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NFL playoffs: Divisional round matchups are not determined by bracket

With only 3 playoff appearances since 1990, a little refresher for Browns fans

The Cleveland Browns have made the NFL playoffs for the 2023 season. The Browns are locked into the fifth seed with nothing to play for in Week 18 versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Cleveland fans have been begging for a winning team for a long time. Now, for just the fourth time since 1990, Browns fans get to cheer on their team in the postseason. As we wait to find out which AFC South team will host Cleveland in the Wild Card round, it is at least interesting to think ahead a little bit.

The Browns have beaten the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts already this season. One of those three teams will win the AFC South and earn the right to face Cleveland. Given the outcome of matchups this season, the Browns may be favorites in that game.

Who would they face next if they win?

The simple answer is we will not know until the Wild Card weekend finishes.

Unlike other sports that are set up in bracket format, the NFL playoffs make sure to give their top seeds the “easiest” path possible. In a traditional bracket format (seen below), Cleveland would face the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round if they won:

Instead, Baltimore will get the worst seed remaining after the Wild Card round. The next highest seed would get the next lowest seed. For example, if the second and third-seeded teams win, the Browns and Ravens would face off in the divisional round.

If all of the Wild Card teams win (5th, 6th and 7th seeds) then Baltimore would face the 7th seed while Cleveland hosted the 6th seed in the divisional round. A home playoff game off the shores of Lake Erie would be electrifying!

For now, the Browns are focused on getting healthy in Week 18 and winning in the Wild Card round. Only when those games finish can the team and fans start to think about who the next opponent will be.


Do you like the NFL’s system for the playoffs or think a bracket would be better?