Welcome to meaningful football in November, Browns fans.
This is kinda weird, isn't it?
The Cleveland Browns play their only scheduled primetime game this season Thursday night down in Cincinnati. A win would give the Browns a share of first place in the AFC North on Nov. 6.
This is weird.
Regardless of how the Browns reached this point, regardless of the debate over the future of this team's quarterback, they have secured five wins through nine weeks of the NFL season. For the last six seasons, the Browns won five or four games FOR AN ENTIRE SEASON.
I don't think that can be overstated. Things are going in a positive direction for the Browns and that won't end if they lose Thursday night. Next Sunday the Browns return home where they are 4-1 to play the Houston Texans led by Ryan Mallett at quarterback and an injured (shocker!) Arian Foster at running back. Then, the Browns travel down south to face the Atlanta Falcons who are a dumpster fire. Oh, and last year's leading wide receiver, Josh Gordon, will join the Browns on that business trip.
OK, let's pull back the reigns here and focus on Thursday night.
Three weeks into this season and the Bengals were expected to challenge the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts for the best team in the AFC. Then, the Bengals lost to those Patriots 43-17, tied the Carolina Panthers 37-all and got blanked by the Colts 27-0. All three teams were playoff teams last year. Suddenly, Cincinnati doesn't seem so daunting.
The Bengals defense has been allowing some impressive offensive numbers. The Patriots put up 505 total yards and two weeks later the Colts bested that number by one yard. Meanwhile, quarterback Andy Dalton was playing like it was the playoffs - and that means incompletes and interceptions abound.
These are welcomed numbers for a Browns offense that has struggled since center Alex Mack when down with an injury. The last three weeks the Browns have rushed for 69, 39 and 50 yards, respectively. Gross.
Ben Tate and Terrance West got the carries last week. Where was Isaiah Crowell? Well, considering the pass-blocking prowess West displayed on what proved to be the game-winning touchdown, it is understandable.
But you have to think the Browns will unleash "The Crow" in a short week. He's leading all Cleveland backs with a 4.9 yards per carry average and four rushing touchdowns.
There is no reason the Browns need to go away from their identity this season, which is running the football. In that disappointing loss to Jacksonville on Oct. 19, Brian Hoyer attempted 41 passes. Not good.
The last time the Browns played a truly meaningful game down in Cincinnati came in 2007. On a windy day, the Browns went away from their successful running game and had Derek Anderson attempt 48 passes. He threw four interceptions and the Browns lost 19-14.
Sorry, yeah, that game is still a gut-punch.
Unlike in 2007, a playoff berth isn't on the line, but this game could be seen as a measuring stick for the Browns, who are coming off a stretch in which they went 2-1 against the triumvirate of suck.
When it comes to this season and this game, win or lose, there are still a lot of meaningful games remaining.
This is weird. But fun.