The Browns (10-5) go into Week 17 of the 2020 NFL season still looking to officially end their 18-year AFC playoff drought. Despite seven teams now making the playoffs in each conference, Cleveland is in danger of not securing one of three AFC wild-card berths even with the double-digit wins.
Coming out of Week 16, the Browns are the projected No. 7 seed, behind the victorious Dolphins (10-5) and Ravens (10-5) but ahead of the Colts (10-5). The Browns could have clinched a playoff spot when the Colts blew a big lead to the Steelers, but they failed to complete a big comeback against the Jets.
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The Browns now need to beat the Steelers at home in Week 17 to guarantee an AFC playoff spot. Pittsburgh won’t be playing for much knowing it would get either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed behind Kansas City regardless of result. But still, on paper, it’s a tough matchup for Cleveland.
The Browns know that they would be in if they win, thanks to a head-to-head victory over the Colts. They would, at worst, stay behind the Dolphins and Ravens and perhaps get a rematch with the Steelers in the wild-card round.
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The Browns also would be in with a loss if they are tied alone with the Colts or Titans, whoever doesn’t win the AFC South at 10-6, thanks to having beaten both teams.
But losing to the Steelers also opens the door for the Browns be left out in a variety of ways. Here’s breaking them down:
1. Browns lose; Dolphins, Ravens, Colts and Titans win
This is the no-brainer. This would mean the Browns finish 10-6 while the Dolphins, Ravens, Colts and Titans all get in at 11-5, with the Titans elevated to AFC South champions. Miami has the hardest game, at Buffalo, but like the Steelers, the Bills may rest players if they don’t care much about No. 2 vs. No. 3. Baltimore has it easy at Cincinnati, while Indianapolis has it even easier vs. Jacksonville.
2. Browns and Dolphins lose; Ravens, Colts and Titans win
This would leave the Browns and Dolphins tied at 10-6 while the Ravens, Colts and Titans would all get in at 11-5. Cleveland and Miami didn’t play each other this season, so their first tiebreaker is conference record. In this scenario, the Dolphins would be one game better, 7-5 vs. 6-6. So the Browns would be left out again.
3. Browns and Ravens lose; Dolphins, Colts and Titans win
This would make the Browns and Ravens tied at 10-6 while the Dolphins, Colts and Titans would all get in at 11-5. But Baltimore swept Cleveland, which gives it the head-to-head tiebreaker. This scenario doesn’t work for the Browns, either.
4. Browns, Dolphins, Ravens and Titans lose; Colts win
This would put the Colts in at 11-5 as AFC South champions while the Browns would be in a four-way tie with the Dolphins, Ravens, Titans at 10-6. Because the teams didn’t all play each other, conference record is the first tiebreaker. The Titans (7-5) and Dolphins (7-5) would be ahead of the Ravens (6-6) and Browns (6-6) in that scenario.
The Titans would have the common-games tiebreaker over the Dolphins to get up to No. 5, while the Dolphins settle for No. 6. Then it comes down again to the Ravens having the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Browns to earn No. 7.
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