Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio (turf, indoors/outdoors)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. (Fox)
Spread: Bengals by 3
Forecast: Outdoors (rain expected, temperatures in the mid-50s)
Records: Cowboys (6-6); Bengals (7-5)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Oct. 5, 2008: Cowboys 31, Bengals 22; Oct. 5, 2004: Bengals 26, Cowboys 3. Series record: Cowboys hold a 6-4 advantage.
What matters: The Cowboys need to get off to a solid start against the Bengals, who have won four in a row. The last three weeks, Dallas has trailed at halftime, despite facing three rookie quarterbacks at Cowboys Stadium. Against Andy Dalton on the road, the Cowboys can't afford to fall behind. They've rallied from 13-0 and 14-10 deficits two of the last three weeks but couldn't dig themselves out of a 28-3 hole to the Redskins and a 23-0 deficit to the Giants.
Who matters: This game features two of the best young receivers in the NFL. Cincinnati's A.J. Green is tied for the league lead with 10 touchdown grabs, but catching up fast is Dallas' Dez Bryant, who has eight, including six in the last four games. Green is the Bengals' go-to receiver, and even though the Cowboys have Miles Austin and Jason Witten, Bryant has filled that role for Tony Romo. If either Green or Bryant can have a big game, it could be the difference.
Key matchups: Cowboys pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware hasn't had many three-game droughts in his career without a sack. The current streak is the third of his career, so look for him to be in full attack mode. That could be tough for left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is quietly having a good season for the Bengals. Whitworth has great upper-body strength and uses his hands well to offset quicker rushers such as Ware. Dalton has been a tackle's best friend by getting the ball out quickly, and that likely won't change this week. But look for the Ware-Whitworth matchup to be an interesting battle.
Injuries of note: The Cowboys will be without nose tackle Jay Ratliff for the third straight game. Ratliff's groin injury seems to be getting worse, considering he has been a game-time decision the last two weeks and was ruled out Friday this week. CB Orlando Scandrick (hand) and S Charlie Peprah (foot) are also expected to miss Sunday's game.
Inside stuff: One of the Bengals' strengths this season has been in the punt-return game. Former Cowboys cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones has been dynamic, ranking third in the NFL with a 15.3-yard average per return, including an 81-yard touchdown. Last week, the Cowboys allowed a 98-yard return to Philly's Damaris Johnson in the final minute of play. In fact, the three longest returns against the Cowboys have occurred in the last three weeks.
Stat you should know: The Bengals lead the league in sacks with 39 and a lot of it comes straight up the middle with defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who has 9.5. The Cowboys have been banged up in the interior, with center Ryan Cook expected to play his second game after missing four with a knee injury. Former Bengals center Nate Livings has been injured this week, but the Cowboys must find a way to shore up the middle to create a pocket for Tony Romo to throw.
Milestone in reach: TE Jason Witten is closing in on the NFL's single-season record for catches in a season by a tight end. Witten has 88 catches and needs just 15 surpass Tony Gonzalez's record of 102 set in 2004. Witten caught 18 passes in a game earlier this season against the Giants and is averaging 7.3 receptions per game. With four to play, it's likely he'll get the record.
Connections: Bengals CB Terence Newman played nine seasons for the Cowboys from 2003-11, making two Pro Bowls … Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer spent 13 years as an assistant coach in Dallas, including seven years as defensive coordinator from 2000-06 … Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones played with the Cowboys in 2008 … Cowboys left guard Nate Livings played six seasons with the Bengals before this season.
Looking ahead: The Cowboys get two straight home games, facing Pittsburgh and New Orleans at Cowboys Stadium. It wraps up a five homes games in a six-week period. So far this year, the Cowboys are just 3-3 at home.
Prediction: Bengals 28, Cowboys 22