KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Don Criqui, Steve Tasker; DirecTV, 7
SERIES: The Cincinnati Bengals lead the series with the Philadelphia Eagles 6-3. The series is tied 3-3 in Philadelphia. The Bengals last meeting with the Eagles was Dec. 24, 2000, at Veterans Stadium, a 16-7 Eagles victory. Philadelphia has won three of the past four meetings with the Bengals.
2004 RANKINGS: Bengals: offense 18th (18th rush, 17th pass); defense 19th (25th rush, 14th pass). Eagles: offense 9th (24th rush, 6th pass); defense 10th (15th rush, 15th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Eagles coach Andy Reid is expected to rest many of his key starters for a second consecutive game, and QB Donovan McNabb is again likely to play just one series. Philadelphia still won't be a pushover at home, but the Bengals come in motivated to finish .500 for a second consecutive season. QB Carson Palmer expects to play after missing the past two games with a sprained knee and will attempt to stretch the field. RB Rudi Johnson has been doing a good job of softening up the defense and the Eagles struggled against the run on Monday night. For the Eagles to avoid entering the postseason on a two-game losing streak, backup QBs Koy Detmer and Jeff Blake must find a way to move the ball through the air once McNabb exits.
FAST FACTS: Bengals: Johnson needs 81 rushing yards to break Corey Dillon's single-season team record of 1,435 set in 2000. ... Trying to finish with consecutive non-losing seasons for the first time since 1989-90. Eagles: Wide receivers other than Terrell Owens have combined for two receiving touchdowns this season. ... McNabb needs two touchdown passes to break Sonny Jurgensen's single-season team record of 32 set in 1961.
PREDICTION: Bengals 17-13
- QB Jon Kitna will start at quarterback Sunday at Philadelphia, and Carson
Palmer would be the No. 2 quarterback for the Bengals, coach Marvin Lewis
said Thursday. Kitna will make his third consecutive start in place of Palmer,
who suffered a sprained left knee Dec. 12 at New England. Kitna is 1-1 in
two starts this season. In two-plus games, he has thrown for four touchdowns
and four interceptions. He has 463 passing yards and a 71.5 passer rating.
- QB Carson Palmer participated in part of practice on Wednesday and was
on the field again on Thursday. He was not listed as fully practicing, though,
because he missed all or part of the 11-on-11 team session.
- S Anthony Mitchell (shin) was downgraded to questionable for the Eagles
- OL Alex Sulfsted (Achilles) was downgraded from probable to doubtful.
- DL Carl Powell (knee) remained probable but returned to practice Thursday.
- DE Duane Clemons (knee) remained questionable for the Eagles game. He did practice for the second consecutive day.
- CB Lito Sheppard won't play Sunday against the Bengals. He suffered a quad
contusion last week and will be rested for the playoffs.
- CB Rod Hood will get his first start of the season Sunday, replacing injured
Lito Sheppard, who has a quad contusion. Hood likely will his special teams
- DE Jerome McDougle, who has missed much of the season with a knee injury,
will make his second straight start at left end Sunday in place of Jevon Kearse,
who will be a healthy scratch. McDougle did not play very well last week,
particularly against the run.
- LB Mike Labinjo will take most of the snaps at middle linebacker Sunday
as the Eagles rest starter Jeremiah Trotter. Labinjo, a rookie, played very
well last week in his first action of the season.
- WR Billy McMullen, who played about eight snaps Monday night as the club's fourth receiver, will have his workload increased this week.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Bengals have enjoyed -- by necessity -- good seasons from several rookies on defense.
But the best overall season of any Bengals rookie has been produced by safety Madieu Williams.
Williams will make his 13th start -- his eighth at free safety -- Sunday at Philadelphia. He has made starts at three different positions and emerged as a serious candidate for the all-rookie teams. He is fourth on the team with 88 tackles, 65 solo, and contributed a number of big plays. In 15 games, he has three interceptions, one returned 51 yards for a touchdown at Tennessee, and two sacks and two fumble recoveries. He made a pair of touchdown-saving tackles from behind, catching ball carriers - one against Cleveland and the other against Buffalo - to force field goals. He is sixth with 13 special teams tackles.
"The fact is he is such an instinctive player. He's obviously a very good athlete," said Bengals defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a former cornerback. "Every team would want a safety like him, a safety who is able to cover the slot receiver, is able to come up and tackle. And the way he studies as hard as he does. He genuinely works at it, and I think that is what is going to separate him from other players over time."
"It's flattering," Williams said of talk of all-rookie teams, "but the ultimate goal around here is a team goal. The individual goals come after that. The guys around here are very disappointed we didn't get a chance to be in the playoffs because we are definitely a playoff-caliber team."
Eagles special teams coordinator John Harbaugh said Thursday that rookie Dexter Wynn likely will be the club's primary punt returner in the playoffs.
Running back Brian Westbrook led the NFC in punt returns last season. But with his role in the offense increasing, coach Andy Reid decided to relieve of him of his punt return duties.
Running back Reno Mahe returned punts the first nine games before a high ankle sprain sidelined him for five games. Mahe had been averaging just 5.7 yards per return.
Westbrook and cornerback Lito Sheppard split the job for a couple of games while Wynn recovered from a hamstring injury. He's done it for the last four games and has averaged an impressive 13.2 yards per return. While Mahe may have slightly more dependable hands than Wynn, Wynn clearly is a more explosive returner.
"When we go with one person deep, right now, it would be Dexter," Harbaugh said. "If we go two-deep, we'll use both Dexter and Reno."
Wynn also is the club's fourth cornerback in their "dime" coverage package.
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