Bengals' five most important players: Why it's A.J. Green's team

For the Cincinnati Bengals to contend for the playoffs this season, here are the five players who can help make that happen:

A.J. Green, WR: Green might be the key to the Bengals' success. That's rare for a wide receiver, as defenses can find ways to take wideouts out of the game, but Green is probably the best player on the team. Green had more than 1,000 receiving yards last season, but he felt he had a "crummy" year due to some inconsistent play and bad luck with passes being tipped off his hands. Other receivers will need to step up to take some of the defensive coverage away from Green, but he remains the most important offensive weapon.

Andy Dalton, QB: Dalton absolutely needs to step up this season for the Bengals to pull themselves out of the NFL's offensive cellar. He has been maddeningly inconsistent for the past two seasons, both of which were non-winning campaigns. The last time he was playing at the top of his game was in the first half of the 2015 season, prior to a thumb injury. The Bengals started that season 8-0 and made it to the playoffs, but they haven't been back since. With a new offensive coordinator and a new offensive line, it's possible Dalton could take a step forward.

Cordy Glenn, LT: Part of the reason for Dalton's problems has been the offensive line, mostly centered around the tackle position. It became clear that Cedric Ogbuehi would not be able to fill the shoes of the departed Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, and the Bengals sought to fix that problem by trading for Glenn in the offseason. Glenn will be an integral cog to the Bengals' success. If the offensive line is bad again in 2018, it's unlikely Dalton will be able to rise above it. He needs to be surrounded with talented pieces to be a suitable quarterback.

Vontaze Burfict, LB: Burfict is supposed to be one of the leaders of the defense, but it has been hard for the Bengals to consistently lean on him due to injuries and suspensions. It has been several years since Burfict played a full season, and he'll be starting off the first month on the suspended list again due to a violation of the NFL's PED policy. Burfict is going to have to hit the ground running once he gets back on the field. When Burfict is in shape and on the active roster, he can be one of the Bengals' best players, but it's hard to say what the Bengals' plans for him are now under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

Geno Atkins, DT: Atkins could potentially be tied here with Carlos Dunlap. Atkins is one of the best players at his position and is essential to the Bengals' pass rush success. He has led the team in sacks for the past two seasons despite being an interior lineman. If the Bengals' can get Atkins, Dunlap and up-and-comer Carl Lawson on the same page, their pass rush could be a force to be reckoned with.