Photo Credit: The Athletic
Sitting at 5-7-1 the Cleveland Browns still have a chance, a small one, to make the playoffs. Yes, the team from Northern Ohio whose river once caught on fire, who was devastated by the departure of LeBron James (only to “unburn” his jerseys as soon as he said he was coming back), and whose sports teams all went below .500 in 2012. However, the times they are a’changing for the city of Cleveland. The Cavaliers have since won the NBA finals and the Indians made it to the World Series that same year. Now, it is the Browns turn. After firing Hue Jackson, the Browns have gone 3-2 (totaling the same number of wins Hue Jackson had in his entire time in Cleveland) and have played some solid football. They lost to the Chiefs and to the, then red hot, Texans. They beat the 4-9 Falcons, they crushed the 5-8 Bengals, and they pulled out a hard-fought win over the 6-7 Panthers. Here is what has to happen for the Browns to make the playoffs, or at least the wildcard:
To make the playoffs outright: The Browns need to win out, the Steelers need to lose out, and the Ravens need to lose to the Browns, obviously, and either the Chargers or the Buccaneers. This is unlikely, but it could happen. The Browns play in Denver, at home against the Bengals, and in Baltimore. None of those teams are really good, but the Ravens are the biggest threat. The Ravens play at home against Tampa Bay, at the Chargers, and at home against the Browns. The Ravens are going to go at least 1-2 with a win over the Buccaneers. This leaves the Browns’ fate up to the Steelers. The Steelers play at home against the Patriots, in New Orleans, and at home against the Bengals. The Steelers will probably go 1-2 with a win over the Bengals. (Ruining their chance at the playoffs, outright.)
To make the 2nd AFC Wildcard spot: They still need to win out. They still need the Ravens to go 1-2. They need the Dolphins to go at best 1-2. The Dolphins end on the road against Minnesota, at home against the Jags, then at Buffalo. This is gonna be a problem. The Jags and the Bills are both in the gutter right now. They are both 4-9 and have nothing going on. The Browns best hope is that the Bills will be motivated to take the in-division Dolphins down. The Browns also need the Titans to go, at best, 1-2. The Titans end the season in New York against the Giants, then at home against the Redskins and the Colts. Best case scenario here is that the Titans lose to the Giants and Redskins, but beat the Colts. (Probably the least likely scenario but whatever). And finally the Browns need the Colts to go, you guessed it, 1-2. With the previously mentioned Titans-Colts matchup in week 17, the Colts would need to lose just one more game to allow the Browns to sneak through. With a week 15 matchup at home against the Cowboys and week 16 at home against the Giants, there is a possibility that they lose at least one of those.
While the chances that the Browns make the playoffs or the wildcard game are slim, this franchise is on the rise. They are only missing a few pieces to complete the puzzle of what would be a very good team. With a few solid draft picks, the Browns will be a legitimate contender within three years.