By hook, or by crook, Lamar Jackson or Tyler Huntley, the Browns knocked off the Ravens yesterday (Dec. 12th) 24-22, opening the door for the teams’ playoff chances.
If the playoffs were to start this week, with their 7-6 record, the Browns would be just on the outside of the postseason picture, trailing the Buffalo Bills via the conference record tiebreaker. Losing against Baltimore wouldn’t have killed the Browns chance at the postseason, but a win makes not only the wild card, but the division, possible.
The current AFC North standings are as follows.
In order for the Browns to win the division, they are going to have to win three out of their last four games. Home against Vegas on Dec. 18 should be winnable, while a trip to Lambeau Field on Christmas Day is a tough task. That leaves games at Heinz Field on Monday Jan. 3 and back at home against the Bengals on Jan. 9 must win games. If the Browns can finish 10-7 and go 4-2 in the division, they would win the tiebreaker with the Ravens if the Ravens also finish with 10 wins.
The division may be the easiest path to the playoffs, considering the wild card involves scenarios where the Browns have already lost tiebreakers to the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots thanks to head-to-head losses.
The current AFC playoff picture looks as follows.
The Chargers final four games include games at home against Kansas City, at Houston, home against Denver and at Vegas in Week 18. Realistically, the Bolts could finish 3-1, leaving them with a 11-6 record. Even if they stumble and finish 2-2, they would finish above the Browns.
New England has to go to Indianapolis off a bye, host Buffalo and Jacksonville before finishing the season down in Miami. Miami is always a tough place for Bill Belichick and company to play at, but they’ve already beaten Buffalo, Jacksonville is not very good, and I would never bet against Belichick off a bye. Finishing 3-1 down the stretch would put the Pats at a 13-4 record and kings of the AFC East. Browns fans shouldn’t even worry about catching them.
Buffalo on the other hand is a different story. If they lose to New England in Week 16, they would have to win their remaining three home games against Carolina, Atlanta and the New York Jets, which are all doable. That would put Buffalo at 10-7, right there with the Browns. If Buffalo would defeat New England go a perfect 4-0 down the stretch, 11 wins would catapult them over the Browns.
If Indianpolis loses to New England in Week 15, that would put them in a tough spot. Going to Arizona in Week 16 is not going to be easy. However, they finish with games against Vegas at home and Jacksonville on the road. A 2-2 finish would slot them at 9-8, just on the outside looking in. However, if they can pull off a victory against New England or Arizona, their 10-7 record would not affect the Bills or the Browns because they are significantly better against the AFC Conference. Therefore, the Browns should not worry too much about what Carson Wentz, Jonathan Taylor, and the Colts do down the stretch until the Buffalo/New England game occurs.
The other team the Browns would be fighting in the division besides Baltimore is Cincinnati. If the division is indeed won by Jackson and company, the Browns would want Cincinnati to lose to the Ravens in Week 16. Cincinnati faces off with Denver in Week 15 and Kansas City in Week 17. If they somehow go 2-1 down that stretch, a winner is in, loser goes home scenario may take place in Week 18 from FirstEnergy Stadium.
In short, New England, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee have more than likely clinched their playoff spots. That leaves three to go for five teams. Baltimore with wins over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will likely get in. Indianapolis winning three out of four would put them in. That leaves a mad scramble for the Browns and Buffalo for the last playoff spot, but if the Browns take care of business inside the AFC the last four weeks of the regular season, regardless of which seed they are spotted in, the Browns should be playing past Jan. 9, 2022 this season.
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