It was the week before Christmas, and all through the towns, everyone was sleeping on the post season hopes of the Browns.
That is except, of course, for me.
I want to indulge the possibility that, come January, the Cleveland Browns could be still playing football. For it is a possibility. There is still a mathematical chance that interim coach Greg Williams and rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield guide the Browns to their first AFC playoff spot since 2002.
Imagine it. Rather than spending January watching the Senior Bowl and deciding which young quarterback is going to have his career ruined in front of a fan base deprived of success for so many years, the Browns could still be in with a shot of delivering that success to the “Dawg Pound”.
Let’s not forget that give or take a missed field goal or two, Cleveland could be 8-6 on the season. They would have had a win over divisional rivals the Steelers to boot.
As it is, the Browns will go in to week 16 with a 6-7-1 record. Not the sort of stat line that lends yourself to the belief that post season football beckons.
Before I delve in to how the Browns can, and I stress can as this article isn’t me being of the opinion that Cleveland will make the post season but examining the possibility that they could, let’s look at how Week 15 in the AFC North made the job just that little bit harder.
Browns join the Mile High club…
The Browns played their part in the post season master plan to script. It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but it was a win nonetheless as Cleveland took down the Denver Broncos 17-16 in Mile High Stadium on Saturday night.
Baker Mayfield had two touchdowns and Nick Chubb racked up 100 yards on the ground. By no means was it Mayfield’s finest performance. However, he showed grit to get the job done against one of the premier defensive lines in the league. The Browns own defence looked ferocious from the get go, intercepting Case Keenum twice and holding rookie running back Philip Lindsay to just 24 yards.
Pittsburgh punish Patriots…
An unexpected 17-10 win for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the New England Patriots less than twenty four hours later ended the extremely slim hopes of the Browns winning the AFC North.
Ravens run over Tampa Bay…
In a wet and soggy M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens continued their own battle towards a wild card spot with a 20-12 win over Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers defence never got to grips with Ravens rookie quarterback sensation Lamar Jackson. He looked every bit the quarterback he had been at Louisville on his way to 226 total yards and a touchdown. The door to free agency looks well and truly open for Joe Flacco.
Running back Gus Edwards continued his impressive season with another 100 yard game and a touchdown.
Between Jackson, Edwards and Kenneth Dixon the Ravens totalled over 190 yards rushing for the fifth straight game. They became the first team since the 1976 Steelers to achieve the feat.
With a strong defence and running game, the Ravens are bucking the current NFL trend for success of having a big armed quarterback and racking up points on 50 yard touchdown throws. It is a throwback to “old school” football but with the twist of an elusive quarterback thrown in to the mix.
To wrap up a successful week for the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals trampled over the Oakland Raiders 30-16 to end a five game losing streak.
Joe Mixon was the star of the show with two touchdowns and 129 yards. By comparison quarterback Jeff Driskel had just 130 yards and one touchdown.
Path to the post season…
Fittingly, The Bengals form the first part of a Cleveland path to the post season. They travel to First Energy Stadium next week in a game the Browns must win.
Elsewhere in Week 16, the Browns require the Ravens to lose in Los Angeles against the Chargers. I can see this happening as for me, the Chargers are the most complete team in the AFC.
They also require the Colts and Titans to both lose. This is trickier given the AFC South entertains the dreadful NFC East. Stranger things have happened than the Giants beating the Colts and the Redskins beating the Titans though so let’s entertain that for now.
The other team in play is the Miami Dolphins. Cleveland need the ‘Phins to lose one of their two final games. They play host to the Jaguars in week 16 followed by a trip to Buffalo to end the season. For drama’s sake let’s say the Dolphins edge out the Jaguars to set up a nail biting finale.
What a finale in week 17 it would be too. The Browns would have to beat the Ravens. The Dolphins would have to lose to the Bills. To complete the miracle the Titans and the Colts would have to tie their matchup.
If all that comes to pass, the Browns would end the season 8-7-1 beating out the 8-8 Ravens in the AFC North.
The Browns, Colts and Titans would all have the same record.
The Colts would be ahead of Titans based on their win earlier in the season.
What would split the Browns and the Colts? The tie breaker would be record against common opponents. The Browns would be 3-2 versus the Colts 2-3 record.
And that’s how your Cleveland Browns go from being 1-31 through 2016 and 2017 to the 2018 post season.
It’s pretty easy really…
Photo credit: USA Today Sports