CBS Sports - No. 11 (down 1 spot)
The COVID losses of their receiving group really impacted their offense against the Jets. Now they need a victory against the Steelers to assure that they are in the playoffs.
ESPN - No. 10 (down 1 spot)
New Year’s resolution: Improve the defense - This past offseason, the Browns focused on solidifying their offense and better supporting QB Baker Mayfield. They accomplished that, signing TE Austin Hooper and RT Jack Conklin before drafting LT Jedrick Wills Jr. in the first round. Now, Cleveland needs to turn toward the other side of the ball for a defense that ranks just 20th in efficiency, despite featuring star pass-rusher Myles Garrett. The Browns need help at every level, but especially in the secondary.
NFL.com - No. 9 (down 3 spots)
All the Browns needed to do to end the longest postseason drought in the NFL was beat the 1-13 Jets on Sunday. They failed in that task, and now they face the prospect of missing the playoffs entirely if things don’t go their way in Week 17. Baker Mayfield fumbled three times in the loss, the final miscue coming on the game-deciding fourth-and-short QB sneak deep in Jets territory. After the game, Mayfield took the blame for the loss on a day Cleveland was without its top four wide receivers due to COVID-19 protocols. A tough situation, no doubt, but there won’t be any excuses if Cleveland can’t beat a Steelers team that could be resting its starters in the regular-season finale. The Browns have made too much progress to see this season end with the bitter disappointment of another dark January.
Sporting News - No. 12 (down 5 spots)
The Browns got burned by the Jets because of their wide receiver COVID-19 issues and Baker Mayfield trying to make it work with inexperienced replacement options. Their defense isn’t good enough to overcome that.
Yahoo Sports - No. 11 (down 2 spots)
The Browns were a practical lock to make the playoffs before news Saturday that their entire receiving corps would be out due to COVID-19 protocols. The Browns lost to the Jets and still haven’t clinched a playoff spot. If the Browns miss out on the playoffs it will be the cruelest blow to a fan base that deserves a break.
Bleacher Report - No. 9 (down 4 spots)
The Cleveland Browns have a history of misfortune that dates back four decades.
“Red Right 88.”
And now “The COVID.”
One day before the Browns were set to face a one-win Jets team, four of the team’s wide receivers (including Jarvis Landry) landed on the COVID-19 list as close contacts of linebacker B.J. Goodson, who tested positive.
Even with a ridiculously depleted WR corps and without the team’s best linebacker, the Browns made a game of it. But Cleveland’s second turnover late deep in Jets territory sealed the team’s fate—and maybe its season.
Now the Browns likely have to beat the Steelers in Cleveland next week to get in the playoffs. Given that Pittsburgh drilled the Browns in Week 6 and Ben Roethlisberger has lost all of twice to Cleveland in his career, the Steelers’ resting starters may be the Browns’ only chance of erasing the league’s longest postseason drought.
“In an ‘Only in Cleveland’ moment, the Browns lost to a one-win Jets team when everything broke their way to claim a postseason appearance,” Sobleski said. “Instead, Kevin Stefanski’s squad couldn’t overcome multiple factors in what proved to be a brutal team loss. Cleveland is a good squad, but it’s not quite good enough yet. Unfortunately, the Browns play in the AFC and could realistically miss the playoffs with another loss Sunday to the Steelers despite 10 wins.”
Associated Press - No. 12 (down 4 spots)
Listed below is a summary table of where teams in the AFC North are ranked this week.