Despite a heartbreaking loss to the Baltimore Ravens Monday Night, the Cleveland Browns still control their playoff destiny.
Cleveland’s division title hopes took a near-fatal blow as Justin Tucker’s late kick passed through the goalposts.
But heading into Week 15, the Browns hold the first wild card position.
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) December 15, 2020
If the Browns win out, the fifth seed is theirs.
And just one loss could bounce them completely out of the postseason in a nightmare scenario.
Let’s take a look at the more likely paths the Browns can maneuver into the playoffs.
Browns’ Division Title Is In The Bengals Hands
Cleveland has to finish with a better record than Pittsburgh to take the division.
Pittsburgh clinched the second tiebreaker when the Browns lost their third division game Monday.
By the end of Week 15, Browns fans should know if there is a chance for that to happen.
If the Steelers knock off the Bengals they will win the AFC North
— Michael Beck (@MichaelBeck56) December 15, 2020
Pittsburgh has to lose all 3 of their remaining games while the Browns win their final 3.
The season culminates in a showdown at FirstEnergy that could decide the division.
But only if the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Steelers on Monday Night Football.
Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh rarely lose in the MNF spotlight.
And Cincinnati rarely wins on any day or night of the week lately.
But you never know what will happen in a divisional matchup.
Cincinnati already beat Baltimore this season, albeit with a couple of Joes (Burrows and Mixon) who won’t play on Monday.
Win Out And Let The Others Scuffle For Wild Cards
Tennessee and Indianapolis are locked in a battle for the AFC South Division Title.
But one of them has to be a Wild Card team.
Both teams match the Browns with 9 wins, but Cleveland wins a head-to-head tiebreaker with either of them.
Cleveland probably has the toughest game Sunday (@ Giants) among AFC playoff contenders.
Indy gets Houston at home.
Miami gets the Pats at home.
Titans gets the Lions at home.
Ravens get tanking Jags at home.
— Formen (@c4men) December 15, 2020
Baltimore and the Dolphins are 8-5, but even though Miami owns the 7th seed right now, the Ravens have the advantage
Baltimore plays the Jaguars, Giants, and Bengals over the next three weeks.
Miami faces the Patriots at home and ends the season on the road in Las Vegas and Buffalo.
There is a scenario where Buffalo cedes the division title to Miami and vies for a wild card.
But the Bills would have to wind up 10-6, which makes it more likely they miss the playoffs.
The most likely scenario has the Browns, Titans/Colts, and the Ravens in the wild card slots.
Browns Lose Again And Sweat Things Out
One more loss from the Browns drops them into third in the division, assuming the Ravens win out as expected.
Would it be the end of their playoff hopes?
Probably not, thanks to the Dolphins’ schedule.
— Bob Jarzomski (@bjarzomski) December 15, 2020
Miami does not even warrant the full 3-point home field bump versus the Patriots Sunday.
And they are not the betting favorites in Las Vegas or Buffalo.
They are likely to lose a sixth game, leaving the wild cards to Baltimore, Cleveland, and Indy/Tennessee.
The Raiders have 6 losses already and even with the tiebreaker in hand against Miami, they need help from Baltimore to take the 7th seed.
Or… the Browns can lose 2 more games and let the 10-6 Raiders knock them out of the playoffs.
Las Vegas would have to run the table against the Chargers and Dolphins at home and Denver on the road.
Browns Worst Nightmare: 11-5 Not Good Enough
There is one other scenario that would haunt Browns fans forever.
What if the Browns lose one more game and miss the playoffs?
Miami would have to beat the odds and run the table, finishing with 5 losses.
Cleveland and Indianapolis are betting underdogs to the Steelers unless Pittsburgh’s recent woes continue.
I’m enjoying it too but only CLE misses playoffs at 11-5. You know I’m right!
— fumblerooski (@fumbler00ski) December 15, 2020
Tennessee is a betting underdog to the Green Bay Packers.
If Miami matches the frontrunners with an 11-5 record, the 4-way tiebreaker goes into effect.
And the first thing that happens is divisional tiebreakers apply to establish the top place finisher from common division teams.
That means their second loss to the Ravens drops Cleveland from the mix and the 3-way tiebreaker applies for seeding among Baltimore, Tennessee/Indy, and Miami.
Should Miami lose to someone other than the Raiders, Cleveland clinches a wild card with 11 wins.
But 12 wins would be better for our collective nerves.