The Cleveland Browns, a team that has started four different quarterbacks and has possibly the priciest injured reserve list in the NFL, is on the brink of earning a playoff berth in the AFC.
We’ll pause for a moment to let that sink in.
The Browns (9-5) could clinch a spot as early as this weekend if they can beat the Houston Texans (8-6) on Sunday at NRG Stadium. Numerous combinations would leave Cleveland celebrating a return to the playoffs, according to NFL Communications:
- CLE win + CIN loss + DEN loss or tie + BUF loss + MIA win or tie + IND loss or tie OR
- CLE win + PIT loss or tie + BUF loss + MIA win or tie + DEN loss or tie OR
- CLE win + PIT loss or tie + BUF loss + MIA win or tie + JAX loss + IND win OR
- CLE win + PIT loss or tie + DEN loss or tie + JAX loss + IND win OR
- CLE win + PIT loss or tie + BUF loss + KC win + IND win + JAX loss OR
- CLE win + PIT loss or tie + DEN loss or tie + MIA win or tie + IND loss OR
- CLE win + PIT loss or tie + DEN loss or tie + MIA win or tie + JAX loss OR
- CLE win + CIN-PIT tie + BUF loss + IND win + JAX loss
Got all that?
Even if all those scenarios do not come true, the Browns will still have a greater than 99 percent chance of making the playoffs if they beat the Texans, according to The New York Times playoff simulator. A loss, while disappointing, would still leave the Browns with an 81 percent chance of making the playoffs with two games left on the schedule.
That is a lot to process, so let’s run through this week’s rooting guide for Browns fans, starting with a pair of games to be played on Saturday.
Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
The Bengals continue their annual irritating habit of making a late-season run to the playoffs, but this time they are doing it with quarterback Jake Browning running the show on offense and a defense that has given up more than 30 points four times in the past six games. That shouldn’t be a problem this week, however, as the Steelers are turning to Mason Rudolph at quarterback as they continue to realize that offensive coordinator Matt Canada was not the problem. A tie would work here, but even though the Browns hold the tiebreaker over the Bengals, hanging another loss on the Bengals can’t hurt. Root for the Steelers (sorry!)
Buffalo Bills (8-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-9)
The Bills are another team trying to fight their way back into the playoff hunt after winning three of their past four games. And thanks to any easy schedule for the next two weeks, it is trending to the Bills and Miami Dolphins playing for the AFC East title on the final Sunday night of the season. On the other side are the Chargers, fresh off giving up 63 points to the Las Vegas Raiders and the end of the Brandon Staley era as head coach. It is hard to see how the Bills lose this one, but that doesn’t mean we can root for it to happen. Root for the Chargers
Indianapolis Colts (8-6) at Atlanta Falcons (6-8)
The Colts got back on the right side of the ledger last weekend with a beatdown of the Steelers for their fifth win in their past six games. The Falcons managed to lose to the one-win Carolina Panthers and are making the always-popular late-season quarterback change from Desmond Ridder to Taylor Heinicke to give the appearance of “doing something.” The Browns hold the tiebreaker over the Colts so the outcome of this game is not vital, but by now we all know the drill. Root for the Falcons
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7)
A meeting of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Jaguars, who once had visions of being the No. 1 seed in the AFC, have lost three in a row, quarterback Trevor Lawrence has a concussion, and are now in a three-way tie with the Colts and Texans atop the AFC South. The Buccaneers have won three in a row behind quarterback Baker Mayfield and put themselves in the driver’s seat for the NFC South title and a home playoff game. Just like everyone expected! Cleveland holds the tiebreaker over Jacksonville, but the Jaguars losing is part of the playoff-clinching scenarios, so go Tampa Bay! Root for the Buccaneers
Dallas Cowboys (10-4) at Miami Dolphins (10-4)
The game of the day (possibly) depends on which teams show up. The Cowboys soiled themselves last week against the Bills, which furthered the narrative that Dallas can’t beat a good team (outside of the win against the Philadelphia Eagles). The Dolphins have been battling the same storyline all season, except they don’t have even one win against a good team to point at (although beating the Baltimore Ravens next week would be cool). In any case, NFC over AFC at this point in the season. Root for the Cowboys
New England Patriots (3-11) at Denver Broncos (7-7)
The lump of coal in everyone’s stocking comes on Christmas Eve in a game that no one asked for but one that likely gets big TV ratings as everyone will be at home looking for something to watch. The Broncos got slapped around by the Detroit Lions last week, which was nice to see, especially since they hold the tiebreaker with the Browns if it were to come to that. It is a fairly easy closing three-game stretch for Denver, but maybe the Patriots can pull off a Christmas miracle. Root for the Patriots
Las Vegas Raiders (6-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-5)
Did the Raiders enjoy their Super Bowl last week in running wild over the Chargers? Maybe. The Chiefs broke their two-game losing streak with a pedestrian win over the Patriots. Christmas Day kicks off with a “rivalry game” that has seen the Chiefs win 11 of the past 12 meetings, and the Raiders could be what Kansas City needs to get right before they meet the Bengals on New Year’s Eve. Root for the Raiders
Baltimore Ravens (11-3) at San Francisco 49ers (11-3)
There is still a small chance that the Browns can pull out the AFC North title, but that is predicated on the Ravens cooperating by losing games, something they have only done once in their last nine games. This could be the week, however, as the 49ers are hot having won six in a row. (We would be remiss if we did not point out that the Browns beat both of these teams this year.) A Cleveland win on Sunday followed by a Baltimore loss on Monday and maybe the Ravens start to feel some pressure. Root for the 49ers
How do you plan to celebrate when the Browns finally clinch a playoff spot?