David Kohl/AP

It's been 26 years, but Cleveland and Cincinnati finally will play a meaningful midseason game on Thursday night in the tightly-packed AFC North. Plus, Mark Sanchez is ready for the Philly spotlight and Green Bay locks up its triumvirate

By Peter King
November 04, 2014

Three quick items coming out of Week 9 and heading into Week 10... 

Cleveland and Cincinnati actually play a game with meaning.

Now this should be fun: Cleveland (5-3) at Cincinnati (5-2-1) meet Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium. I covered a few of these, decades ago, when the teams were consistent contenders. But there’s been some lean years recently, particularly since the Browns were re-born in 1999 after Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore four years earlier.

In fact, the last time the Bengals and Browns played a playoff-implication game at the midpoint of the season or later was 1988—a full 26 years ago. That’s when the two teams met with at least five wins and a winning record apiece. That season, Cincinnati was 7-1 and the Browns 5-3 when they met in Week 9, and the Bengals were on the way to the Super Bowl.

Rightfully, Cincinnati will be favored. But a Cleveland win would create some havoc in the standings. That would leave the division with three three-loss teams; the strange part is the team with four losses, Baltimore, looked like it might be strongest of them all a month ago. Check out what the standings would be Friday morning with a Browns win Thursday night:

Team W-L-T Division games
Cleveland 6-3 2-2
Pittsburgh 6-3 2-2
Cincinnati 5-3-1 2-1
Baltimore 5-4 2-3


* * *

Nick Foles could miss the rest of the regular season with a cracked clavicle.

This was the worst news they could have expected. For a bone to heal in the throwing area, a person cannot make a consistent throwing motion; rest and knitting-together of the bone is essential. So Foles could miss most if not all of the Eagles’ last eight games of the regular season.

Phillyu2019s Worry? Itu2019s Not Sanchez
No Nick Foles? No problem. Greg Bedard writes that the Eagles won't miss a beat with Mark Sanchez—yes, Mark Sanchez—running the offense. But an injury to a defensive star should have them worried.
If Mark Sanchez’s debut for the Eagles is any indication, I wouldn’t expect coach Chip Kelly to dial back the game plan he designed for Foles. In fact, the first play called by Kelly when Sanchez was in the game Sunday in Houston was a deep post, and Sanchez feathered the ball into Jeremy Maclin’s hands perfectly for a 52-yard gain.

"No," Sanchez said with a chuckle, “there was no easing me into it. He calls that right off the bat, which you learn to expect. Chip’s the kind of coach that, if he coached in the NBA, he’d put a guy in the game right off the bench and call for him to shoot a three-pointer. But I was pretty fired up about the call. Chip’s like that. He trusts you to make plays. I love his demeanor. He’s built a great culture here."

As Kelly said Monday: “I feel very confident that Mark can run anything."

When I saw Sanchez in the preseason, he looked comfortable running the Eagles’ occasional hurry-up offense. “It fits my personality," Sanchez said. “It’s the way I like to play." At Houston, he finished 15-of-22 with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Kelly left no doubt he’d be the guy for as long as Foles is gone.

When I spoke to Sanchez, I gave him every chance to crack wise about the Jets, or air some dirty laundry. He’d have none of it. No rip on Rex Ryan for putting him back in a preseason game, enabling him to wreck his shoulder. No eye-rolling over the bull-fumble. When he left the Jets as a veteran free-agent for Philadelphia after last season, you never heard anything negative from Sanchez.

Not now either.

"We’ll never know how it would have played out if I stayed [with the Jets]," said Sanchez. “That’s okay. I loved my time there. I’m a pretty positive guy, as you know. When I got hurt, the only thing I cared about was trying to get better every day. I never got caught up in the other stuff."

I do believe he’s the only one who didn’t. Sanchez is only 27 (he turns 28 next week), with four playoff wins on his résumé. A good half-season here and Sanchez could write the ticket the Jets never got to cash. He’s on a one-year contract, but I won’t be surprised if he stays in Philadelphia because of his affection for Kelly, the fact that Foles’ starting position isn’t set in stone, and because of the uncertainty of so many quarterback situations around the league.

* * *

Mike McCarthy signs a contract extension in Green Bay.

McCarthy had been signed through the end of the 2015 season, and though terms weren’t released, it’s common around the team to have the contract of the coach the general manager twinned up. Thompson is signed through 2018, and it sounds about right that the Pack has committed to McCarthy—a well-liked and well–respected coach from top of the organization to bottom—for four years after this season. It’s what the Packers do: show great faith traditionally in their coach and GM.

• THE MMQB: Green Bay's A.J. Hawk details what a bye week looks like from a player's perspective

Aaron Rodgers is signed through 2019. In most football organizations, you could argue the most important three people are the quarterback, the head coach and the acquirer of talent. Green Bay now has these three vital guys in the fold for the next 4.5 years at least.

McCarthy still is only 50. He says he wants to coach for a long time. The Packers are not going to be in the market for their cornerstone jobs for years, and in today’s game, that’s as comforting a feeling as any you can have.'

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