Cowboys at Bengals -- Week 13

Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati (turf, outdoors)

When: Sunday, 1 p.m. (FOX)

Spread: Bengals by 3

Forecast: Temperatures expected in low-60s, 60-percent chance of rain.

Records: Bengals (7-5, AFC North 1-3); Cowboys (6-6, NFC East 3-2)

Past results: Two most recent regular-season meetings -- Nov 7, 2004: Bengals 26, Cowboys 3; Oct. 5, 2008: Cowboys 31, Bengals 22. Series record: Cowboys lead 6-4.

What matters: The playoffs. Neither team can afford a loss as they play with a thin margin of error. The Bengals won four in a row to resurface in the AFC playoff picture. Marvin Lewis dropped a stern message early in the week to remind his team despite their surge they've done nothing but dig out of the hole they created to reach even again.
In a tie for the final AFC spot with Pittsburgh (7-5), the Bengals also keep a slight eye on Baltimore (9-3) who leads by two games but faces a tough four-game stretch to close the year, including the season finale at Paul Brown Stadium. A loss for Cincinnati would create another uphill climb and would likely mean they'd need to sweep the final three games.

Who matters: Bengals' defensive line. They've had four sacks in each of the past four games and countless more quarterback pressures. Their 39 sacks lead the NFL and the matchup plays to their advantage. Tony Romo has been sacked 14 times in the past four games, and his propensity for interceptions is not lost on the Bengals' defense -- even though he has only thrown two in the past five games. The motto of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will tell the story of the game: Apply pressure, create turnovers.

Carlos Dunlap was the AFC defensive player of the week with two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in the win against San Diego last week. Geno Atkins played himself onto a short list of defensive player of the year candidates, and Michael Johnson has eight sacks. Better believe watching film of the seven sacks the Browns placed on Romo three weeks ago left this group licking their chops at the possibilities.

"We've been stopping the run these past few weeks and forcing teams to throw the ball more on us and with the dynamic pass rushers that we have they give us more opportunities," Dunlap said. "I feel that's another reason why we've been performing as well as we have. We just want to keep building on that, but stop the run first and make them pass."

Key matchups: OL Andrew Whitworth vs. DE DeMarcus Ware. This will be a battle of two of the best at their craft. Ware ranks as the top pass rusher at his position this year, according to Across from him will be Whitworth, who ranks as the second best pass-blocking tackle according to the site.
Not only are the two among the NFL elite, they have been good friends since Whitworth played at LSU.
"D and I played in college against each other," Whitworth said. "He was at Troy. So, at LSU we always played Troy. So we used to play each other a lot. We’re both player reps, so we’ve spent a lot of time there. And I used to live in Dallas in the offseason my first couple of years in the NFL. We spent a lot of time together and we’ve already talked this week. It will be a lot of fun. Really as good as it gets at this level. He’s not only a tremendous player but he plays with tremendous effort every single snap."

Injuries of note:
K Mike Nugent strained his calf during practice this week and forced the Bengals to sign K Josh Brown off the street. Brown spent the past four seasons with St. Louis. He hit 75 percent of his kicks last year. One of the primary reasons special teams coach Darrin Simmons vouched for Brown was his history of making game-winning kicks. He's hit seven during his career.

Inside stuff: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis ripped off three consecutive games of at least 100 yards for the first time in his career and first time for the Bengals since Corey Dillon in 1999. His rise coincides with the arrival of undrafted rookie free agent Trevor Robinson as a starter at center. He stepped in for Jeff Faine who couldn't move much of anybody as the starter.

C Kyle Cook looks to be activated off the IR-Designated to Return list and may see a few series in relief of Robinson. The combination of new pieces at center as well as new starters at both guards with the free agent Green-Ellis joining took time to mold, but they've appeared to hit their stride with as efficient of a running game as the Bengals have had since their playoff run in 2009.

Connections: Bengals CB Terence Newman played his first nine years with Dallas before signing with Cincinnati after being let go in the offseason. He's attempted to leave the Cowboys situation behind him this week, but make no mistake he feels extra motivation playing against the team that ditched him.

Stat you should know: The Bengals have not allowed a 300-yard passer since Week 2 against Cleveland. Three of the past four QBs haven't topped 200 yards throwing.

Romo has thrown for at least 300 yards in five of the past six games.

Record watch: Green-Ellis needs 123 yards to top his career high in a season. He set the mark of 1,008 with New England in 2010.

Bulletin Board quote: CB Adam Jones on why playing against his former team Dallas means more than playing his former team Tennessee:

"In Dallas, a lot of shit is fairy tale I should say. It’s not real life. They don’t tell you how it really is. I have nothing against Tennessee. My coach down there (Jeff Fisher) is a great friend and father figure to me. I have no hard feelings against none of them but down deep this is the one you want.”

Looking ahead: The Bengals will face a short week with a Thursday game at Philadelphia (3-8), before the biggest game of the season Dec. 23 at Pittsburgh.

Prediction: Bengals 24, Cowboys 20

Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter @CBSBengals.