CINCINNATI - A lot of Andy Dalton's friends and family are flying in for a game that has big interest back in his home state.

"I guess being from Texas, everybody's excited about this one," said the Bengals quarterback, who grew up in suburban Houston.

They're headed this way for a game that's pivotal to both teams' playoffs chances.

The Cowboys (6-6) have gotten into the NFC wild card race by winning three of their last four games. The Bengals (7-5) have run off four straight wins to get in position for an AFC wild card and, perhaps, a division title. Neither can afford a loss at this stage.

A sign of the game's importance: Paul Brown Stadium will be sold out for the first time in the last three home games. A lot of those fans will be cheering for the Cowboys, who have made it exciting lately by putting up plenty of points. Dallas has scored 38, 23, 38 and 38 points in its last four games.

The Cowboys are one of four teams in the NFC tied at 6-6, one game behind Seattle for the last wild card spot. Like the Bengals, the Cowboys started 3-5 and have recovered by putting together their best stretch of the season.

They're one game behind the New York Giants for the NFC East lead, tied with Washington for second place. The Cowboys finish the season at Washington.

"We just need to keep playing well, think about a game at a time and eventually hoping we get to the end," Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware said.

That's the same approach the Bengals have taken while digging out of their 3-5 start. One difference: Cincinnati's defense has been much better over that span. The Bengals have scored 31, 28, 34 and 20 points during their four wins while holding opponents to 13 points or less.