After gaining a much-needed boost of confidence, the Cincinnati Bengals have a prime chance to lift their playoff hopes.
The Bengals would appear to have a favorable schedule over the next few weeks, beginning with Sunday's visit to the beleaguered Kansas City Chiefs.
Just when it seemed that it might continue its historic trend of inconsistency, Cincinnati pulled off a decisive 31-13 win over defending champion New York last Sunday. Andy Dalton threw a career-high four touchdowns while helping his team end a four-game losing streak, and the Bengals' defense forced four turnovers and sacked Eli Manning four times.
"That was huge for us," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "We really needed that win. It was important because they're world champions and when you can compete against a team like that, it shows us we can compete against anybody."
Cincinnati has made back-to-back playoff appearances only once in franchise history (1981-82) and will get its chance to make a push toward achieving that goal over the ensuing weeks. The Bengals (4-5) will play their next five games against teams that are currently below .500.
Wide receiver A.J. Green, though, said Cincinnati is not taking this stretch lightly, and he pointed to a 34-24 loss at last-place Cleveland on Oct. 14 as evidence why the Bengals shouldn't.
"We can't look past anyone," Green told the team's official website. "This is the last part of the season and I feel like the game we had last Sunday gave us momentum. The best momentum to have is in the second half of the season."
Cincinnati would appear to have its chance for some momentum against the Chiefs (1-8), who have dropped six in a row. Kansas City has been outscored 157-78 during the losing streak, its longest in a single season since a seven-game slide Oct. 5-Nov. 23, 2008.
The Chiefs have produced 16 points or fewer in each of their last five games but nearly won in Pittsburgh on Monday night. Ryan Succop made a 46-yard field goal as time expired in regulation to tie it at 13-all, but Matt Cassel was intercepted on the second play in overtime, setting up the Steelers' game-winning kick.
"We're disappointed about the final result, but I really think our team played a much more competitive game overall than we have been playing," coach Romeo Crennel said. "We had some opportunities to win the game, but there are things we have to polish up and get correct so we can win the game."
With Brady Quinn not yet cleared to return from a concussion, the Chiefs will start Cassel again Sunday.
"Brady does feel better. I'm glad he's feeling better. But he hasn't been cleared to play yet," Crennel said. "I can't take the chance on practicing the guy and not having him ready."
Cassel missed one game earlier this season with a concussion of his own and had to fill in for Quinn when he exited a 26-16 loss to Oakland on Oct. 28.
Cassel has posted his lowest quarterback rating (66.6) in five seasons as a starter, and he has 12 interceptions to only six touchdowns in his eight games.
He was intercepted twice in his most recent matchup with Cincinnati on Dec. 27, 2009, and one of those sealed a 17-10 win for the Bengals. Kansas City's Jamaal Charles had 102 yards on 24 carries in that game and enters this one after reaching the 100-yard mark for the third time this season Monday.
Charles, who has 734 yards, gained 233 in the Chiefs' lone win Sept. 23 at New Orleans.
"He's a guy that has the ability to make people miss," Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said.
The Bengals, who have won consecutive games in the series, are making their first trip to Kansas City since a 27-20 defeat Oct. 14, 2007.
Cincinnati, which has lost in six of its last eight visits, is hoping to have safety Reggie Nelson (hamstring) and rookie wide receiver Marvin Jones (knee) available for this matchup.
"Reggie and Marvin are getting pretty close," Lewis said. "They've worked extremely hard."
The Chiefs' receiving corps might be thin for this game. Jon Baldwin is getting tested for a concussion, and Dwayne Bowe - tops on the team with 49 receptions, 626 yards and three TDs - is also expected to be limited in practice this week due to an ailing thigh.