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Browns have chance to exorcise ghosts of playoffs past

NFL’s most-resilient team can write a new narrative about the franchise’s inability to win on the road in the playoffs.

New York Jets v Cleveland Browns Photo by Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns have revealed some hard truths over the years about life in the NFL.

Namely:

  • It is hard to win - only five winning seasons since 1989
  • It is hard to make the playoffs - only three playoff seasons since 1989
  • It is very hard to win more than one playoff game - the last time the Browns accomplished that was in 1950
  • It is extremely hard to win on the road in the playoffs - only one road playoff win since 1969

The Browns have taken care of the first two items on the list as they secured a winning record in Week 15 with a victory over the Chicago Bears and sealed the playoffs on Thursday night with a win over the New York Jets.

While the AFC North Division title is still in play pending the outcome of Sunday’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins, and along with it an outside chance at claiming the No. 1 seed in the AFC, it is more likely that the Browns will open the playoffs as the conference’s top wild card team and subsequent No. 5 seed.

That means the Browns will have a chance to check off the last two items as whatever playoff run they go on will start on the road, most likely against whoever emerges as the AFC South Division winner among the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.

Barring numerous upsets during Wild Card weekend, the Browns would be on the road for the Divisional Round with the opportunity to pick up that elusive second playoff win and bank another road playoff victory.

All of this comes with a bit of a caveat as up through 1965 the NFL only held one scheduled playoff game each season, which was the league title game, unless there was a tie in one of the divisions that necessitated a tie-breaker playoff game. (That is why the Browns played two games in 1950 - an 8-3 win over the New York Giants to break the divisional tie and the 30-28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL Championship Game.)

After beating the Dallas Cowboys on the road in the 1969 playoffs, the Browns would go 0-7 in road playoff games until that special night when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2020 playoffs to finally snap the streak.

Admittedly, the franchise’s history in the playoffs, outside of three years ago, has little to no impact on this year’s team, which has overcome more key injuries than seems possible and is one win away from becoming just the second Browns team to win 12 games in a season since 1950.

Depending on how the Ravens do on Sunday, the Browns may be entering a 16- to 17-day window until they have to play a game that means anything. This, in turn, means that they could be entering the playoffs as healthy as can be expected for a team this late in the season.

Given the resiliency the Browns have shown all season, they are going to be a tough out for anyone come the playoffs. And if they can enter the playoffs with a mostly healthy roster (and the offense can stop turning the ball over so much), then the Browns are going to be a major problem for whoever they play.

The Browns have shown that they have learned from all those hard lessons, and when the playoffs open in two weeks the opportunity will be there for them to bury some of the ghosts of playoff failures past.