Although we are still sulking over the loss today, it's not time to give up on the season yet. If the Cleveland Browns finish the season at 3-0, they would still have a decent shot at winning the AFC North.
Let's take a look at why, and another reason why Mike Pettine should pull the trigger and start QB Johnny Manziel. QB Brian Hoyer has been unproductive for long enough, and a change at quarterback can spark an offense as the defense, hopefully, continues to take care of business.
Current AFC North Standings / Remaining Schedules
The Browns are currently 1.5 games back of the division-leading Bengals, and 1 game behind the Steelers and Ravens. Our scenario below assumes that Cleveland can pull off victories over the final three weeks.
Looking at the Standings if the Browns Finish 3-0
- None of my discussion points factor in potential tie games over the final three weeks.
- Let's start with Baltimore. When it comes down to it, the Browns don't give a damn what happens to Baltimore over the next two weeks, as long as Cleveland is winning too. If the Browns win against the Ravens in Week 17, they will both be 10-6 and will have split the season series. Cleveland will have a better division record at 4-2, though, so Cleveland would automatically jump ahead of the Ravens. Therefore, if Cleveland goes 3-0, we are guaranteed to finish ahead of Baltimore.
- Next, let's go to Cincinnati. If the Browns go 3-0, the Bengals will be 8-5-1 heading into Week 16. If the Bengals go 1-1 over their final 2 games, Cleveland is guaranteed to finish ahead of Cincinnati. Do you think the Bengals are going to beat the Broncos?
- Finally, let's go to Pittsburgh. They have the best chance of spoiling Cleveland's divisional hopes. If they win out, they are in. If they go 2-1 but one of those two wins is against the Bengals in Week 17, they are in because their division record would be the same as the Browns' division record (4-2). The Steelers own the next tiebreaker, which is the common games tiebreaker. However, if the Steelers lose to the Bengals in Week 17 and Cleveland went 3-0, the Browns would be guaranteed to finish ahead of Pittsburgh. (Please note that the ESPN Playoff Machine is incorrect when it comes to the Browns-Steelers common games tiebreaker).
In summary, there are four big things to remember:
- Cleveland finishes 3-0.
- Ignore Baltimore.
- Root for Denver to beat Cincinnati in Week 16.
- Root for Cincinnati to beat Pittsburgh in Week 17*
*The alternative, but unlikely scenario, is if the Steelers lose to both Atlanta and Kansas City.
Do you think it can happen, Browns fans?
This doesn't include the Browns' wildcard chances, which are still alive too. If the Browns finished at 10-6, Cleveland would surpass Baltimore, Houston, Miami, Kansas City, and Buffalo if each of them finish the year at 2-1. If Cleveland goes 3-0, the Browns are guaranteed to finish at least second place in the division, so even if they don't win the division, they'd be ahead of Cincinnati or Pittsburgh for a wildcard spot (the fifth or sixth seed).