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What's at stake for the Cleveland Browns in 2021 finale vs. Cincinnati Bengals?

Despite having been eliminated from playoff contention, there's plenty that's still on the line for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns are set to wrap up the season this Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium as the Cincinnati Bengals are in town. The Browns were eliminated from playoff contention prior to kickoff against the Steelers on Monday night, rendering the game meaningless for them from that standpoint.

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Obviously, that makes this Week 18 matchup between the Browns and the Bengals just as meaningless, if not more so, considering the Bengals have clinched the AFC North division and are resting quarterback Joe Burrow, along with a number of other players.

While the Browns don’t have anything to play for in terms of playoff positioning, the outcome of this week’s game will impact next season, one way or another.

The Draft

As things stand entering Week 18, the Browns are currently in position to have the No. 13 overall selection in the first round of the NFL Draft. At 7-9, Cleveland has the same record as the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings at this moment, but because of head-to-head wins over both those teams, the Browns are picking behind them. A loss, paired with wins by Denver (over Kansas City) and Minnesota (over Chicago) would boost the Browns to the No. 11 overall pick. Atlanta beating New Orleans this week could net the Browns one additional spot up, should the Falcons finish at 8-9 on the year.

The Browns still could find themselves drafting as high as the No. 7 overall selection in the draft, although quite a few things would need to go Cleveland’s way for that to happen.

Next year’s schedule

At this point, the Browns can finish either third or fourth in the AFC North this season. A win over Cincinnati, paired with a loss by the Ravens against the Steelers would give the Browns a third-place finish, while losing to the Bengals would ensure that the Browns finish in last place in the division. While finishing third or fourth is rather arbitrary for the purposes of this season, it does impact part of the schedule for next season.

Next season, the AFC North is slated to play the entire NFC South, as well as the entire AFC East. When those eight games are added in with the six divisional games the Browns will play, the remaining three games on the schedule are decided by what place teams finish inside their own respective division. Next season, AFC North teams will play the team that has the same divisional finish in the AFC West, AFC South, and NFC East.

A third-place finish this year in the AFC North this year would mean the Browns would play on the road against the Houston Texans, at home against the loser of this weekend’s Los Angeles Chargers-Las Vegas Raiders game, and on the road against the Washington Football Team (which will have a new name by then).

A last-place finish would mean taking on the Denver Broncos at home, a road game against Jacksonville, and a road game against the New York Giants.