Every week during the season, we’ll scout out the Cowboys' next opponent. This week, that opponent is the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Opponent: The Cowboys got a big boost from the Redskins on Monday night. They're just a game behind the Giants with a guarantee of owning the tiebreaker come Week 17 if they can win out. Five straight wins seems beyond the Cowboys, but they'll get their first chance to prove otherwise coming in Cincinnati on Sunday. The Bengals are pretty hot right now, which means that the Cowboys' chances of a big finish could crash and burn at takeoff.
Record: 7-5. The Bengals have beaten just one team with a winning record this year and their last three wins have come against the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers. It fits with bigger trends since the Bengals always seem to make the playoffs as the token "good bad team" that rides a soft schedule to a loss in the first weekend of the postseason.
The Line: Bengals by 3.
Last Game: The Bengals beat the Chargers 20-13 last Sunday. They spotted the Chargers a halftime lead, which any seasoned Chargers watcher will tell you is exactly where you want a Norv Turner team.
The Coach: Marvin Lewis got a contract extension before the season, something that might make you scratch your head since he had a 69-74-1 record with the team in his first nine years as the team's coach. The team always feels close to making a jump to a higher class, but Lewis hasn't been able to make it happen yet so it's hard to imagine things will change this year.
The Offense: You might remember red-headed Andy Dalton as the quarterback who helped put TCU on the national map and he's put together a strong start to his NFL career. It helps that he has A.J. Green, a.k.a. the NFL's best receiver non-Calvin Johnson division, catching his passes since the rest of the receiving corps is aggressively mediocre. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a big game running against the Chargers, something the Cowboys have to stop after getting run over by Bryce Brown on Sunday night.
The Defense: Early in the season, the Bengals were racked by injuries in the secondary. That made them easy to attack, but players have healed and the defense has been cooking during the four-game winning streak. The Bengals lead the NFL in sacks, which is going to make for a stiff test for the iffy Cowboys line, and the unit didn't allow a touchdown in San Diego in Week 13.
Key Matchup: Geno Atkins vs. the interior of the Cowboys line - Atkins is not a household name, which is only because there aren't enough households watching the Bengals. He should be an All-Pro this season for the way he's dominated at the point of attack almost every week. He's got 10 sacks, plays the run well and will test a part of the Cowboys team that's been pretty awful this season.