There was a lot of excitement among Cleveland Browns fans heading into this weekend’s games.
Even though the team locked up their playoff ticket, there was still a chance for an upgrade or two.
Cleveland might simultaneously earn the top AFC seed and knock the Bengals out in Week 18 if the cards fell right.
Alas, the Miami Dolphins killed the mood by letting the Ravens roll to a division title and a first-week bye.
And as the NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano verifies, Cleveland’s final game means nothing for the Browns.
Browns – Bengals next week now means NOTHING.
Browns are locked into #5 seed.
Bengals are eliminated.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) January 1, 2024
Regardless of the outcome of their Week 18 contest, the Browns own the fifth seed on Wild Card Weekend.
And after a loss to Kansas City, there is no scenario that includes Cincinnati sneaking into the playoffs.
Beating the Bengals is always fun, of course.
And a victory next week would complete another season sweep and leave Cincy with a sub-.500 record.
Bragging rights aside, Kevin Stefanski still has to decide how seriously he’ll take the game.
Cleveland overcame a massive number of injuries, enough to make Stefanski a leading Coach of the Year candidate.
But every team has a limit, and Week 18 would be a bad time for the Browns to realize that number.
Joe Flacco probably does not want the week off as it might mess with his off-the-couch momentum.
But starting P.J. Walker or Jeff Driskel in the wild card game is not a scenario anyone wants to imagine.
Players like Myles Garrett and Zadarius Smith could use a week off before the playoffs, too.
While Stefanski decides, Browns fans can revel in the joy of being in such a position.