What a difference a couple of days make.
Way back on Sunday, Cleveland Browns fans fantasized about improving their Wild Card chances with a win over Tennessee.
By Tuesday morning, the Wild Card looked like a lock and fans set their sights on bigger game.
Washington pulled off a second-half comeback Monday and dropped the Pittsburgh Steelers a notch closer to the Browns.
But do the Browns have a shot at the division with the Steelers’ loss?
At least one prominent voice in that conversation thinks so.
Steelers might have opened the door 👀
— Flash Garrett ⚡️ (@MylesLGarrett) December 8, 2020
And Myles Garrett isn’t the only one crunching numbers and playing out scenarios.
With 4 games to go and sitting only 2 games back, the easy answer is “yes.”
Cleveland has a legitimate shot at winning the AFC North.
Every scenario includes the Browns beating Pittsburgh in their Week 17 finale.
But what else has to happen for Cleveland to host playoff football games come January?
Pittsburgh Has To Be Far-From-Perfect
With a 2-game lead, Pittsburgh controls its own destiny.
But its destiny includes some very lose-able games among their remaining 4 contests.
That is enough to give Cleveland fans hope, but the reality might be further from expectations.
Three losses are the bare minimum Cleveland needs from Pittsburgh.
But there are three games they are capable of losing, starting in Week 14.
The Cleveland Browns are 2 games back of the 11 win steelers with 4 games to play.
Cleveland is coming. pic.twitter.com/gv9NdAKS1b
— Nick Karns (@karnsies817) December 8, 2020
Pittsburgh opened the week as a mere 1-point favorite over the Buffalo Bills.
Buffalo shuffled into San Francisco Monday and put 34 points up against a stout defense.
You have to like their chances hosting the Steelers Sunday night.
In Week 16, Pittsburgh takes on another playoff contender in the Indianapolis Colts.
If the cards fall right, Indy could be playing for its own division title and home-field advantage.
Losing those two games could put the AFC North on the line in the Browns Week 17 matchup versus Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati Can Decide The Division
One more Browns’ loss along the way leaves Cleveland in need of a major upset in Week 15.
That is when the Bengals take on Pittsburgh and can hand the Steelers their first divisional loss.
If the Steelers and Browns wind up tied in the standings, the divisional record is the second tiebreaker.
Cleveland needs to beat Baltimore and Pittsburgh and the Bengals must beat the Steelers to forge a tie.
Waking up and remembering we're 9-3. 😂 pic.twitter.com/c9NbC6mO2Q
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 7, 2020
The third tiebreaker is common opponents, and that puts matters back in Cleveland’s control.
Besides the division rivals, there are 8 common opponents between the Steelers and Browns.
Pittsburgh’s loss to Washington Monday puts them a game behind Cleveland’s 7-0 record.
Cleveland clinches the third tiebreaker with a win against the New York Giants in Week 15.
They can also take the tiebreaker if Indianapolis beats the Steelers the following week.
But it all relies on the Bengals pulling off the upset over Pittsburgh in Week 15.
Safest Scenario: Run The String
The division won’t be decided until Week 15 at the earliest.
But if Cleveland is to beat the Steelers for the title, they need to extend the race to Week 17.
If Pittsburgh loses all four of its remaining games, Cleveland can afford to lose two more contests.
But that might let the Ravens steal the title by running the table (including Tuesday’s game versus Dallas).
The #Browns next face the Baltimore Ravens at home for Monday Night Football. With a victory there, Cleveland would move to 10-3 and boast its best record in 51 years.
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) December 6, 2020
Three losses in the Steelers’ last four games allow Cleveland to lose once more, as long as Cincinnati accounts for one of the Pittsburgh losses.
Cleveland’s safest route to a division title is to win out over the last 4 games.
There is a good chance Pittsburgh will not match the Browns record at 13-3.
If they do, a Bengals upset still gives the division to Cleveland.
But even in the worst-case scenario, the matter won’t be settled after this weekend.
And Cleveland Browns fans can continue to revel in their renaissance season.