The Cincinnati Bengals spend most of their seasons operating in the shadow of teams that get a lot more notoriety and win a lot less often.
They've been the subject of the HBO training camp show "Hard Knocks" twice in the last four installments, and they've been in the playoffs three times in the last four years.
But between the reality camp shows and the postseason, the Bengals exit the stage and leave the media fixated on such inexhaustible storylines as the perils of Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys, Tim Tebow's never-ending search for a place to play quarterback and any story related to the New York Jets and coach Rex Ryan – even running with the bulls in the offseason.
The Bengals have achieved an admirable level of consistency under Marvin Lewis, now in his 11th season as head coach. He has survived some down seasons – most recently a 4-12 record in 2010 – but the stability of the organization is paying off.
The Bengals won the AFC North title in 2009 with a 10-6 record, and they've made the AFC playoffs the last two seasons with record of 9-7 in 2011 and 10-6 last year.
They're in first place with a 4-2 record heading into Sunday's game against the Lions at Ford Field. The Lions are facing a typically tough Cincinnati team that is more smash than flash, with playmakers on every unit.
The Bengals are primed to make a playoff run and accomplish the one thing that's eluded them – winning in the postseason. They've been knocked out in the wild card round in all three appearances.
Winning will take care of any identity crisis the Bengals might havg.
"The notoriety of things really doesn't matter," Lewis said Wednesday in a conference call interview with the Detroit media. "There's only one team that ultimately gets the notoriety, and that's what we're pushing for."
The Bengals have used the draft to assemble a strong core of young players. They have two genuine stars on both sides of the ball – defensive tackle Geno Atkins, a fourth-round pick in 2010, and wide receiver A.J. Green, drafted fourth overall in 2011.
The Bengals have 31 draft picks on their 53-player roster. That includes nine of 11 on offense and seven on defense.
The Lions and Bengals share the philosophy of building through the draft. That philosophy has helped the Bengals mold a team in the image they want, Lewis said.
"We really believed in that and continue to work hard at that,' Lewis said. "I think what you're seeing is an ability to develop their habits and so forth, and the mentors that you have here and around them. So it's been good that way."
A.J. vs. Calvin:
At 6-4 and 207 pounds, Green is an inch shorter and 30 pounds lighter than Johnson.
Green is in a similar pace as last year, when he caught 97 passes for 1,350 yards and 11 TDs.
He has 37 catches for 464 yards and four TDs.
"Both are tall, both are fast, both are smart," said Lions safety
"Luckily for us, we go go against the best receiver in the NFL. That's Calvin Johnson, each and every day.
"We're definitely prepared for him (Green). We're going to go out and play him and have the same respect for him as we have for Calvin because we know he's an elite receiver who can go up and make plays."
The Bengals were winners in a standoff with Carson Palmer, who refused to report to the team in 2011 and wound up being traded to the Raiders during the season.
The Bengals already had drafted Andy Dalton in the second round to take Palmer's place, and they held firm in their refusal to deal Palmer – until the Raiders made an offer they could not refuse.
Oakland gave up its first-round pick in 2012 and a second-round pick this year, and also picked up Palmer's lucrative contract, which it renegotiated.
The Bengals used the 2012 pick to draft cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and the 2013 pick to take running back Giovani Bernard.
Also, by taking Dalton in the second round, they got a starting quarterback for a lot less than they would have spent on Palmer. The Bengals used the savings on contracts to extend and re-sign a number of key players, ensuring that they will keep the core of their roster together.
Palmer flopped in Oakland and was traded this year to Arizona, where he has been largely ineffective on a team with a 3-3 record.
How the Bengals got to 4-2:
A 24-21 loss at Chicago on a last-minute TD pass started the season, and the Bengals played poorly in a 17-6 loss at Cleveland in Game 4.
Three wins were at home over the Steelers (20-10), Packers (34-30) and Patriots (13-6) before last week's 27-24 win at Buffalo midway through overtime. The Bengals gave up two fourth-quarter TD passes that tied the score.
Dalton had his best passing game of the season for the Bengals – 337 yards, 3 TDs and one interception.
Passing: Andy Dalton 140-215 65.1 pct.), 1,552 yards, 8 TD, 6 int., 87.2 rating, 14 sacks.
Rushing: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, 89-295, 3.3 ava., 3.3 avg., 3 TD; Giovani Bernard, 60-237, 4.0, 2 TD; Dalton, 26-70, 2.7 avg., 0 TD.
Receptions: A.J. Green, 37-464, 12.5 avg., 4 TD; Jermaine Gresham, 24-210, 8.8, 0 TD; Mohamed Sanu, 23-219, 9.5 avg., 0 TD; Bernard, 20-201, 10.2 avg., 2 TD; Tyler Eifert, 19-225, 11.8 avg., 0 TD; Marvin Jones, 12-190, 15.8 avg., 0 TD.
Tackles: Vontaze Burfict, 61-2 for loss; Rey Maualuga, 42; Terence Newman, 29, 3 for loss; George Iloka, 27; Carlos Dunlap, 26, 4 for loss.
Interceptions (5 total): Burfict, Newman, Adam Jones, Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson 1 each.
Pass breakups: Hall 6, Newman 6, Dunlap 3, Michael Johnson 3, Jones 3.
Sacks (18 total): Geno Atkins 4, Dunlap 4, Wallace Gilberry 3, Domata Peko 2.5.
Field goal kicker: Mike Nugent 8-10 and 5-6from 40 yards and longer.
Punter: Kevin Huber, 29 punts, 44.3-yard gross average, 40.3 net, one touchback, 12 inside the 20.
Punt returns: Brandon Tate, 8-9.0 avg.; Jones, 6-5.7 avg.
Kickoff returns: Tate 13, 24.6 avg.