A year ago the Cleveland Browns were putting the finishing touches on a 0-16 season and the mere suggestion that they’d be in the playoff picture in 2018 was laughable. And yet, with three weeks remaining in the season, the Browns find themselves “in the hunt” on those weekly playoff picture graphics.
At 5-7-1 there is still a chance. A very, very slim chance, but a chance nonetheless. The biggest issue is Cleveland doesn’t control their own destiny. Meaning, simply winning the rest of their games won’t guarantee them anything. They need some help.
Here’s what needs to happen for the Browns to pull off the improbable and make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
First things first, the Browns have to win out and finish 8-7-1 to even give themselves a shot at earning a postseason berth. In all honesty, though, that’s the least far-fetched thing that has to happen. Considering the Browns remaining schedule features matchups with the 6-7 Denver Broncos this Saturday, followed by back-t0-back division contests with the 5-8 Bengals and 7-6 Ravens (both of whom the Browns already beat once this season), winning out is certainly within the realm of possibility. If the Browns have any hope of making the playoffs, they’ll have to.
As mentioned earlier, in no scenario can the Browns make the playoffs by only winning out. They need help in the form of other AFC teams losing multiple games. That said, there are paths for them to make the playoffs as both a division winner or the last wild card team. Both scenarios are dicey.
Let’s start with winning the division. To pull off that incredible feat, the Browns need Pittsburgh to lose out and the Ravens to lose two of their last three games. The Steelers are the current division leader and own a tiebreak over the Browns for simply having that one win against them.
For what it’s worth, Pittsburgh’s schedule is tough with games against the Saints and Patriots looming the next two weekends. Those very well could be two losses for the Steelers. It’s the third game against Cincinnati that is hard to imagine them losing. Then again, the Steelers have made quite the habit out of melting down the last few weeks so it’s not completely out of the question.
Meanwhile, Baltimore losing two of three is a little more reasonable especially with one of those games being against Cleveland, which knows it has to win out anyway. That means Browns fans need to be rooting hard for a Ravens loss in the next two weeks to either the Buccaneers or Chargers. Of those two, obviously the Chargers, who are a win away from clinching a postseason berth, present a more likely loss for Baltimore than the 5-8 Buccaneers.
Clinching the second wild-card spot requires even more help for the Browns. That’s because teams from other divisions come into play as well. It’s rooting for a lot more scenarios than just the two laid out above to win the division.
There are currently five teams with better records than the Browns also vying for that second wild-card. They include the 7-6 Ravens, Dolphins, Colts and Titans as well as the 6-7 Broncos who Cleveland happens to play on Saturday. That game actually has massive implications for whoever loses because we already know the Browns have to win out but so do the Broncos. Whichever team loses that game is out of postseason contention, so pressures on.
Anyway, a mere win this weekend in Denver takes one of those five teams out of the equation. From there, the Browns would need each of the Ravens, Dolphins, Colts, and Titans to lose two of their last three. Here’s the remaining schedule for each of those teams…
Miami: at Minnesota, vs. Jacksonville, at Buffalo
Indianapolis: vs. Dallas, vs. New York Giants, at Tennessee
Tennessee: at New York Giants, vs. Washington, vs. Indianapolis
And the Ravens remaining schedule was already presented.
Miami has had an up-and-down season and could certainly lost two of their next three games with the toughest being against Minnesota. For the Colts and Titans we know one of them has to lose that season finale, which means the team that wins that game must lose their previous two for Cleveland to leapfrog them. And with Baltimore, Cleveland really just needs them to split the next two and know they can hand them their second required loss in Week 17.
Ultimately, without a win in Denver on Saturday night nothing else matters. That’s first and foremost for the Browns. But if Cleveland can keep winning it will create a bevy of other scenarios you’ll want to cheer for all the way to Week 17. At the very least though, the fact that there is something to cheer for in December is refreshing for Clevelanders.