CLEVELAND — Following Sunday's 16-6 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, the Cleveland Browns' record fell to 5-3 at the midway point of the 2020 season.
Still, despite being sidelined until their Nov. 15 home game against the Houston Texans, the Browns remain on the right side of the AFC Playoff race with advanced analytics website Five Thirty Eight giving Cleveland a 60 percent chance of ending the longest active postseason drought in the NFL (17 years).
Of course, there's still plenty of football to be played and a lot can change between now and the end of the regular season. With that in mind, let's take a look at where the Browns stand in the race for the AFC Playoffs and what they'll need to do to make the postseason for the first time since the 2002 season.
Despite the Browns laying claim to their best start through eight games since the 2014 season, the idea of them winning their division currently seems far fetched. Between the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0) and Baltimore Ravens (5-2), Cleveland plays in arguably the toughest division in football, with two of the Browns' three losses having come by way of the top two teams in the AFC North.
The good news for Cleveland is that it has already swept its season series with the Cincinnati Bengals and still has one game left against both the Ravens and Steelers later this season. The Browns have also currently possess a 5-0 record against its common opponents with Pittsburgh and Baltimore, which could prove favorable in potential tiebreaker scenarios.
Of course, catching the Steelers will be no easy task -- even as Cleveland faces the easiest remaining schedule based on opponent winning percentage (.405). For comparison's sake, Pittsburgh possesses the sixth-easiest remaining schedule (.456), leaving it unlikely the Browns will win their first division title since 1989.
AFC Wild Card
If the regular season was to end today, the Browns would be in the playoffs as the third and final Wild Card in the AFC. Thanks to an expanded postseason, there are now three Wild Card spots available for non-division champions in each conference, although the playoff picture in the AFC remains muddled at the midway point of the 2020 season.
Through eight weeks, here's how the AFC Playoff picture looks:
- Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0)
- Kansas City Chiefs (7-1)
- Buffalo Bills (6-2)
- Tennessee Titans (5-2)
- Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
- Indianapolis Colts (5-2)
- Cleveland Browns (5-3)
- Las Vegas Raiders (4-3)
- Miami Dolphins (4-3)
- Denver Broncos (3-4)
- Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1)
- Los Angeles Chargers (2-5)
- New England Patriots (2-5)
It's worth noting that when it comes to the first potential tiebreaker, head-to-head matchup, the Browns hold an advantage over the Colts, while Las Vegas holds its own advantage over Cleveland. The Browns also own a head-to-head tiebreaker against the Bengals and will face the Tennessee Titans on the road on Dec. 6 in a potentially pivotal head-to-head matchup.
Similarly to the Browns, the Raiders could take advantage of the NFL's third easiest remaining schedule. Meanwhile, the Bills (No.4), Broncos (No. 7), Colts (No.8) and Titans (No. 9) make up four of the 10 most difficult remaining schedules.
Here are the games left on the Browns' 2020 schedule:
- Nov. 15 vs. Houston Texans
- Nov. 22 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- Nov. 29 at Jacksonville Jaguars
- Dec. 6 at Tennessee Titans
- Dec. 14 vs. Baltimore Ravens (Monday Night Football)
- Dec. 20 at New York Giants
- Dec. 27 at New York Jets
- Jan. 3 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Of Cleveland's remaining games, three come against the three worst teams in the AFC from a record standpoint (Jets, Jaguars and Texans), as well as the NFC's current last-place Giants. Taking advantage of consecutive home games after the bye week could prove paramount, especially with a game against lowly Jacksonville waiting on the other side.
Of the Browns' four remaining road games, only one comes against a team currently in playoff contention (the Titans). So long as Cleveland just wins the games it should -- which is hardly a given -- the Browns should be in a strong position to end their 17-year postseason drought.