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Cleveland Browns' Playoff Picture: Week 12 Edition

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Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

As the Cleveland Browns head into Week 12, it's time to look at what they need to have happen this week to improve their odds of making the postseason, either as the winners of the AFC North or as a wildcard team. As of Friday, November 21, here is how the playoff picture looks in the AFC:

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(Note: all of the discussions below assume that the Browns defeat the Falcons this Sunday)

AFC North Odds for the Browns: It is not mathematically possible for the Browns to be atop the AFC North heading into Week 13. If the Bengals lose this week, they would fall to 6-4-1. The Steelers, who are on the bye, would jump ahead of them automatically with a 7-4 record. Cleveland would also have a 7-4 record.

  1. First Tiebreaker: Head-to-head. The season series was split 1-1, so we move on to the next tiebreaker.
  2. Second Tiebreaker: Division record. Both teams are 2-2, so we move on to the next tiebreaker.
  3. Third Tiebreaker: Common games. For this tiebreaker, you take the win-loss-tie percentage record in for each team in games that both teams have had matchups against. As shown below, the Steelers own a better percentage than the Browns right now:

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    At first, it might seem like the Browns are pretty far behind, but keep in mind that the Steelers have not played the Bengals yet, a team which Cleveland has already beaten once. Cleveland and Pittsburgh both still have to face Atlanta. The Steelers also have to face the Saints, who Cleveland beat. However, Cleveland has to face the Colts and the Panthers, two teams the Steelers have already beaten.

    The better case scenario would be for the Browns to finish the season with a better division record than Pittsburgh to avoid the common games scenario.

AFC Wildcard Odds for the Browns: The best the Browns can do this week is have the No. 6 seed in the AFC. They would be tied record-wise for the Chiefs, who would hold the No. 5 seed. In order for that to happen, though, Cleveland needs a lot of games to go their way.

The big thing that hurts the Browns in all of these tiebreaker scenarios is their conference record. Even if they beat the Falcons, the Browns' conference record would be 4-4. Most of the other wildcard contenders are above .500 with their conference record. There would still be five games left for Cleveland to try to flat out have a better record than the other wildcard contenders, thereby avoiding the conference record tiebreaker.

Week 12 Games to Watch In Relation to the Browns' Playoff Hopes

  • Lions vs. Patriots: There is a rooting strategy for teams that are virtually unreachable for the Browns -- let them keep winning. Sure, a first-round bye sounds cool for Cleveland, but it is highly unlikely. A Patriots loss here only risks crowding the wildcard picture even more for the Browns, which is not good considering New England has a better conference record. We want the Patriots to win.

  • Jaguars vs. Colts: This one is thinking a little more long-term. If the Colts lose this week, they'd have a 6-5 record and be worse than the Browns. Two weeks later, Cleveland would host Indianapolis with a chance to own a head-to-head tiebreaker against them, one that could eventually help the Browns become a No. 3 seed instead of a No. 4 seed. What about if the Texans win the AFC South then? Yes, technically they would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Cleveland, and we'd be the No. 4 seed if we were the AFC North champions. However, let's say the Browns are competing for a wildcard. It's more beneficial to have a head-to-head tie with the Colts than the Texans. We want the Jaguars to win.

  • Bengals vs. Texans: The best path to the playoffs for the Browns is to win the AFC North. Cincinnati has the toughest schedule within the division, but they already overcome one obstacle in beating the Saints last week. I mentioned the risk of getting the Texans back into the playoff mix in the previous bullet point, but for now, We want the Texans to win.

  • Jets vs. Bills: This one goes against conventional wisdom, but let me explain. The Browns face the Bills, but not the Dolphins. The Dolphins have a good conference record, so Cleveland doesn't want to risk being tied for a wildcard spot with them. The Bills split the season series with the Dolphins. If Buffalo finishes the year tied with the Dolphins but with a one-game-better division record than them, Cleveland won't have to worry about Miami. If Cleveland and Buffalo have the same record and the Browns win next week's head-to-head matchup, Cleveland has the tiebreaker over Buffalo. The Jets game is a divisional one for Buffalo, so we want to add them to the mix, under the assumption Cleveland can beat them next week. We want the Bills to win.

  • Rams vs. Chargers: This one doesn't need much explaining: we want the Chargers behind the Browns in the win column, and they face an NFC opponent this week. For teams in the wildcard hunt, always take the NFC team over the AFC team. We want the Rams to win.

  • Dolphins vs. Broncos: This is similar to the Patriots situation -- we don't want the Broncos to crowd the AFC wildcard picture any more. Let them have their first round bye, while hurting the Dolphins' chances in the wildcard mix at the same time. We want the Broncos to win.

  • Ravens vs. Saints: This one shouldn't be a problem for any Browns fan: We want the Saints to win. If all of the above happened except that the Ravens won, the playoff picture would have the Ravens as the No. 3 seed and the Steelers as the No. 5 seed.

The scenarios above are conveyed below (view or manipulate the scenario here). Test your own playoff scenarios from scratch using the ESPN NFL Playoff Machine.

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