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Ravens vs. Browns: Dreaming Big About 2015 Playoff Possibilities - The Sunday Five

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Good morning, Cleveland Browns fans, and welcome to Week 12! In this week's edition of "The Sunday Five," I look at the fantasy land of considering the Browns as a wildcard team, the play of OL Cameron Erving, whether the team will make any defensive adjustments, and more.

1. Playoff Possibilities: The last thing Browns fans are thinking about is the postseason, but before the team is officially eliminated, let's have some fun fantasizing about the mathematical possibility of the team pulling off a miracle. If you haven't done so already, head on over to the ESPN Playoff Machine and test out your scenarios.

Heading in to Sunday of Week 12, the Kansas City Chiefs currently hold the No. 6 playoff seed in the AFC. The Chiefs were 1-5 at one point, but now find themselves at 5-5. If no single team in the AFC plays lights out the rest of the season, it's possible that a team (or two) from the AFC will capture wildcard spots with .500 records. It's probably possible for a team to make it at 7-9, but let's be "somewhat reasonable in the unreasonable" and say that the Browns would have to win their final six games to make the postseason at 8-8.

In general, the Browns will want everyone currently ahead of them in the standings -- Denver, New England, and Cincinnati -- to continue to beat up opposing wildcard contenders. The Chargers, Jets, and Raiders hold head-to-head tiebreakers over Cleveland, but San Diego is easy to surpass if they don't get hot, and Oakland might not be a threat to reach 8-8 either. The Jets could reach 8-8, but are in the midst of a slump. Also, if multiple teams finish at 8-8, the head-to-head tiebreaker basically goes out the window, deferring to the conference record instead. That stuff is too complex to figure out right now, so in the next bullet point, we'll look at the Week 12 rooting guide as we look to take this fantasy "one step at a time."

2. Rooting Guide for Today: Here are the games that are relevant to the Browns' playoff offs in Week 12, and who I would recommend rooting for in order for the Browns to have a better shot at a wildcard spot:

  • Raiders vs. Titans: Cleveland beat the Titans, but lost to the Raiders. Oakland's record is also better than Cleveland's. This is a no-brainer -- root for the Titans.

  • Bills vs. Chiefs: Both teams currently sit at 5-5. This is a game where it's about picking your poison -- which team could the Browns have tied with them to complement them as the No. 5 or No. 6 seed, respectively? Both teams have relatively soft schedules, but I think the Chiefs are on track to continue their hot streak. Therefore, I'll say to root for the Chiefs so that Buffalo's playoff odds are hurt.

  • Buccaneers vs. Colts: Even though the division winner of the AFC South doesn't matter to Cleveland, we don't want two AFC South teams to get hot and both finish at .500, because then someone might contend for Cleveland's wildcard spot. Therefore, root for any AFC South team to lose when they are facing an NFC team -- root for the Buccaneers.

  • Saints vs. Texans: Same scenario as the above, so root for the Saints.

  • Chargers vs. Jaguars: Even though San Diego has a tiebreaker over Cleveland, their long-term prospects of making the playoffs aren't good. The Jaguars could get hot, so we want them out of the picture. Root for the Chargers.

  • Dolphins vs. Jets: With the Jets currently being .500, I'd rather keep as many teams as possible below .500, so root for the Dolphins.

  • Steelers vs. Seahawks: This one is a no-brainer: root for the Seahawks.

These scenarios would still have the Browns three games out of a wildcard spot with five games to go, but the groundwork would be laid for making up ground if either the Steelers or Chiefs lose in Week 13 to Indianapolis or Oakland, respectively.

3. DeFilippo on Erving's First Start: During his press conference on Friday, Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo talked about the first start for OG Cameron Erving:

"I saw a guy that was running around trying to be physical but not always doing the right thing. To me, that is kind of what you expect for an offensive lineman in his first start. I was glad to see when they tried to push Cam around, he fought back. He had a bad play before halftime where he got bull-rushed a little bit. He went the wrong way one time. He had a couple mental mistakes, but from a physicality standpoint, we can fix that, but you can’t fix a guy that wants to go out there and be physical and try to knock people off the football. I pulled Cam aside this week and told him, ‘Hey, Cam, we will get your right. Just keep working. Keep playing with that excitement and physicality that you are playing with."

If Erving is going to improve, he needs to be getting those live in-game reps. At the moment, it is uncertain as to whether or not LG Joel Bitonio will be back from his ankle injury in time to suit up on Monday.

4. Fearing Little Bye Week Adjustments: I used to get the impression that teams and coordinators would use the bye week to reflect on what has gone right and wrong over the previous "x" amount of games, and then adapt accordingly. Now, more and more, I just envision it as a way for teams to get a little healthier due to extended periods of rest, especially when you hear defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil talk about what the defense needs to do different over these final six games:

"A bunch of things. First, start with me, things I could do better in specific situations to help the guys make plays, some scheme things that maybe we thought were good that maybe weren’t as good as we thought just going back looking at the win-losses throughout the first 10 games of the year. Just some guys that maybe were better suited in different roles than maybe what we were playing them in. We learned a lot about ourselves throughout the course of the bye. It’s always good to step back when you’re not in a mode where you have to work at warp speed and figure it out because you have an opponent coming up. It was good."

I've never heard of an NFL team that bases playing time decisions based on who had a "good week of practice" more than the Browns do. Sure, it might make a difference from week-to-week, but over the long run? Last year, it happened with the running back position, and this year it's happening with the cornerbacks while CB Joe Haden is out:

"If Joe’s not healthy, we have four guys that are in a battle that’s new every week, and whoever performs the best that week of practice are the guys that are going to go out and play for us."

I previously suggested that the team toy with the idea of trying CB K'Waun Williams on the outside so that CB Charles Gaines could work the slot. O'Neil says that the team discussed that possibility, but opted to stick with Williams covering the slot. I just get the feeling that O'Neil has a "we just need to play better" mentality rather than making firm adjustments to help put his players in better position to play better.

5. Projecting the Inactives for the Browns vs. Ravens: It's time to predict the inactives for gameday, as the team can only dress 46 players. The players we know for sure will be inactive this week are WR Andrew Hawkins, WR Taylor Gabriel, DL Randy Starks, and CB Joe Haden. The other three inactives I'm projecting are QB Johnny Manziel, OL Darrian Miller, and S Don Jones.

There has been some questions as to whether or not Manziel should be active for this week's game, but I would be stunned if he's active. He's already been declared as the No. 3 quarterback this week, and the odds of three quarterbacks being needed for one game are very low. What wouldn't surprise me, though, is if Manziel, with continued positive work in practice, is moved back to the No. 2 role in future weeks.