Happy Halloween to all of our fans at Dawgs By Nature! If you are in the spirit of trick-or-treating tonight, then how about we provide all of the treats you could wish for: a look at how the Cleveland Browns are still very much alive in the postseason race!
Only the best teams can make it, and during the month of October, the Browns certainly didn't look like a contending team record-wise, going 1-3. They face the Ravens this Sunday on November 3, and a new month is just what this team needs right now.
AFC North Outlook
- The Bengals are the team to beat right now. Although the Browns beat them back in Week 4, Cincinnati has since won four straight games to improve to 6-2 on the season, three games ahead of Cleveland.
- As much as I don't think Andy Dalton can win the Bengals a championship, he's getting hotter lately and is getting another offensive weapon back in WR Andrew Hawkins. Between A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, the emergence of Marvin Jones, Hawkins, and their two tight ends, Dalton has a ton of weapons at his disposal. The Bengals' offense ranks 9th in the NFL in yards, which is by far the best in the division.
- Defensively, the Bengals are tough too. They rank 8th in the NFL in yards allowed, and have held the Patriots and the Jets without touchdowns during their four-game winning streak.
- Does Cleveland have a chance to catch Cincinnati? It seems unlikely, but that can change based on tonight's Thursday Night Football game against the Dolphins. If Miami wins, the Ravens will face the Browns two weeks later. If Cleveland beats the Ravens and then the Bengals, the Browns will be right back within striking distance (0.5 to 1.5 games). Any other scenario really puts the division out of each.
- The Ravens simply aren't good enough on offense (20th in the NFL) or defense (16th in the NFL). They couldn't even beat the hopeless Steelers a couple of weeks ago. Their 3-4 record means that they aren't going to be running away with the division by any stretch.
- The Steelers seem poised to remain in the basement of the division. Their defense still has its moments, but they can't protect Ben Roethlisberger whatsoever, and their weapons on offense are no where to be found.
AFC Wildcard Outlook
- One of the wildcards in the AFC will come out of the AFC West, whether that be the Chiefs or the Broncos. That means Cleveland will be competing for the other wildcard spot.
- Currently, the last wildcard spot belongs to either the 4-4 Jets or the 4-3 Chargers, depending on how you want to look at that (the Chargers have had a bye, so technically they are ahead based on winning percentage).
- That puts the Browns just one game behind the division leaders, if the Chargers were to be 4-4 as well. Let's say the Chargers do fall to 4-4 with a loss to the Redskins this Sunday. For the rest of the season, San Diego has four games remaining against the Chiefs and Broncos. San Diego seems talented enough to pull off an upset one of those weeks, but still, it seems like a realistic possibility that the Chargers could finish 8-8 at best.
- The Browns face the Jets later in the season. If Cleveland keeps pace with them over the next few weeks and then beat them, they could hold a tiebreaker over them.
- Other teams in the hunt include Miami, Buffalo, Tennessee, and Oakland. My hope is that none of those teams play well enough to go 8-8.
Cleveland Browns' Outlook
- Right now, the Browns are 3-5. If we discount the unlikely division chances and shoot for the wildcard, my goal is for Cleveland to finish the season 5-3, for a combined record of 8-8. Going 5-3 over your final 8 games doesn't seem like too big of a stretch, does it?
- Our defense is playing well enough to win, and last week's second half against the Chiefs might have been the "turning point" that Ray Horton was preaching about where everything "starts to click." If that ends up being the case, some efficient performances by Jason Campbell can have us in position to win some games.
- The Browns play three division games over the next three weeks: they face Baltimore, then go on the bye, before facing Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Cleveland needs to go 2-1 during that stretch -- with a projection of a loss to Cincinnati -- to see their record go to 5-6.
- After that, Cleveland takes on Jacksonville at home. Jacksonville. 6-6.
- Cleveland then travels to New England, which will undoubtedly be a tough game. However, the Patriots' defense has been hit with injuries and Tom Brady doesn't look like himself, so you never know. We'll say 6-7.
- Cleveland faces the Bears and then the Jets. For tiebreaker purposes, beating the Jets seems more important. Either way, we'll go with a split. 7-8.
- That would set up a date in Pittsburgh to finish the season. Perhaps Cleveland can finally hand the Steelers the season-ending loss they've handed to us so often to finish a season. 8-8, and a legitimate shot at the sixth wildcard.
- If the Browns play even better and finish the season at 6-2 for a combined record of 9-7, that's where the division (and most certainly a wildcard) also come into play.
The key is this Sunday's game against the Ravens, though. Cleveland has never beaten Joe Flacco, and it's time to change that. 3-6 would be devestating from a mental aspect. 4-5 feels so much better, and would get that locker room fired up heading into the bye week.
What do you think, Browns fans? Will Cleveland make the playoffs?
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