likely would not be available to play until the Divisional Round.

The Bengals are doing everything they can to speed up the healing process in Dalton's fractured right thumb, per Rapoport, but the bone hasn't fully healed yet. NFL Media's Mike Silver reported that Dalton's cast could be removed as early as Tuesday.

Cincinnati missed its best chance to wrap up a first-round playoff bye -- and an opportunity to play at least one less game without Dalton -- with Monday's 20-17 overtime loss to the Broncos. Unless the Broncos lose to the Chargers in their regular-season finale, the Bengals likely will be playing on Wild Card Weekend.

The bottom line is that Cincinnati's starting quarterback is out for Week 17 and is highly unlikely to play in the wild-card round. The earliest expectation for a return is the Divisional Round, though nothing is guaranteed.