Sports

Cleveland Browns Playoff Watch 2.Zero: Shifting up the ladder

The Cleveland Browns are currently 8-3-0. After last week’s victory over the Philadelphia Eagles coupled with losses by Baltimore, Las Vegas, New England and Miami, the Browns jumped from the eighth seed to sixth. This week after their defeat of Jacksonville, Cleveland now owns the Number 1 Wild Card slot and remains in second place in the AFC North division.

Yes, the Browns are the fifth seed. They control their own destiny and if the season were to end today, Cleveland would take on Number 4 seed Buffalo on the road.

Not that the Browns have won anything. There are many games left to play and just as they have reeled off three wins in a row, they can just as easily go into a slump and cripple themselves with a bunch of losses. The meat of the schedule begins next week against the Tennessee Titans followed by games against the Baltimore Ravens, New York Football Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers.

There could be four losses right there. The Giants are much improved with a three game win streak but may be without their starting quarterback. Tennessee is really good and has taken back their division lead. Pittsburgh is undefeated. The Ravens spanked the Browns in their first meeting.

But, as a Browns fan, just soak in the success. Your Cleveland Browns are relevant again. The fact that they are winning and stand at 8-3-0 makes your day a bit happier. The sun is brighter. The air is crisper. Christmas lights are being hung everywhere which twinkle the achievement. There is indeed joy in the world.

Let that marinate a bit.

Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

This season, along with four division winners in the AFC, there will also be awarded an extra Wild Card spot for a total of three. Quite a bit happened this weekend on the field to help out the Browns’ quest of finally getting back into the playoffs. The Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts suffered crucial losses. However, Miami and New England won their games.

The Titans defeat of their in-division foe Colts is a huge plus. In this AFC South division, it is advantageous for the Titans to win that division since Cleveland owns the tie-breaker versus the Colts. Tennessee’s victory now places them in first place in that division and slips Indianapolis into the Wild Card category. The Browns must tackle Tennessee next and their stud running back Derrick Henry. Hopefully, former Titans teammate RT Jack Conklin has some inside intel on how to bring this horse down.

One thing to monitor as the season winds down. This year, there will only be one first-round bye which goes to the Number 1 seed. The Number 2 seed will have to play the worst Wild Card club in the opening round. Usually, a club who has the top seed already secured will rest their starters in the final game. If that is indeed Pittsburgh, the Browns could be poised for a gimey win in the season finale.

However, if the Steelers are 15-0 going into that game, will they go for the undefeated season? Most likely they would. Will they need that win to stay ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs for that top spot and get the bye? We will know the answer to those questions heading into the final week.

Back to the Browns. Will they make the playoffs? What will their final record be? Can they hold on? Can they finally defeat one of the good NFL teams and snatch a win they probably should lose? Is a winning record feasible? Will they continue to defeat the NFL least and take home much-needed wins against weaklings such as the Giants and New York Jets?

Let’s examine what the other teams are doing, and who has the best chance of making the post-season.

AFC North Division

Pittsburgh Steelers 10-0-0

The Steelers are fifth against the run while the Ravens, like Cleveland, are a run-heavy offense. Wednesday’s game will be interesting.

Although Baltimore could overtake the division with identical 12-4-0 records, the likelihood of Baltimore winning their remaining games while Pittsburgh losing four of six games is also a stretch. Right now, the division belongs to the Steelers. Really, the only question left is if they can keep that coveted Number 1 seed over the Chiefs.

Last five games: 5-0. Toughest opponents remaining: Ravens, Bills, Colts, Browns

Post-season probability: 99%

Cleveland Browns 8-3-0

You aren’t thinking the Browns have a chance at the division, are you?

The Steelers are almost a shoe-in to take the division. They currently own the Number 1 seed as well.

The Browns jumped from eighth to sixth to fifth in just two games. Upcoming wins over both New York clubs are needed. What would be nice is if Cleveland could wrangle away a win against one of the good teams which so far, except the Colts, the franchise has folded their tents in each game.

Up next is a very good Tennessee club. However, they have a dirty little secret – they rank 26th against the pass plus have issues covering tight ends. A quick check of the Browns’ depth chart shows four guys: prized free agent signee Austin Hooper, Macklin Award winning rookie Harrison Bryant, David Njoku who was drafted for his receiving abilities, and project/special teams ace Stephen Carlson. Why can’t we get those guys going? Of course the Titans are going to run their workhorse just like Cleveland will.

Right this minute, of all the possibilities and probabilities at Wild Card playoff spots, the Browns have the tie-breaker against Indianapolis, plus a 5-3 conference record vs. the Dolphins’ 4-3 conference record, and that’s it. So, another head-to-head win would be awesome. But let’s face it – the defense needs its starters to play. Tennessee ain’t Jacksonville.

Baltimore Ravens 6-4-0

What is with Baltimore? The club that appeared the most likely to take on the mighty Chiefs for supremacy in the AFC, the Ravens look lackluster. Obviously all of this is good news for the Browns and Browns’ fans.

QB Lamar Jackson isn’t even Top-10 in passing. The offense is still a powerful rushing team while their defense is now middle of the pack overall.

Of course, all of this could change if they defeat division foe Pittsburgh on Thanksgiv….um, Sunday afterno…wait, Tues…no? Wednesday afternoon.

Which brings up some interesting scenarios for the division crown. The Ravens are 2-1 within the division with wins over Cleveland (38-6) and Cincinnati (27-3) while just losing to Pittsburgh 28-24. Looking at their remaining games, the Steelers might be the lone club to stand in their way to finish 12-4-0. Seriously. Unless the Browns have emerged as a giant killer during their current winning streak, or the upstart Giants can take a win, the other games are all a “W.”

Despite their recent losses, Baltimore could very easily run the table down the stretch and finish 12-4-0.

And even the upcoming games against the Browns and Giants, take a glance at who those clubs have beaten. The Football Giants currently have a three-game winning streak against the Football Team, Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals. Yoo-hoo. Cleveland needs all four quarters to defeat the bad teams, but they do come out on top and that is all that matters.

But the Browns beat the Ravens in two weeks?

The Steelers have the Ravens, Bills, Colts and Browns yet to play. Could they finish 12-4-0 as well? For certain, Baltimore will have to run the table and hope that Pittsburgh will hit many a speed bump in the last portion of the schedule. More likely, the Ravens best hope is a Wild Card berth.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills 8-3-0

Sunday: beat the Chargers 27-17. Last five games: 4-1. Toughest opponents remaining: 49ers, Steelers, Patriots, Dolphins

Post-season probability: 93%

AFC South

Tennessee Titans 8-3-0

Sunday: beat the Colts 45-26. Last five games: 3-2. Toughest opponents remaining: Browns, Packers

Post-season probability: 96%

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs 10-1-0

Sunday: beat the Buccaneers 27-24. Last five games: 5-0. Toughest opponents remaining: Buccaneers, Dolphins, Saints

Post-season probability: 99%

Wild Cards

#5. Cleveland Browns 8-3-0

Sunday: beat the Jaguars 27-25. Last five games: 4-1. Toughest opponents remaining: Titans, Ravens, Giants, Steelers

Post-season probability: 82%

#6. Miami Dolphins 7-4-0

Sunday: beat the Jets 20-3. Last five games: 4-1. Toughest opponents remaining: Chiefs, Patriots, Raiders, Bills

Post-season probability: 48%

Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

#7. Indianapolis Colts 7-4-0

Sunday: lost to Titans 45-26. Last five games: 3-2. Toughest opponents remaining: Raiders, Steelers

Post-season probability: 47%

On the Outside

#8. Baltimore Ravens 6-4-0

Wednesday: at Steelers. Last five games: 2-3. Toughest opponents remaining: Steelers, Browns, Giants

Post-season probability: 63%

#9. Las Vegas Raiders 6-5-0

Sunday: lost to the Falcons 43-6. Last five games: 3-2. Toughest opponents remaining: Colts, Dolphins

Post-season probability: 60%

#10. New England Patriots 5-6-0

Sunday: beat the Cardinals 20-17. Last five games: 3-2. Toughest opponents remaining: Rams, Dolphins, Bills

Post-season probability: 10%

Looking Ahead: results that could help the Browns

Wednesday

Steelers over Ravens

Sunday

Jets over Raiders

Texans over Colts

Chargers over Patriots

Bengals over Dolphins

Saints over Broncos

Monday

Redskins over Steelers

Tuesday

Cowboys over Ravens

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