GAME OF THE WEEK: COWBOYS (6-6) AT BENGALS (7-5)

Vital battle in playoff bid

Both teams in race for a wild-card berth, can ill afford a loss
2012-12-09T00:00:00Z Vital battle in playoff bidThe Associated Press The Associated Press
December 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

CINCINNATI - A lot of Andy Dalton's friends and family are flying in for a game that has big interest back in his home state.

"I guess being from Texas, everybody's excited about this one," said the Bengals quarterback, who grew up in suburban Houston.

They're headed this way for a game that's pivotal to both teams' playoffs chances.

The Cowboys (6-6) have gotten into the NFC wild-card race by winning three of their last four games. The Bengals (7-5) have run off four straight wins to get in position for an AFC wild card and, perhaps, a division title. Neither can afford a loss at this stage.

"It's kind of a prelude to the playoffs," Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "Teams are going to turn it on and try their best to get into the (postseason) show, so you're going to get everybody's best every week."

A sign of the game's importance: Paul Brown Stadium will be sold out today for the first time in the last three home games. A lot of those fans will be cheering for the Cowboys, who have made it exciting lately by putting up a lot of points. Dallas has scored 38, 23, 38 and 38 points in the last four games.

The Cowboys are one of four teams in the NFC tied at 6-6, one game behind Seattle for the last wild-card spot. Like the Bengals, the Cowboys started 3-5 and have recovered by putting together their best stretch of the season. They're one game behind the New York Giants for the NFC East lead, tied with Washington for second place.

The Cowboys finish the season at Washington.

"When you think about the East, it's always been down to the wire," linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "It's always been close. It's a brutal NFC East, grind 'em conference, division. It's going to come down to the wire.

"We just need to keep playing well, think about a game at a time and eventually hoping we get to the end."

That's the same approach the Bengals have taken while digging out of their 3-5 start. One difference: Cincinnati's defense has been much better over that span. The Bengals have scored 31, 28, 34 and 20 points during their four wins while holding opponents to 13 points or less.

As a result, Cincinnati is tied with Pittsburgh for the final wild card spot, although the Steelers beat the Bengals in their first meeting this season.

The matchup

• What: Cowboys at Bengals, 11 a.m. on Channel 11

• The line: Bengals by 3

• Record vs. spread: Dallas 4-8; Cincinnati 6-5-1

• Series: Cowboys lead 6-4

• Notable: Dallas has won three of last four and trying to win back-to-back games for second time this season. ... Bengals trying to win five in a row for second straight season. ... Tony Romo has thrown 19 TD passes. He needs one more to become first Cowboy to throw for 20 TDs five times. ... Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis has run for more than 100 yards in each of last three games, a career best.

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