Baker Mayfield and the 2020 Browns are on the brink of the franchise’s first AFC playoff spot in 18 years and are heading for their best record since returning to the NFL in 1999. Although their mark is strong even after losing to the Ravens on Monday night in Week 14, they still have no wiggle room in a very busy conference.
Cleveland (9-4) is the current No.5 seed and the AFC’s first wild card. Even with the loss to Baltimore (8-5), the Browns stay there because they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the No.6 Colts. But the Browns have only one game left. on n ° 7 Dolphins (8-5) and n ° 8 Ravens.
Barring an absolute disaster – say a free fall to 9-7 in the past month – the Browns are still big favorites to advance to the playoffs. They have a valuable tiebreaker against the Colts and Titans at the top of the AFC South. They lost to the Raiders, but at 7-6 Las Vegas is going in the wrong direction.
After taking 0-3 out of the equation, here’s a look at the four finishing scenarios for Cleveland:
Browns go 3-0 and finish 12-4
The Browns stayed two games and a decisive head-to-head game behind the Steelers at the top of the AFC North (11-2) with their loss to the Ravens. Going 3-0 would mean beating the Steelers in Week 17 to tie the series this season. The problem is, the first tiebreaker is the division record. The Browns, 2-3 in the division after losing to the Ravens, can’t match the Steelers, who are 4-0 with two division games to go. The Browns must therefore complete a full game before the Steelers to steal the North.
The Browns would see their divisional hopes dashed here, as the Steelers are highly unlikely to lose to fall to 11-5. But the Browns leading the table would certainly secure the No.5 seed on a 12-4 Colts or 12-4 Titans as they beat both teams. Neither the Dolphins (8-5) nor the Ravens (8-5) can achieve 12 wins.
Browns go 2-1 and finish 11-5
That’s a somewhat reasonable scenario, as the Browns lost as a slight underdog at home to the Ravens in Week 14 and will have a similar status against the Steelers in Week 17. In between, they’re slightly down. favored against the Giants (5-8) on the road and will be heavily favored against the Jets (0-13) at home.
The Titans and Colts are unlikely to win at 12-4 and thus win the Browns’ tiebreaker against the AFC South favorites. There is a better chance that both are 11-5. The Dolphins have a slim chance of running the table to get to 11-5.
That leaves the Ravens, who would have a very good chance of reaching 11-5 with three very favorable games left. Here, the Browns, in the worst case scenario, envision a three-way tie between themselves, the Ravens and the AFC South finalists.
The Titans are a good bet to finish 8-4 in the AFC game. The Colts are reportedly looking for a 7-5 conference record if they finish 11-5. The Browns, if their two losses come to the Ravens and Steelers, could still finish 7-5 in the conference. The Ravens, winning, would also have a 7-5 conference record.
If the Titans and Colts both finish 12-4, then the Titans would be required to hold the division record to win the South. The Ravens, by sweeping the Browns, have the head-to-head tiebreaker on them, as the Browns have the tiebreakers on the Colts. The Ravens, who also beat the Colts, would move up to No.5 with a sweep from the other two teams. The Browns would come next in the pecking order and finish in 6th place ahead of the Colts.
Browns go 1-2 and finish 10-6
The Browns won’t lose to the Jets, but they could easily lose to the Giants and Steelers. At 10-6, they would certainly end up behind the AFC South finalist and the Ravens.
So the question is, can the Browns keep their playoff spot against the Dolphins and Raiders? The Dolphins reaching 10-6 would give them a conference record of 7-5. The Browns would also have a 7-5 mark with losses to the Ravens and Steelers.
The third tiebreaker is that of joint games. The Browns, assuming they win in Week 16, would be 4-1 against the Bengals, Jaguars, Jets and Raiders. The Dolphins are 4-0 against these teams for Week 16 against the Raiders. Winning in Las Vegas would give Miami the tiebreaker in a 10-6 stalemate with the Browns for No.7. But that assumes the Dolphins also beat the Patriots at home and the Bills on the road to set that up. .
Let’s say the Dolphins beat the Patriots and the Bills but lose to the Raiders to reach 10-6 with the Browns then having the same record in the common games. Then the next tiebreaker is the strength of the win. The Browns, for now, are barely heading that one, thanks to victories over the Titans and Colts.
The Browns are in great shape if they finish .500 or better in their last four games. Getting cold in December would be where that slim chance of missing the playoffs comes in.