As the Cleveland Browns head into Week 15, 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 Sunday morning, December 14, here is how the playoff picture looks in the AFC:
(Note: all of the discussions below assume that the Browns defeat the Bengals this Sunday)
AFC North Odds for the Browns: In order for the Browns to win the AFC North, here are the things to remember:
- Cleveland needs to go 3-0 to finish the season.
- It doesn't matter what happens to Baltimore.
- Besides the Cleveland game, Cincinnati needs to finish the season 1-1.
- The Steelers need to finish the season at 2-1, but only if that one loss came to Cincinnati in Week 17. If they beat Cincinnati in Week 17, then they will have needed to be 0-2 in the other two games, finishing the season at 1-2.
As you can see, Pittsburgh if the biggest obstacle in Cleveland's way. The Browns just need to chip away and hope for the best.
AFC Wildcard Odds for the Browns: Because Cleveland has the worst conference record among the wildcard contenders and has head-to-head losses to Buffalo and Houston, the wildcard doesn't look too optimistic right now.
However, if they finish the season at 3-0 and don't win the AFC North, there is a good chance that a 10-6 record still secures them a wildcard spot. The only thing that would prevent a wildcard spot in that scenario would be if Houston, Miami, Kansas City, or Buffalo all finish the season winning their final three games. Miami and Buffalo face each other still, so one of them will knock each other out.
If the Chargers finish the season 1-2, then that opens up an extra wildcard spot for the Browns in the event that Cincinnati wins their final two games or one of the aforementioned wildcard contenders go 3-0. It's possible that the Chargers will go 1-2, considering their tough schedule: Denver, at San Francisco, and at Kansas City.
Week 15 Games to Watch In Relation to the Browns' Playoff Hopes
Pittsburgh vs. Atlanta: If the Steelers lose to both Atlanta and Kansas City over the next two weeks, we could potentially have a scenario in which Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh is meaningless to the Browns in Week 17 in a good way. There is no doubt about this game: We want the Falcons to win.
Dolphins vs. Patriots: A loss would put Miami behind the Browns in the wildcard race, and it is mathematically impossible for the Browns to surpass the Patriots or capture a first-round bye. We want the Patriots to win.
Raiders vs. Chiefs: I thought there was no chance of it three weeks ago, but the Raiders upset the Chiefs and now Kansas City has lost three straight to give Cleveland hope in the wildcard race. We want the Raiders to win.
Texans vs. Colts: Because the Browns lost to the Colts last week, we're not going to catch them for a possible No. 3 seed if we do win the AFC North. Therefore, we need them to take out a wildcard contender for us. We want the Colts to win.
Jaguars vs. Ravens: If the Browns go 3-0, this game doesn't mean squat. However, there is a slight possibility that Cleveland could win the AFC North even if they finish the season with a 9-7 record. The only way that would happen is if Cleveland's only loss came against Carolina, the Bengals went 0-3, the Ravens went 0-3, and the Steelers went 1-2, with their only win being against the Bengals in Week 17. The odds of that exact scenario happening are very, very slim. However, while there is still a chance, and...just because they are the Ravens, we want the Jaguars to win.
Packers vs. Bills: I think I heard a stat that the Packers were 0-5 at Buffalo. Well, hopefully that changes this week to move another wildcard contender back a peg. We want the Packers to win.
Broncos vs. Chargers: Cleveland cannot catch the Broncos, no matter what crazy scenario one throws out there. The Chargers need to be sent behind Cleveland in the wildcard race, if necessary. Therefore, we want the Broncos to win.
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.
NOTE: The Playoff Machine is still broken in terms of who wins the tiebreaker if Cleveland & Pittsburgh both finish 10-6 and the Steelers beat the Bengals in Week 17. In that scenario, both teams would have a 4-2 division record and 9-5 common games records. The playoff machine says that Cleveland would own a common games tiebreaker, which is incorrect. The next tiebreaker would be conference record, which Pittsburgh is well ahead of Cleveland in.