The Cleveland Browns don't have anything to play for in terms of reaching the playoffs in Week 17, but a loss could help improve the team's draft position come April. Depending on the outcome of a few other games too, the Browns could end up with anywhere as high as the No. 3 overall pick or as low as the No. 8 overall pick. If you're unaware of the scenarios for all of the games in Week 17, I have grouped them into categories with a brief explanation for each game.
BROWNS DRAFT POSITION
- Chicago vs. Minnesota: With a 3-12 record, a victory by the Vikings to close out the season could put them in a tie with Cleveland and a chance for our draft position to improve. The Bears have been struggling offensively for weeks now, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings pull out a victory here.
- Indianapolis vs. Jacksonville: The Colts are definitely going to finish ahead of the Browns, and they've won two straight games. Whether they get the first overall pick, or whether the Rams get it, could make a difference in case an Andrew Luck trade scenario comes up for Cleveland. If Jacksonville (4-11) wins and the Browns lose, Jacksonville would be guaranteed to draft after Cleveland.
- Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta: The Buccaneers hold a 4-11 record and the Falcons still have a chance to move up to the fifth seed in the NFC. If the Buccaneers, who have played terrible lately, can pull out a victory, that is good for the Browns.
- Washington vs. Philadelphia: The Redskins, with a 5-10 record, can win to ensure they don't finish with the same record as Cleveland (win or loss). The Eagles have nothing to play for, but both teams will probably try to win for NFC East pride.
SIGNIFICANT PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS
- Dallas vs. New York Giants: The winner of this game takes the division and is in the playoffs, and the loser is out. You can't ask for a better scenario for the final game of the season if you're a fan on the outside looking in.
- Kansas City vs. Denver: Denver can make the postseason with a win, or a Raiders loss. Even if the playoffs aren't involved, there is another nice storyline for this game: Kyle Orton faces the team who cut him earlier this season, with a chance to spoil Tim Tebow and the Broncos' playoff hopes.
- Baltimore vs. Cincinnati: This is a huge game too; almost as important as the Cowboys/Giants game. If the Bengals win, they are in as a wildcard. If Cincinnati wins though and Pittsburgh beats Cleveland, Baltimore becomes a wildcard team instead of having a first-round bye. Ouch. Baltimore definitely wants this game, and I think they are going to win it. That opens the door for the Titans, Jets, or Raiders as a wildcard.
REST OF THE AFC WILDCARD PICTURE, IF CINCINNATI LOSES
If the Bengals lose, which I think they will, there are crazy scenarios that unfold for either the Titans, Jets, or Raiders to make it as a wildcard. First and foremost, it is easy to say that the Jets have the worst chance at making it.
In order for the Jets to make it, they need to win, and they need the Bengals, Titans, and Raiders to all lose. Not a good chance of everything going their way.
In order for the Titans to make it, they need to win, and they need the Bengals to lose. Then, they need one of the following two scenarios to happen:
- The Jets beat the Dolphins and the Raiders lose to the Chargers.
- The Jets lose to the Dolphins and the Raiders beat the Chargers.
If both the Jets and the Raiders win or lose (assuming a Titans win and a Bengals loss), the Bengals still make it over the Titans. Crazy, eh?
In order for the Raiders to make it (as a wildcard), they need to win, and they need the Bengals to lose. That is it. What the Jets or Titans do is of no interest to them. Remember, even if Cincinnati wins, Oakland can still make it with a win and a Denver loss. In that case, they win the division.
A couple more loose ends...the 49ers want to beat the Rams to secure a first-round bye...the Saints want to beat the Panthers for the chance at getting a first-round bye if the 49ers lose...the Patriots want to beat the Bills so they can lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC...the Lions may want to win if they want the fifth seed instead of the sixth seed. Lastly, as we covered already, the Steelers want to win over the Browns for a chance at the second seed in the AFC.
If you want to verify these scenarios, try out ESPN's playoff machine, which I have been doing for the past several weeks now.