IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys' last two opponents are rather familiar having played Redskins and Eagles, but they take a break from their NFC East rivals to face a squad they haven't seen in four years.
In fact, it's been eight years since the Cowboys went to Cincinnati and haven't won there since 1994.
So it will be a rather unfamiliar setting for the Cowboys, who haven't been over .500 since beating Tampa Bay in Week Three to get to 2-1. Since then, it's been a struggle for the Cowboys, who were 3-5 before winning three of their last four games.
Here are the gut feelings for staff writers Nick Eatman, Bryan Broaddus and Rowan Kavner.
Rowan: It's hard to predict any given week which Cowboys team will show up and if a late comeback will be enough for a win. I wouldn't be shocked either way this week, but the consistency the Bengals have displayed running the ball in recent weeks and its relentless attack of opposing quarterbacks gives me the feeling it will be a long day for the Cowboys in Cincinnati. Getting behind early and having to revert to a pass-happy offense could spell trouble against the league's leaders in sacks. Getting over the .500 hump has also been problematic, and something tells me it won't happen this week.
Bryan: With four games remaining it's that time of the year where teams fighting for playoffs spots either step up and get it done or fall by the wayside. The first game of this playoff push will take place in Cincinnati where the Cowboys will face a defense led by one of its own former defensive coordinators Mike Zimmer. Having worked with Zimmer for six seasons, I know he is going to do everything in his power to try and cause as many problems as he possibly can for Jason Garrett. My gut tells me that if Garrett and his offense do not handle the Bengals upfront then it will be difficult for them to come out of Paul Brown Stadium with a victory. As much as you want to believe Rob Ryan can hold things together with his banged up defense, Garrett and this offense are going to have to outscore Andy Dalton and his crew to win this game. The pressure will be on Garrett and if there is any struggle from this Cowboys offense, then their playoff chances will take a big hit.
Nick: I've gone back and forth on this one because while the Bengals are hot right now, I still don't view their team as one that would ultimately scare anyone. The same could be said about the Cowboys, who are headed for an 8-8 collision course at this pace. It's a game that will undoubtedly come down to the fourth quarter. I see the Cowboys scoring enough points to stay in the game, but this banged-up defense will have some problems. For the Cowboys to win this game, they simply cannot fall behind like they have in recent weeks. The Bengals can run the ball and will likely do a better job of hanging onto a lead. So the Cowboys can't afford a slow start. But my gut says Cincinnati will make enough plays, and I have a hard time thinking Newman and/or Pacman won't be involved in some of the turning-point moments.