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Browns' Week 15 Playoff Clinching Scenario

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Can the Cleveland Browns clinch a postseason berth this weekend?

This past Sunday, the Browns headed into their game against the New York Jets in a tie with the Tennessee Titans for the final wildcard spot. In a miracle stretch of about eight minutes though, the San Diego Chargers rallied from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to send their game versus Vince Young and company into overtime. That's where LaDainian Tomlinson eventually sprinted into the end zone for a game-winning touchdown, as I celebrated in front of my computer screen as the Browns were just beginning their contest against the Jets. The Chargers did the Browns a huge favor, but because the Buffalo Bills are still rolling, there's plenty of work to be done. Let's take a look at some possible scenarios for Week 15, stating with the best-possible scenario:

Here are the top three wildcard tie-breaking procedures that we need to be concerned with:

  1. Head-to-head
  2. Best record in conference
  3. Best record in common games

Scenario #1 - Clinch

The following games are this weekend. In the best scenario, the winners are in navy:

  1. Buffalo Bills vs. Cleveland Browns
  2. Tennessee Titans vs. Kansas City Chiefs

If the Browns take care of the Bills and the Chiefs defeat the Titans, this is what the sixth wildcard standings would look like after Week 15:

Team W L ComC ComT ComB Conf
Cleveland Browns 9 5 -- 3-1 5-3 7-4
Buffalo Bills 7 7 6-3 3-2 -- 6-6
Tennessee Titans 7 7 3-1 -- 1-3 4-6

(ComC = Common games with Cleveland)
(ComT = Common games with Tennessee)
(ComB = Common games with Buffalo)

Now, in a worst-case scenario, these would be the standings:

Team W L ComC ComT ComB Conf
Cleveland Browns 9 7 -- 3-2 5-4 7-5
Buffalo Bills 9 7 6-3 3-2 -- 6-6
Tennessee Titans 9 7 4-1 -- 2-3 5-7
[editor's note, by ChrisPokorny] After posting this article, I realized that there would be a slight chance that the Denver Broncos could catch up to us if they win @ Houston, @ San Diego, and home against Minnesota to close out the season. Officially, if Denver loses this weekend along with the results above, then we would officially "clinch". But basically, I wouldn't really factor Denver's improbable chance into the equation.

The Browns would be guaranteed a playoff spot because our conference record would be better than the Bills and Titans could possibly reach. Now then, have you wondered about another scenario? What will it take for the Browns to hold the fifth wildcard spot after this week? Consider the following two results:

Scenario #2 - Fifth Seed (Temporary)

  1. Buffalo Bills vs. Cleveland Browns
  2. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Team W L ComC ComJ NA Conf
Cleveland Browns 9 5 -- 2-3 -- 7-4
Jacksonville Jags 9 5 2-1 -- -- 6-4

The Browns would temporarily slip in front of the Jaguars for the fifth wildcard spot. However, Jacksonville's final two games of the season are very winnable against Oakland and Houston. With a sweep, Jacksonville would at worst tie us for the conference record, and then beat us for the common opponents record. Basically, the fifth seed would be a long shot, but still possible. Now that these scenarios are secured, let's take a look at one negative scenario:

Scenario #3 - Drop Back

  1. Buffalo Bills vs. Cleveland Browns
  2. Tennessee Titans vs. Kansas City Chiefs

If the Browns lose and the Titans win, the standings would look like this:

Team W L ComC ComT ComB Conf
Buffalo Bills 8 6 6-3 3-2 -- 7-5
Cleveland Browns 8 6 -- 3-1 5-3 6-5
Tennessee Titans 8 6 3-1 -- 1-3 5-5

The only way the Browns can fall behind this week is with a loss to the Bills (it'd be irrelevant what the Titans do for this week's consideration). However, consider this: the Bills' final two games are against the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles. Let's say that the Bills would lose to the Giants after beating Cleveland, and then the Browns would beat the Bengals. The Browns would then hold a one-game edge over the Bills, as well as a better conference record than the Titans would have.

Conclusion

Read through all of these scenarios with caution. I hope that I didn't make a mistake in anything, but if I did, please point it out. I didn't list the scenario involving Jacksonville beating Pittsburgh and Cleveland winning, because it's quite obvious what would need to happen in the final two games for the Browns to win the AFC North.

Basically, the main message here: beat Buffalo, and our odds are very good. Beat Buffalo and watch the Titans lose, and we clinch. Lose to Buffalo, and we'd probably be down to a 40/60 type of chance to make it, which would be painful to go through.