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Playoff survival in jungle Cowboys-Bengals battle

By Ashley Powell 

Welcome to the Mediocrity Bowl when the Dallas Cowboys (6-6) and Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) meet with the survivor entertaining playoff dreams and the loser praying for help. Each franchise has been tested this season, and quite frankly, they've failed so many of those tests they may have to stay after school just to earn extra credit. Big C logo

Cincinnati, though, is on an impressive four-game hot streak after losing four straight and a win would keep them in contention within the AFC North. Dallas, on the other hand, is in a must-win situation to keep its playoff hopes alive. The Cowboys are faced with the challenge of taming the feisty Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. Dallas has won only one of the four games played in Cincinnati.  

Opposites attract

The Bengals have been very dominant in the first-half of games outscoring their opponents 177 to 107, but outscored 125 to 153 in the second-half. The Cowboys are the polar opposite having been outscored 83 to 141 in the first-half of play, but blowing out their opponents 195-144 in the second-half. Dallas has scored 20-plus points the second-half in the last four games. The role reversal is certain to keep fans in suspense.  

Playground bullies  

Cincinnati's explosive pass rushers, Geno Akins, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap (39 team sacks this season) have their sights set on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who has been sacked 28 times this season due to the revolving nature and porous play of the Cowboys offensive line.

Romo, though, is best-suited as the king of improvision, often buying time to free a covered receiver or tight-end Jason Witten, his favorite target.

Romo comes to Cincinnati with the hot hand completing 69 percent of his passes for 1,587 yards with 10 TDs and only two interceptions in his last five outings. The Cowboys are throwing for 296.7 yards per game good for second in the league through the air.

On the flipside, the Bengals offensive line has also struggled protecting quarterback Andy Dalton. He’s been dumped on his keister 27 times this season. Cowboys pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer have slapped around a few quarterbacks themselves combining for 16.5 sacks.

One man’s trash another man’s treasure

Bengals cornerbacks Adam Jones and Terence Newman will be playing with huge chips on their shoulder. Both are castoffs from Dallas but have revitalized their careers in Cincinnati. Jones and Newman would like to play like All-Pro performers against their former employer Jerry Jones. Keep an eye on Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, the big-play catcher. Last week against Philadelphia, he finished with six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns.

Another player with something to prove is offensive guard Nate Livings, who signed with Dallas during the offseason after being short-changed by Cincinnati. His words. Livings must go mano-a-mano with former teammates defensive tackle Domata Peko and Geno Akins, which will be no easy task. Livings may want to pack a lunch because this could be a long day for him.

When it comes to swapping players and coaches the teams are like a pair of sisters who like to trade clothes. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer spent 12 years (1994-2006) as part of the Cowboys coaching staff. Zimmer's name is starting to surface as a possible replacement for Jason Garrett should he be fired after the season.  

Final thought  

The winner of this game will be the team with the least amount of turnovers. Cincinnati has given the ball away 20 times and Dallas 23, pretty evenly matched yet again. In all likelihood, the game will come down to the wire leaving one team left to prepare for the playoffs the other, the draft.