When your favorite NFL team is struggling to stay in the playoff picture, a bye week can be agonizing.
The Cleveland Browns were forced to watch the AFC North and wild card contenders battle each other this weekend.
And when the dust settled, some things were clearer than others.
If the Browns had won last week, they’d be in first place in the AFC North…
— Aaron Goldhammer (@HammerNation19) December 6, 2021
Cleveland’s odds of winning the division improved, but their wild card odds are slightly lower.
And the Browns might have to win out or rely on some help to make another postseason appearance.
Here’s where the Browns sit in the NFL playoff picture after Sunday’s games.
AFC North Got Tighter
Cleveland’s best shot at the postseason might be to win the AFC North.
And if that is their plan, things fell exactly right for them in Week 13.
Baltimore decided against playing overtime and handed the Steelers a victory with a botched 2-point attempt.
And the Bengals stumbled through a mistake-filled loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Steelers help keep AFC North interesting with comeback victory over the Rat Birds. @browns have opportunity next Sunday to play great, beat Ravens and create a pig pile in division.
— Dennis Manoloff (@dmansworld474) December 6, 2021
Pittsburgh’s win leaves Cleveland in last place, but it pulls the Ravens within 2 games of the idle Browns.
By sweeping their 3 remaining division games, Cleveland wins tie-breakers against every division rival.
But Baltimore has to lose one more game than the Browns over the last 4 weeks to make that matter.
And the Browns have to keep pace with the Bengals and Steelers, as well.
Chasing the Wild Card Leaders
Cincinnati’s loss to the Chargers dropped them behind the victors in the Wild Card race.
But both teams are still in if the season ended today with matching 7-5 records.
They will be joined by the loser of the Monday Night Football game between the 8-4 Patriots and 7-4 Bills.
Some good news is the Browns sit just a game behind the three in the loss column.
AFC potential wild card teams’ remaining schedules:
Chargers: NYG, KC, HOU, DEN, LV
Bengals: SF, DEN, BAL, KC, CLE
Broncos: KC, DET, CIN, LV, LAC, KC
Steelers: MIN, TEN, KC, CLE, BAL
Colts: BYE, NE, ARI, LV, JAX
Raiders: KC, CLE, DEN, IND, LAC
Browns: BAL, LV, GB, PIT, CIN
— TAKE THE CAKE (@goaztecs95) December 6, 2021
The better news is they control the narrative with the Bengals, able to win a tiebreaker in Week 18.
And they only have to displace one of the three to get a ticket to the postseason.
Los Angeles and both AFC East teams have much easier schedules to end the season.
That leaves Cincinnati, with a schedule as difficult as the Browns’, as the most likely to be caught.
Fighting Past The Other Contenders
Pittsburgh leads a group of 6 other wild card contenders, a half-game ahead of the Browns at 6-5-1.
When the teams play in Ben Roethlisberger’s final home game, it could well be an elimination match.
Three other teams have 6 losses, including the Broncos, losers of a head-to-head game, and the Browns’ Week 15 opponent, the Raiders.
Indianapolis (7-6) is the third team with 6 losses and holds an advantage in only having 4 more games to play.
The difference in conferences:
At this moment 6-7 has the Dolphins in 13th place in the AFC
In the NFC that same record would have them in the final wild card spot (7th)
AFC currently has 12 teams .500 or better. NFC has 6 teams .500 or better #nfl
— Yianni Kourakis (@WPBF_Yianni) December 5, 2021
Cleveland and the others have 5 more games to go, one more week where a loss can drop them out of the wild card.
But the team who might be the biggest challenge is the only contender with 7 losses.
Miami (6-7) takes a 5-game winning streak into their bye and faces the Jets in Week 15.
With the worst conference record among contenders, the Browns might have to win out to sneak into an AFC Wild Card slot.