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Browns playoffs: Clinching possible in Week 16, seeding matters after that

Cleveland heads down the home stretch hoping to keep their high-seed

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

It has been a roller coaster year for the Cleveland Browns. They have taken home lopsided victories, got beaten pretty badly themselves, gave away games, and then stole victories in the fourth quarter.

And now, the 9-5-0 Browns own the #5 seed with just three games remaining.

There remains a slim chance that Cleveland can win the division, but the Baltimore Ravens have a two-game lead and appear to be Super Bowl contenders with the inside track instead.

But something the Browns do have going for them this weekend is they can actually clinch a playoff spot.

The following scenarios have to take place for that to occur. Here’s the math:

  1. CLE win + CIN loss + DEN loss or tie + BUF loss + MIA win or tie + IND loss or tie OR
  2. CLE win + PIT loss or tie + BUF loss + MIA win or tie + DEN loss or tie OR
  3. CLE win + PIT loss or tie + BUF loss + MIA win or tie + JAX loss + IND win OR
  4. CLE win + PIT loss or tie + DEN loss or tie + JAX loss + IND win OR
  5. CLE win + PIT loss or tie + BUF loss + KC win + IND win + JAX loss OR
  6. CLE win + PIT loss or tie + DEN loss or tie + MIA win or tie + IND loss OR
  7. CLE win + PIT loss or tie + DEN loss or tie + MIA win or tie + JAX loss OR
  8. CLE win + CIN-PIT tie + BUF loss + IND win + JAX loss

Admittedly, that is a lot to digest, but these are factual numbers that would send Cleveland to the playoffs without having to concern themselves with the final two contests against the New York Jets and the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals.

Then the strategy would become attempting to keep their #5 seed status. This would allow them to face the lowest of the top four seeds as #4 would meet #5. If Cleveland would drop a seed pairing or two, they would play much better competition in its first game.

Currently, the Jacksonville Jaguars own the #4 seed and lead the AFC South Division. The Browns had a difficult time with the Jags, but won 31-27. At one time Jacksonville had a three-game lead in the division, but have lost three straight and are now 8-6-0 and clinging to the division lead over the 8-6-0 Indianapolis Colts and 8-6-0 Houston Texans.

The Browns would love to play the #4 seed which would be one of these three clubs. Cleveland defeated the Colts 39-38 in a wild comeback win.

The other AFC teams, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, plus the Ravens, would be a much more difficult path going forward into the playoffs.

Having a playoff win for this team right off would be huge and give these players a taste of what the playoff format is like. Each game has a finality aspect to it that the regular season games do not. It is literally one-and-done.

Chicago Bears v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

The Browns last went to the playoffs in head coach Kevin Stefanski’s first year at the helm during the pandemic season of 2020. Cleveland demolished the Pittsburgh Steelers in their house 48-37 in the Wild Card Round, then had their chance to defeat the Chiefs several times before falling 22-17 in the Divisional Round.

Only 17 players from that 2020 squad are still with the franchise, and three of that number are currently on IR and will not be able to compete in the post-season. This means that most of this roster has never participated in a playoff game and is not sure what to expect.

Cleveland Browns v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images

Others on this current roster who have playoff experience include QB Joe Flacco (Ravens), LB Jordan Kunaszyk (Washington Football Team), C Ethan Pocic (Seattle Seahawks), DE Za’Darius Smith (Ravens, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings), WR Marquise Goodwin (San Francisco 49ers, Seahawks), S Juan Thornhill (Chiefs), DT Dalvin Tomlinson (Vikings), K Dustin Hopkins (Washington), LB Matthew Adams (Indianapolis Colts), P Corey Bojorquez (Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, Packers), LB Anthony Walker (Colts), DT Shelby Harris (Dallas Cowboys, Seahawks), TE Jordan Akins (Houston Texans), WR Amari Cooper (Cowboys, Oakland Raiders), OT Geron Christian (Washington, Chiefs), and DE Ogbo Okoronkwo (Los Angeles Rams, Texans).

Flacco was a Super Bowl MVP and owns a ring along with Christian and Ogbo, while Thornhill and Bojorquez own jewelry from two Super Bowls. Goodwin has played in a losing effort in one Super Bowl.

The Browns are currently on a two-game win streak and attempt to extend that on the road against Houston this Sunday.

If the Browns clinch early, do you think they should rest players or fight for the best seed they can (most likely #5)?