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Playoff Watch 6.0: Could Browns’ loss mean missing the playoffs? How do they get in?

It all comes down to one game

It seems that a football team does need receivers, linebackers and offensive linemen during a game.

That is what the Browns found out when they were defeated 23-16 against the previous one-win New York Jets in a game that would have placed them into the playoffs. A win would only have garnered the question of which seed number they would ultimately end up with.

Now what?

The unexpected loss slipped Cleveland down from the Number 5 seed to the Number 7 seed. Add to that yet another bad scenario: the red-hot Baltimore Ravens were outside looking in and now have securely grabbed one of the coveted Wild Card spots while the Kansas City Chiefs secured the Number 1 seed.

Cleveland will definitely finish the season with a winning record, but will they make the playoffs?

The key for Cleveland is to beat Pittsburgh in the final game. If they accomplish this, they are in. Pittsburgh has already won the division.

Over the weekend, the Las Vegas Raiders loss eliminated them from their already slim chance at the playoffs. Miami and Baltimore each won while the Colts and Titans squandered opportunities and also lost.

Here is the schedule going into the final weekend:

Browns vs. Steelers (12-3-0)

Dolphins tackle Bills (12-3-0)

Ravens travel to Bengals (4-10-1)

Titans against Texans (4-11-0) - late game

Colts play Jaguars (1-14-0) - late game

The Browns are currently the Number 7 seed. Look at the opponents of these clubs who are fighting for a playoff spot. The common denominator for Baltimore, Tennessee and Indianapolis is that these three teams each play an inferior team.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Browns? Number 3 ranked Pittsburgh. Yes, this is the same opponent which bullied and crushed Cleveland 38-7 in Week 6.

Dolphins? The blazing Buffalo Bills (12-3-0). But here is a scenario. Currently the Bills hold the Number 2 seed in the playoffs and will be the home team in every game except if they play against the Chiefs. Will Buffalo rest players? Do they care if they are the 2nd or 3rd seed and give Miami the game deciding the opportunity of injury to any key players is not worth fighting over one slot? Right now, Vegas has Buffalo as a 6.5 point favorite.

One team will watch the playoffs from their recliner with an impressive 10-6-0 record. Let’s look at which teams have the foremost chances of making the post-season.

AFC North Division

#3 seed: Pittsburgh Steelers 12-3-0

There seems to be this theory that the Steelers will rest their players in Week 17 against the Browns. Odds makers at first had Cleveland as a 6.5 point favorite against Pittsburgh and now that line is up to seven. That says a big fat “yes” doesn’t it?

However, the Steelers would love nothing better than to keep the Browns home and not have to face Myles Garrett again. Plus, Pittsburgh would continue their momentum into the post-season with a second consecutive win if they defeat Cleveland.

But more importantly, the Bills and Steelers have identical 12-3-0 records. One of these two clubs will have a home field edge deeper into the playoffs. Not that this year the home crowd - or lack of - is an advantage. But there wouldn’t be any travel involved with the higher seed. The Bills hold the tiebreaker on the Steelers after beating them 26-15 in Week 14.

And who knows the wind conditions in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field better than the Steelers?

Won’t the Steelers play all-out in the hopes that Miami will defeat the Bills and oust them from that Number 2 seed?

One more angle to look at is the opponent for the opening weekend of games. The Bills would take on the Number 7 seed, which will be either Cleveland or Indianapolis. Both are considered weaker foes. Whereas Pittsburgh would face the Number 6 seed, which would be the troublesome Ravens.

So, the question is, not will Pittsburgh rest their players against the Browns, but – why would they?

Sunday: beat the Colts 28-24. Last five games: 2-3. Toughest opponents remaining: Browns

Post-season probability: 100%

NOTE: Clinched division title

Baltimore Ravens 10-5-0

One of the hottest and most dangerous teams in the NFL are the Ravens. Until Sunday, they were left out in the cold just outside the playoff parameters.

And now? Not only are they back in the playoff picture, they could end up with the Number 5 seed. Both the Browns and Colt losses are to blame. It was possible that Baltimore might have been the one club with a 10-6-0 record watching the playoffs from home. It is doubtful the Cincinnati Bengals will get in their way.

The Ravens own the tie-breaker against Cleveland so the Browns can kiss that high Wild Card seed goodbye which had implications of a home game if they were to win their initial playoff game.

Baltimore will be very dangerous in the playoffs riding a five-game winning streak once they dispose of the Bengals. And in the process they will knock off either Tennessee, Cleveland, Indianapolis or Miami in doing so.

Baltimore clinches playoff berth with:

  1. BAL win OR
  2. CLE loss OR
  3. IND loss OR
  4. BAL tie + MIA loss OR
  5. BAL tie + TEN loss OR
  6. BAL tie + CLE tie OR
  7. BAL tie + IND tie

Cleveland Browns v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Cleveland Browns 10-5-0

Before the loss to the one-win Jets, the Browns owned the highest Wild Card seed, was in second place in the AFC North division, had aspirations of challenging Pittsburgh for the division crown, and boasted a 94% chance of making the playoffs - which was guaranteed if they won.

And now? One of four clubs will end their season with a 10-6-0 record and miss the post-season, and the Browns are one of them. They now reside third in the division, have a 59% chance at the playoffs and need either a win over the Steelers or for other teams to lose if they are defeated by Pittsburgh.

Something important to remember is that Cleveland owns the tie-breakers over both the Colts and Titans. Against Miami, currently the Dolphins have a 7-4 conference record compared to the Browns 6-5 (which is the second tie-breaker).

The Browns are hopeful that Pittsburgh is satisfied with the Number 3 seed and rest some starters. Vegas thinks the Steelers will. And nobody knows for sure except Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin – and the only indication he has said is that they will sit starting QB Ben Roethlisberger.

Cleveland clinches playoff berth with:

  1. CLE win OR
  2. IND loss OR
  3. TEN loss + MIA win or tie + BAL win or tie OR
  4. CLE tie + BAL loss OR
  5. CLE tie + MIA loss OR
  6. CLE tie + TEN loss OR
  7. CLE tie + IND tie OR
  8. CLE tie + TEN tie + BAL win + MIA win

AFC East

#2 seed: Buffalo Bills 12-3-0

Monday: beat the Patriots 38-9. Last five games: 5-0. Toughest opponents remaining: Dolphins

Post-season probability: 100%

NOTE: Clinched division title

Miami Dolphins 10-5-0

Saturday: beat the Raiders 26-25. Last five games: 4-1. Toughest opponents remaining: Bills

Post-season probability: 72%

Miami clinches playoff berth with:

  1. MIA win OR
  2. BAL loss OR
  3. CLE loss OR
  4. IND loss OR
  5. MIA tie + BAL tie OR
  6. MIA tie + CLE tie OR
  7. MIA tie + IND tie OR
  8. MIA tie + TEN loss

AFC South

#4 seed: Tennessee Titans 10-5-0

Sunday: lost to the Packers 40-14. Last five games: 3-2. Toughest opponents remaining: none

Post-season probability: 94%

Tennessee clinches AFC South division title with:

  1. TEN win OR
  2. IND loss OR
  3. TEN tie + IND tie

Tennessee clinches playoff berth with:

  1. BAL loss OR
  2. MIA loss OR
  3. TEN tie + CLE loss OR
  4. TEN tie + MIA tie OR
  5. TEN tie + BAL tie
NFL: OCT 11 Colts at Browns Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Indianapolis Colts 10-5-0

Sunday: Lost to the Steelers 28-24. Last five games: 3-2. Toughest opponents remaining: none

Post-season probability: 83%

Indianapolis clinches playoff berth with:

  1. IND win + BAL loss or tie OR
  2. IND win + CLE loss or tie OR
  3. IND win + MIA loss or tie OR
  4. IND tie + BAL loss OR
  5. IND tie + CLE loss OR
  6. IND tie + MIA loss

AFC West

#1 seed: Kansas City Chiefs 14-1-0

Sunday: beat the Saints 32-29. Last five games: 5-0. Toughest opponents remaining: none

Post-season probability: 100%

NOTES: Clinched division title, own Number 1 seed

Wild Cards

#5. Miami Dolphins 10-5-0

Saturday: beat the Raiders 26-25. Last five games: 4-1. Toughest opponents remaining: Bills

Post-season probability: 72%

#6. Baltimore Ravens 10-5-0

Sunday: beat the Giants 27-13. Last five games: 4-1. Toughest opponents remaining: none

Post-season probability: 93%

Cleveland Browns v New York Jets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

#7. Cleveland Browns 10-5-0

Sunday: lost to the Jets 23-16. Last five games: 3-2. Toughest opponents remaining: Steelers

Post-season probability: 59%

On the Outside

#8. Indianapolis Colts 10-5-0

Sunday: Lost to the Steelers 28-24. Last five games: 3-2. Toughest opponents remaining: none

Post-season probability: 83%

Looking Ahead: results that could help the Browns

Sunday

Bills over Dolphins

Jaguars over Colts

Bengals over Ravens (note: Ravens over Bengals helps if Cleveland loses)

Texans over Titans

Poll

Do you think the #3 seed Steelers will rest starters against the Browns?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    Yes -the gain is minimal without really any home field advantage
    (70 votes)
  • 53%
    No - these games are all out war and nobody wants to concede
    (81 votes)
151 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Do you think the #2 seed Bills will rest starters against the Dolphins?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Yes
    (55 votes)
  • 56%
    No
    (71 votes)
126 votes total Vote Now