As the Cleveland Browns head into Week 14, 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 7, here is how the playoff picture looks in the AFC:
(Note: all of the discussions below assume that the Browns defeat the Colts this Sunday)
AFC North Odds for the Browns: No matter what happens, the Bengals will still lead the AFC North heading into Week 15. The question is, by how much? The Bengals take on the Steelers this week, so if Cleveland wins, Cincinnati will hold either a 1.5 game lead or a 0.5 game lead over Cleveland. If the Bengals lose this week, it sets up a potential "winner takes the division" game the following week against Cincinnati. Baltimore will be in the mix too, but the Browns play them in Week 17.
AFC Wildcard Odds for the Browns: Barring any games that end in a tie, the Browns cannot hold a wildcard spot this week. That's the negative in losing an AFC game to a team you are competing with for a wildcard spot last week in the Bills. If the Browns want to get back into the wildcard mix, they are going to have to chip away, week-by-week.
Week 14 Games to Watch In Relation to the Browns' Playoff Hopes
- Steelers vs. Bengals: The Bengals currently lead the division by 1.5 games. If the Steelers win out, they win the division. It's a tough situation because if you want the Browns to overtake the Bengals next week, then we need the Steelers to win this game. However, if the Falcons win out, we can't catch them. In our fantasy playoff scenario for Cleveland, the Browns would win next week against Cincinnati, and then Cincinnati would lose the following week to Denver.
If the Bengals go 2-2 the rest of the season and Cleveland goes 4-0, the Browns win the division. If the Browns want to risk going 3-1 to finish the season and still win the division, we need Cincinnati to lose this week and then the Steelers to scuffle in two of their final three games. It's a bunch of "what-ifs" that will make your head spin. The bottom line is that this is basically a push this week: whoever wins this game, we need the opposite result to happen in Week 17, when they face each other again. I'll go with the Bengals winning, and then assuming they lose their next two games. We want the Bengals to win.
Ravens vs. Dolphins: Because the Ravens beat the Browns in Week 3, they hold the tiebreaker over Cleveland until Week 17...but it's actually not much of a tiebreaker when you think about it. The Ravens are 2-3 in the division. The best they can do is 3-3, and that is only if they beat Cleveland in Week 17. It would be a "win and in" type of game, possibly. Therefore, even if the Browns are one game behind Baltimore heading into Week 17, a win over the Ravens would put Cleveland ahead of Baltimore in the division or wildcard race.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins have a superior conference record to the Browns and face easy opponents in Week 16 and 17. Therefore, we need them to be taken down a peg right now, while banking on Cleveland taking care of business against the Ravens in Week 17. We want the Ravens to win.
Texans vs. Jaguars: Houston owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Browns, so this one is easy: We want the Jaguars to win.
Bills vs. Broncos: Similar deal: Buffalo owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Browns, so we want the Broncos to win.
Chiefs vs. Cardinals: The Chiefs currently have a better conference record than Cleveland, so anything we can do to get them behind in the win column is helpful, even if it's against a non-conference opponent. We want the Cardinals to win.
Patriots vs. Chargers: If the Chargers are able to pull off an upset this week, it will basically leave one wildcard spot to fight for in the AFC instead of two spots. I'm hoping the Patriots can close the book on them early. We want the Patriots to win.
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