41F Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
The Bengals will try to keep pace for the final AFC wild-card spot Saturday when they host the streaking Cardinals, trying to win five in a row for the first time in 34 years.
While both teams are still alive for the postseason, Cincinnati (8-6) has a clearer path than Arizona (7-7), which trails current NFC wild cards Detroit and Atlanta by two games with two to play.
The Bengals are tied with the New York Jets for the final spot in the AFC. If both Cincinnati and New York win their last two games, the tiebreaker would come down to strength of victory. The Jets currently have the advantage, although the percentages change each week.
"I can't control those standings," Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. "I can only control one, so let's make sure we're crossing every 'T' and dotting every 'I.'"
The Bengals won for only the second time in six games Sunday, defeating hapless St. Louis 20-13. A.J. Green overcame a sprained shoulder and finished with six catches for 115 yards to top 1,000 yards for the season, while Cedric Benson rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown.
Cincinnati had lost its previous two games by a combined 55-26, but the defense took advantage of one of the NFL's worst clubs, allowing the Rams to convert on just 2 of 13 third-down opportunities - slightly better than the Bengals' 3-for-11 conversion.
Although Andy Dalton has passed for more than 3,000 yards this season, the rookie quarterback has failed to reach 200 in his last three starts. He completed 15 of 26 passes for 179 yards, no touchdowns and one interception last week.
Meanwhile, Dalton's top target may not be 100 percent. Green, who leads the Bengals with 61 receptions for 1,006 yards and seven TDs, did practice Wednesday and doesn't expect the shoulder injury to keep him off the field Sunday.
"Just a little sore but better than I thought," he said Tuesday while raising his arm to shoulder level. "I actually can move my arm some, so it's good."
Dalton is looking to boost his numbers at home, where Cincinnati is just 3-3 and he has thrown only six of his 18 touchdown passes.
Despite the unimpressive record at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati's defense has been playing very well there, giving up 19 points per game. However, the Cardinals aren't making the Bengals' defensive preparations easy, choosing not to name a starting quarterback as of Wednesday.
Incumbent starter Kevin Kolb is still not at full strength after a concussion sidelined him for Sunday's 20-17 overtime win over Cleveland, but coach Ken Whisenhunt isn't ruling him out for this contest.
Second-stringer John Skelton has played extremely well and is 4-1 as a starter - 5-1 if you include a Dec. 11 win over San Francisco, which he entered after Kolb suffered the concussion on the third play of the game. His last three wins have come in games where the Cardinals were trailing or tied entering the fourth quarter.
They trailed 17-7 last week against the Browns before Skelton rallied them by throwing for 155 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime - he had 158 passing yards through the first three periods.
"As soon as the fourth quarter comes, he takes his cape off and he comes out there," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "He does whatever is necessary to get the victory. We know there is something special about the guy. He makes plays down the stretch.
"Everyone talks about Tim Tebow and his record as a starter, but you look at John's record and it's pretty good, too."
While Skelton has helped, the defense is still the biggest reason why Arizona has turned things around following a 1-6 start. Opponents averaged 26.1 points through the first seven games, but 17.4 since.
The Cardinals haven't won five in a row since a six-game run in 1977.
Arizona has won its last two meetings with the Bengals, including a 35-27 victory at Cincinnati in 2007.