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Hanging on By a Thread - Division or Wildcard?

At 3-5, it's a gloomy time for Cleveland Browns fans. We had an opportunity to improve to 4-4, which wouldn't have been a bad record heading into the second half of the season. In a best-case scenario, it looks like it'll take a 9-7 record to make the postseason. That would require the Browns to finish the season off at 6-2.

Here is a brief look at our remaining schedule:

Week 10: Denver (Ranked 30th)
Week 11: at Buffalo (Ranked 13th)
Week 12: Houston (Ranked 21st)
Week 13: Indianapolis (Ranked 26th)
Week 14: at Tennessee (Ranked 10th)
Week 15: at Philadelphia (Ranked 9th)
Week 16: Cincinnati (Ranked 28th)
Week 17: at Pittsburgh (Ranked 3rd)

The rankings in parenthesis represent each teams' run defense through Week 9.

In our first eight games, five of our matches involved games against teams ranked in the top 7 in stopping the run. A huge problem for offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski against the Ravens was his inability to stop running the ball when we clearly couldn't run the ball.

Three of our next four games will be at home against run defenses that have not done particularly well. A 3-1 record during that stretch leaves us at 6-6 with four games to go. Then, it's the opposite effect for the final four games -- three of our final four opponents have run defenses ranked in the top ten. With Tennessee looking unbeatable, especially in their own stadium, our "best-case scenario" would have us winning our final three games of the year.

Bottom line? Things aren't looking very good.

But, if you want optimism, here it is, regarding potential wildcard teams:

Baltimore: With them having swept us, we need to finish with a better record than them to have any shot. However, they've yet to face a team from the NFC East. Honestly, I still don't see Baltimore winning a single game against them. That, plus another loss to Pittsburgh, slips them to 8-8 at best.

Buffalo: In the next two weeks, they face New England and Cleveland. You can't expect them to beat the Patriots on the road after losing two straight to the Dolphins and Jets, so then we'd have a chance at "controlling our own destiny" against them with what would basically be coming off a bye week for the Browns. If Buffalo loses both games, we'd put them behind us (temporarily).

New York Jets: In two of their next three games, they face New England and Tennessee. That could place them around 6-5 in three weeks, which would be within striking distance if the Browns are even 5-6.

Indianapolis: They face New England tonight and Pittsburgh next week. With a game against us a few weeks later, we also have a shot at controlling our own piece here.

Here is what we need to bank on to stay in the race:

  1. Forget the Division: We already have a 1-3 record in the division. Even if we sweep the Bengals and Steelers, as long as the Steelers beat the Bengals or the Ravens one more time, the last game of the season cannot decide the division (unless Pittsburgh goes winless or something). Pittsburgh plays a lot of our wildcard foes -- we need them to help take out teams like Baltimore and Indianapolis.
  2. Hope for the Chargers: We need another late-season rally from the Chargers. We do not face them this year, but we do face the Denver Broncos. Beating the Broncos gives us a wildcard head-to-head advantage over them, while the Chargers slip ahead into the division lead.
  3. Win Every Wildcard Battle: We have games against Indianapolis, Denver, and Buffalo. Lose one of them, and we're pretty much out.

Please be aware that this entire article is grasping for straws. Straws are the only thing we have left at this point though, due to our division record.

Nonetheless, we have to stick behind our team again. Derek Anderson is not going to be benched after playing a pretty good game overall. We play again in just four days (this Thursday) against one of our targets, the Denver Broncos. Through it all -- GO BROWNS!!!