Baker Mayfield and the 2020 Browns are on the brink of the franchise’s first AFC playoff berth in 18 years and are headed toward its best record since returning to compete in the NFL in 1999. The Sunday night win over the Giants in Week 15 got them much closer.
Cleveland (10-4) comes out of Week 15 as the No. 5 seed and the top wild card in the AFC. Even with the Week 14 loss to Baltimore (9-5), the Browns remain there because they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the No. 6 Colts (also 10-4). The Browns also stayed one game ahead of the No. 7 Dolphins (9-5) and No. 8 Ravens.
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With the chance of a free fall to 9-7 now gone, the Browns are on the brink of clinching a playoff spot. They have valuable a tiebreaker over not only the Colts but also the AFC South-leading Titans. Their loss to the Raiders is irrevelant because Las Vegas is now three games behind the Browns with two weeks remaining.
Here’s breaking down the three remaining outcomes for the Browns and what all those scenarios may mean:
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Browns go 2-0 and finish 12-4
The Browns will be in the playoffs this way no matter what the Titans, Colts, Ravens or Dolphins do. They would be guaranteed to finish second in the AFC North and have a seed no lower than their current No. 5.
Winning out means the Browns would beat the Steelers in Week 17. But the Browns, because of a division-record differential, cannot win the division unless the Steelers also lose Monday night to the Bengals and next week vs. the Colts.
Should the Browns win the AFC North at 12-4, they would need the Bills to lose out and fall to 11-5 to get all the way up to No. 2. But they would be no lower than No. 3 because of wins over the Colts and Titans.
Browns go 1-1 and finish 11-5
This is a more reasonable scenario, because the Browns lost as slight home underdogs to the Ravens in Week 14 and will have a similiar status against the Steelers in Week 17. But in Week 16, they are heavily favored to beat the Jets (1-13) on the road.
It’s unlikely both the Titans and Colts will win out to get to 12-4 and thus take away the Browns’ tiebreaker vs. the AFC South front-runners. There’s a better chance both will be 11-5. The Dolphins have a low chance of running the table to get to 11-5.
That leaves the Ravens, who would have a very good shot at getting to 11-5 with two very favorable games left. Here, the Browns, worst case, are looking at a three-way tie between them, the Ravens and the AFC South runner-up.
The Titans are a good bet to finish 8-4 in AFC play. The Colts would be looking at a 7-5 conference record if they finish 11-5. The Browns, with one loss, could still finish 7-5 in the conference. The Ravens, by winning out, also would have a 7-5 conference record.
If the Titans and Colts both finish 12-4, then the Titans would be bound to keep the division-record tiebreaker to win the South. The Ravens, by sweeping the Browns, own the head-to-head tiebreaker over them, and like the Browns they have the tiebreaker over the Colts. The Ravens, who also beat the Colts, would jump to No. 5 with a sweep of the other two teams. The Browns would come next in the pecking order and finish at No. 6 ahead of the Colts.
Browns go 0-2 and finish 10-6
The Browns shouldn’t take the Jets lightly, but that team is confident all of a sudden after majorly upsetting the Rams in Los Angeles. Then come the Steelers. At 10-6, the Browns would certainly finish behind the AFC South runner-up and the Ravens.
So the question is, could the Browns hold onto the playoff spot over the Dolphins? The Dolphins getting to 10-6 would give them a 7-5 conference record. The Browns would have a 6-6 mark with losses to the Jets and Steelers.
The Browns will be in great shape if they win at least once in the final two weeks. Going cold in late December/early January would be where that slim chance of missing the playoffs comes into play.