CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals are preparing as if quarterback AJ McCarron will start Saturday night's AFC wild-card game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, coach Marvin Lewis said in a news conference Monday, confirming what a source earlier told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
McCarron has started Cincinnati's past three games in place of Andy Dalton, who is sidelined with a broken thumb on his throwing hand.
"Regardless of Andy's status, we're going to go into the week right now - at least in the early part of the week - preparing with AJ, no doubt," Lewis said.
Dalton was scheduled to meet with doctors Monday and hoped to have the cast removed from his right hand. Asked for an update on Dalton's thumb, Lewis declined comment, giving no indication as to whether his two-time Pro Bowl quarterback would even be available as a backup against Pittsburgh.
Dalton suffered the injury while making a tackle Dec. 13 during the last meeting between the Bengals and Steelers, forcing McCarron into his first extensive NFL action. The second-year quarterback said Sunday that he will be much more confident if forced to face Pittsburgh again.
"I feel like I am finally getting some reps, know the offense a little bit more and am more used to it," he said. "I've been trying to take care of the football and being thrown in that game, I didn't."
Cincinnati went 2-1 in the three games started by McCarron, who threw two touchdown passes in Sunday's 24-16 victory against the Baltimore Ravens. McCarron has passed for 832 yards and six touchdowns since filling in for Dalton. He has not thrown an interception in any of his three starts.
"If the other quarterback turns the ball over and you don't, it puts your team in a situation to win the ballgame," McCarron said Sunday. "That's the biggest thing for us, taking care of the football."