Thursday, December 11, 2014

Browns route to the playoffs is clear

For all the crappy results that Browns have had over the last four games, the road to the playoffs is still straight ahead.  Despite one offensive touchdown in Brian Hoyer's last 29 drives, it's a new day, and there's someone new in the drivers seat. Flat tire, gas station, sugar in the gas tank, turbocharger, snow tires, use any automotive metaphor you'd like. All we know is that if the Browns could have had even average play at the quarterback position over the past four games, they'd have another one or two wins under our belt, and it wouldn't be crunch time. But it is.

AP Photo/Don Wright
Now, hopefully, newly-minted 22-year-old starting QB Johnny Manziel can play at an average level, minimally. And the defense can step up. And the running game gets in line, unable to cheat up to stop the Browns rookie RBs.

Because it looks like if the Cleveland Browns win their last three games, they will very likely be in the playoffs. A quick playing around in the ESPN NFL Playoff Machine gave us a few scenarios, linked to in each.

I ran the Playoff Machine with automatic results based on ESPN Power Rankings as of December 11. That leaves the Browns at 8-8, losing to both the Bengals and Ravens, but beating the Panthers, and finishing dead last in the AFC North, with Pittsburgh as the 4th seed hosting Baltimore as the 5th seed.

If nothing else changes except the Browns win out, they finish at 10-6 and travel to Indy in the first round as the 6th seed. In that scenario Baltimore wins its other two games, finishes 10-6 but loses a tiebreaker to the Browns and the Chargers.

The Browns beating the Ravens means everything. I had trouble finding a way to sneak the Browns in with just 9 wins. If the Steelers lose out, the Bengals sneak in. If the Chargers lose out, the Chiefs sneak in. If some other crazy crap happens, the Browns' loss to the Texans really bites us in the ass, and Houston sneaks in at 9-7.

The other wild card (no pun intended) here is the Miami Dolphins. They don't have the toughest schedule, but their tiebreakers suck. If they can win in New England this weekend, then win home games against the Vikings and Jets, they will be 10-6 and will beat out the expected logjam at 9-7 and even the Browns at 10-6 due to the conference record tiebreaker.

Week 17 might be a doozy. That Chiefs-Chargers game could send one or both home, depending on the Dolphins. If the Browns and Ravens come in at 9-6, the winner could be the 4 seed and the loser could go home. Just so many scenarios out there--the Browns winning out would bring clarity to so much.

Just win, baby.