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In the first half of the Cleveland Browns' 24-22 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland finally looked like the team many picked to reach the Super Bowl in Los Angeles this season. But, in the second half, it became clear that there are still some kinks to iron out.
"We did enough to win the game so check that box off," said Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield We got conservative. I think we need to put that team away. We got ahead early. We just need to capitalize when the defense is playing like that and holding them to points. We need to put it away. That’s what good teams do, so we need to improve on that."
More than anything, a win is a win and that's all that should matter for Cleveland. That, along with the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals both lost this week, means the Browns are in prime position to win the AFC North. If that were to happen, it would be the first time in franchise history. As Cleveland begins to prepare to host the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday, they are currently one game back of Baltimore for first place in the division.
The Browns own a tiebreaker over the Bengals for second place and are also firmly ahead of the last place Steelers. If the NFL playoffs were to start today, here is how things would shake out for the AFC:
- New England Patriots (9-4)
- Tennesse 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)
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So, as of today, Cleveland is not in a position for the playoffs let alone the AFC North crown. If that had not lost to the Chargers in Los Angeles, the Browns would be even more in the thick of the Wild Card race. But, until Cleveland is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, we'll be breaking down what needs to happen every week in order for the Browns to win the AFC North.
Obviously, Cleveland needs to beat Las Vegas in order to have that happen, which isn't as easy as some may hope. Sure, the Raiders are on a losing slide and were just massacred by the Chiefs 41-14, but, this Las Vegas team shouldn't be underestimated. The Raiders have quality wins over the likes of the Dallas Cowboys and the Ravens, both teams that could make the Super Bowl this year. But, Las Vegas also lost to bottom feeders like the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears as well.
Despite the lopsided loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Las Vegas Raiders could be a threat to upset the Browns in Cleveland this Saturday.
Like the Browns, the Raiders are a bit of a mixed bag this season. But, unlike Cleveland, Las Vegas isn't loaded with talent so this could prove to be an interesting matchup. Sure, the Browns should be feeling juiced after beating a Ravens team that embarrassed them on national television two weeks ago. But they also need to be aware that this Raiders team could come in and spoil things. This is a classic trap game for Cleveland and they need to come ready to keep their foot on the gas for all four quarters.
Especially considering how the rest of the schedule shakes out for the rival opposition in the AFC North. In Baltimore, the Ravens host the Green Bay Packers, who the Browns face on Christmas Day. Like Cleveland, Green Bay is loaded with talent offensively at every skill position. Unlike the Browns, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers engineering the Green Bay offense from under center. Rodgers is putting together an MVP-caliber season and should be able to easily rip apart a thin Baltimore secondary.
If the Ravens lose to the Packers while the Browns defeat the Raiders, it means, for now, that Cleveland would be tied for first place in the division. But, the Bengals, who are in Denver to take on the Broncos, could complicate things.
Cincinnati is one of the NFL's biggest surprises this season and is a serious threat to make the playoffs thanks to a stellar offense headlined by quarterback Joe Burrow. The Broncos, meanwhile, are one of the league's more mediocre teams offensively but are still in the thick of things due to their defense. Denver is one of the few teams in the NFL that could contain the playmakers Cincinnati possesses on offense.
Factor all that in with along with Denver being one of the hardest places to play at the NFL, and the Bengals could slide further back from both the Browns and the Ravens in the division. But, if Cincinnati does pull off a Mile High miracle, along with Cleveland winning and Baltimore losing, it would create a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North.
That's where things get a lot more complicated for the Browns. Heading into next Sunday, Cleveland should be the biggest Denver fans possible so that it somehow prevents that three-way tie from happening. It's also worth mentioning that the Browns still have to play the Bengals one more time at the end of the season. Cleveland doesn't need the added pressure of possibly clinching the division for the first time in franchise history on top of beating their in-state rival. So, maybe wear something orange for both the Browns and the Broncos all weekend long. It could go a long way.
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