CLEVELAND — Following their Week 12 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns' playoff odds sat at just 19 percent.
What a difference two weeks can make.
After getting some much-needed help during a much-needed bye, the Browns returned to action with a 24-22 victory in a rematch with the Ravens on Sunday. After getting even more help elsewhere during Week 14, Five Thirty Eight now projects Cleveland's playoff odds at 39 percent -- a staggering 19 percent increase from this time last week. Meanwhile, The New York Times' playoff machine puts the Browns' playoff chances at 37 percent, which marks a 16 percent increase from a week ago.
With four weeks left in the regular season, there's still plenty of football to be played. With that in mind, let's take a look at where Cleveland sits in the AFC playoff picture heading into its Week 15 showdown with the Las Vegas Raiders.
AFC North standings
- Baltimore Ravens 8-5
- Cleveland Browns 7-6
- Cincinnati Bengals 7-6
- Pittsburgh Steelers 6-6-1
As the only team in the AFC North to earn a win in Week 14, Cleveland climbed from fourth to second place in the division. With division games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals remaining, the Browns are in the driver's seat to hold a division tiebreaker over the Ravens.
While Baltimore remains one game ahead of Cleveland in the standings, the Ravens' remaining schedule includes games against the Green Bay Packers, Bengals, Los Angeles Rams and Steelers. That schedule, coupled with the unknown injury status of star quarterback Lamar Jackson, makes it more than conceivable that the Browns could close the season with at least the same record as Baltimore -- if not better.
Of course, Cleveland has to hold up its end of the bargain and still likely needs to win its three remaining games against AFC opponents. But at this point, if the Browns do that, it's looking likely that it would mean Cleveland winning its first division title since the 1989 season.
Five Thirty Eight currently sets the Browns' odds of winning the division title at 23 percent. That means that Cleveland's likeliest path to the playoffs at this point is through the AFC North.
AFC Wild Card
Through 14 weeks, here's how the AFC Playoff picture looks:
- New England Patriots (9-4)
- Tennessee Titans (9-4)
- Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)
- Baltimore Ravens (8-5)
- Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)
- Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
- Buffalo Bills (7-6)
- Cleveland Browns (7-6)
- Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)
- Denver Broncos (7-6)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1)
- Las Vegas Raiders (6-7)
- Miami Dolphins (6-7)
No team in the AFC Wild Card picture has made a bigger leap in the past week than the Browns, who jumped from seventh to fourth place. That leaves Cleveland just one spot out of one of the AFC's three wild card spots, with eight teams in the conference currently possessing a record between 6-7 and 7-6.
Of note, the Browns hold a head-to-head tiebreaker vs. the Denver Broncos and could pick up another one vs. the Raiders on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Chargers hold a head-to-head tiebreaker vs. Cleveland, as do the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, who are each currently in first place of their respective divisions.
Considering the makeup of the AFC North standings and the Browns' remaining schedule, Cleveland's likeliest path to the playoffs remains through its own division. But should the Browns fail to finish in first place, their path to a second consecutive Wild Card spot remains in play.
Here are the games left on the Browns' 2021 schedule:
- Dec. 18 vs. Las Vegas Raiders
- Dec. 25 at Green Bay Packers
- Jan. 3 at Pittsburgh Steelers
- Jan. 9 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
With four games remaining, including three against AFC opponents and two against division rivals, the Browns' path to the playoffs remains simple: win three of your final four games.
While three more victories would get Cleveland to 10 wins, which could be enough to win the division, the Browns would be best off beating their three remaining AFC opponents, starting this Saturday against the Raiders. While Cleveland's playoff chances have increased, their margin for error remains slim, as Five Thirty Eight projects that a loss to Las Vegas alone would drop the Browns' playoff odds to just 14 percent.