The Cincinnati Bengals are halfway to a perfect regular season, but safety George Iloka insists that isn't one of his goals for the team.
The Bengals can record the longest winning streak in team history and inch closer to a fifth straight playoff berth Monday night when they host the Houston Texans.
Cincinnati (8-0) is getting a couple extra days off since a 31-10 win over Cleveland on Nov. 5, giving it time to reflect on the road ahead following its franchise-best start.
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“As it extends, it's only going to get harder,” tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “You've just got to continue to be what got you there.”
A victory over Houston (3-5) would not only pad their sizable lead in the AFC North but also mark the Bengals' best winning streak in their 47-year history. The 1970 team won eight straight to close the regular season.
Of the 21 teams that have started 8-0 or better during the Super Bowl era, all have made the playoffs and eight won the title. The Bengals have some company this season with New England and Carolina having also reached their halfway points unbeaten.
What separates the Bengals is a string of playoff futility that dates back to 1990. They've since lost seven consecutive playoff games, including one in each of the last four years – two against the Texans – since Andy Dalton took over at quarterback.
“Me personally, I couldn't care less about being undefeated in the regular season,” Iloka said. “What's 16-0 if you go 0-1 when it matters?”
Dalton is hoping the best regular season of his career finally turns into playoff success. He's the NFL's second-rated passer behind Tom Brady, including a 139.8 rating last week which was the second-best of his career. The Houston-area native completed a season-best 77.8 percent of his passes while connecting on three TDs to Tyler Eifert.
Eifert, a 2013 first-round pick, is having a breakout campaign with 37 catches for 434 yards and nine TDs – most among tight ends.
“He's a unique player. He's big. He's strong. He's fast. He's explosive. He's got good hands. He's a very smart, good route runner,” Houston coach Bill O'Brien said. “It's a tough matchup for us or any team.”
Despite being below .500, the Texans could get another crack at Cincinnati in the playoffs because they enter the weekend only a half-game back of first-place Indianapolis in the lackluster AFC South.
Houston is coming off its bye week after beating Tennessee 20-6 on Nov. 1. It was the Texans' second win in three games, though both came against teams below them in the South. The other was against Jacksonville on Oct. 18 for their only road victory.
“There's not a whole lot of people that are going to give you a whole lot of a chance going up against an 8-0 team,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “That's fine. It's our job to go out here every single day and find a way. I like that opportunity.”
Watt has 4 1/2 sacks over the past two games and is tied for second in the league with 8 1/2, but he didn't record one in a 22-13 loss to Cincinnati on Nov. 23. The Bengals ended a five-game skid in the series which included the two playoff defeats.
Dalton threw for 233 yards and a touchdown, but his 66.5 passer rating in four lifetime matchups is his second-lowest against any opponent he's faced more than once – including the playoffs. While he has five interceptions and two TD passes in those games, Dalton has 18 TDs to just four picks this season.
The Bengals could get linebacker Rey Maualuga back from a calf injury that caused him to miss a game. He practiced this week as did fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who played through an ailing knee against the Browns.
Houston's Jadeveon Clowney was back at practice for the first time since leaving the game against Tennessee because of a back issue. O'Brien said the linebacker is “day-to-day.”