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- At 6-7-1, the Cleveland Browns have secured their best season in years.
- While it’s a longshot, the Browns can still make the playoffs, though they’ll need a lot of help.
- The Browns first need to win their final two games of the year, and then things get weird.
The Cleveland Browns may finally be moving out of the darkness.
A strong stable of young players and the confident play of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield have the Browns playing their most exciting football in years. Since cutting ties with head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley mid-season, the Browns have gone 4-2, and one more win would give them their best season in over a decade.
Thanks to an overcrowded race for the final playoff spot in the AFC, the Browns playoff chances are still alive. It will take something of a miracle, but there is still a scenario in which the Browns are playing postseason football for the first time since 2002.
Take a look below to see how it’s possible, starting with the easiest obstacles and working our way up to the miracles Browns fans really need to keep in their prayers.
Here’s how the NFL playoff bracket would look if the season ended today:
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The Baltimore Ravens hold the sixth spot in the AFC playoff picture at 8-6. The Indianapolis Colts, the Tennesee Titans, and the Miami Dolphins also stand between the Browns and the playoffs.
FiveThirtyEight lists the Browns’ chances of making the playoffs as the dreaded “<1%,” statistical code for “better luck next year.”
But there is a chance as the Browns are five steps away from the postseason.
1. Browns must win their final two games
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The Browns first have to take care of their business. In Week 16, Cleveland hosts the Cincinnati Bengals, a team they beat handily a few weeks ago. They then travel to Baltimore, who will, if the rest of this scenario falls into place, will also be playing for their playoff lives.
2. Dolphins must lose one of their final two games
At 7-7, the Dolphins are only a half-game ahead of the Browns thanks to Cleveland’s Week 1 tie with the Steelers. If Miami loses just one of their final two games, the Browns would jump them should Cleveland win out.
The Dolphins finish their season hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16 followed by a trip to the Buffalo Bills in Week 17. The Bills were the beneficiaries of another team playing spoiler to help them into the playoffs last season – could Buffalo pay the favor forward to Cleveland this season?
3. The Ravens must lose to the Chargers in Week 16
The Ravens need to lose their final two games of the year in order for the Browns to have a shot. That includes the head-to-head matchup against the Browns in Week 17 and this week’s game against the Chargers.
Thankfully for Cleveland, the Chargers still have everything to play for. If they can jump the Chiefs in the AFC West standings in the final two weeks, they’ll be looking at a first-round bye. There’s no reason for Los Angeles to roll over in this one.
4. The Colts and the Titans must both lose in Week 16
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The Colts and Titans play each other in Week 17. But before that, the Browns need both teams to lose in Week 16.
The Colts are coming off of a shutout against the Cowboys, and are hosting the Giants – who were the victims of a shutout last week – in Week 16. The Titans meanwhile host the Redskins, whose quarterback, Josh Johnson, is coming off his first victory as a starter after 10 years of bouncing around the league.
With both the Colts and Titans playing with their own playoff hopes in mind, the thought of them both losing at home to the dregs of the NFC East seems unlikely, but the end of the season is a weird time, and anything can happen.
5. The Colts and the Titans must tie in Week 17
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If all of those previous steps come true, the Browns will finish the season at 8-7-1, ahead of the Ravens, who would be 8-8. The Colts and the Titans would both enter Week 17 at 8-7.
Unfortunately for the Browns, the Colts and the Titans are playing each other.
Indianapolis and Tennessee need a tie in their final game to send Cleveland to the playoffs. Making the situation even tougher for the Browns is both the Colts and the Titans will be playing for the win, as their postseason prospects would also hang in the balance.
If somehow, Indianapolis and Tennessee are still tied after 60 minutes, and neither team can find the decisive play in overtime, both would be eliminated from playoff contention, and the Browns will be through on tiebreakers.
It’s a tough road to get the Browns to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but it’s not impossible.
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