"Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe."
The Cleveland Browns are on fire, riding a two-game winning streak, and they just ended a 12-game road losing streak. They have been in every game this season, and if it weren’t for a couple of dropped passes and a few Pat Shurmur blunders, the Browns could be 6-6 or 7-5 and in the playoff hunt.
This fresh wave of optimism that we enjoy so much here in Cleveland got me thinking, “Is it still possible for the Browns to make the playoffs?”
And guess what? With four games left to play, the Browns are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet!!!
Let me say right off the bat that I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THE BROWNS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. However, since it is still technically possible, let’s break it down real quick.
First of all, the Browns would need to run the table and finish 8-8, which is a nearly impossible feat. So eight wins is the magic number that we need to keep in mind here.
There are three teams with five wins (Jets, Bills and Dolphins), but none of those teams worry me. The two biggest obstacles to making the playoffs are the Browns' division-rivals Steelers and Bengals, who both have seven wins. Both of those teams can win one more game, and the Browns would still be able to get in on tiebreakers (head-to-head against the Steelers and divisional record for the Bengals).
Here’s how the Bengals' final four games break down: home for the Cowboys, at Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh and home for the Ravens. The one game on that schedule that they’re most likely to win is against the Eagles, who are imploding and may not win another game this season.
I’d worry a little bit about that final game against the Ravens, who should have the playoffs sealed up and won’t have much to play for. This week’s game against the Cowboys is also worrisome as Browns fans will remember that that team isn’t anything special, especially away from Jerry’s palace.
So the Bengals going 1-3 down the stretch isn’t very likely, but I’d say there’s at least a decent shot at it happening.
This scenario gets muddier when you look at the Steelers' final four games: home for San Diego, at Dallas, home for Cincinnati and of course home for Cleveland. Obviously someone has to win that Steelers/Bengals game (unless they tie, which would be awesome) so that has to be the only win for one of the teams.
Then there’s the fact that the Steelers have the dying carcass of the Chargers, which seems like an almost certain win especially since Ben Roethlisberger will be back at QB. And we’ve already talked about the Cowboys and the lack of confidence I have in them to win a big game.
But if Roethlisberger struggles and maybe throws a couple picks this week and Philip Rivers remembers that he used to be a good QB, the Chargers can pull out that win. Then the Cowboys can win back-to-back games over both teams. At that point the Steelers will beat the Bengals leading to a Week 17 matchup in Pittsburgh between the Browns and Steelers with the winner going to the playoffs!!!...as long as the Bengals lose to the Ravens.
And this all hinges on the Browns somehow beating teams quarterbacked by Robert Griffin III and Peyton Manning in back-to-back weeks.
It’s a pipe dream obviously, and there’s about a .00033% (roughly) chance of it actually happening.
But if you believe, anything is possible, right?
And we don’t call ourselves Believeland for nothing.
On that note, let’s go to the Week 14 lines.
(Gamble at your own risk. The home team is in CAPS. Lines are from SportsBook.com.)
BROWNS (-6.5) over Chiefs
I must say that I’m a little worried about this pick for a couple of reasons: 1) This is the first time all season that the Browns have been favored; 2) every Browns game is close because of the strength of the defense and lack of explosion of the offense; 3) despite his recent string of competence, Pat Shurmur is still the coach of the Browns and causes me great worry that he’ll somehow blow the game (or at least the cover).
With all that said…they’re still the Chiefs. They’re one of the worst teams of all time.
My mind, not just my heart, tells me that the Browns will win this game by at least a touchdown. That’s not too much to ask, right?
REDSKINS (-2.5) over Ravens
I’m sick of the Ravens. They supposedly have loads of talent on that team and a fantastic coach. Yet somehow they manage to lose to an injury-riddled Steelers team quarterbacked by Charlie Batch.
The Ravens haven’t looked really looked good since their Week 3 win over the Patriots. They blew out the Raiders, but that’s what a “Super Bowl contending” team is supposed to do, especially when playing at home against a team from the West Coast playing at 1 p.m.
Other than that, they’ve had close calls against the Browns twice; got obliterated by the Texans; eked out wins over the Chiefs, Cowboys, Byron Leftwich’s Steelers and the decaying carcass of the Chargers; and did I mention that they lost to Charlie Batch?
They continue to ignore their best player, Ray Rice, and instead chuck the ball around with the not-elite Joe Flacco.
And all of this brings me the utmost joy, of course.
Oh yeah, and they play against Robert Griffin III this week who’s so hot right now that he even helped the Wizards upset the Heat this week.
Chargers (+8) over STEELERS
This isn’t just the “Browns can still make the playoffs” theory talking. Although I don’t think the Steelers will lose, and I do think that the Chargers have given up on their season, eight points is a pretty big line.
The Chargers have lost only one game all season by eight points, and that was all the way back in Week 3 to the Falcons. They aren’t falling apart to the extent that the Eagles are.
This will also be Roethlisberger’s first game in four weeks, so he’s bound to be rusty, and it’s not like the Steelers have been blowing teams out this season (only two wins by more than seven points).
All the signs point to this being a close game.
COLTS (-5.5) over Titans
Until proven otherwise, there’s no reason not to pick the Colts. There’s something really special about this team. I wouldn’t want to face Andrew Luck’s squad in the playoffs.
Can you believe they won only two games last year? Simply remarkable.
JAGUARS (+2.5) over Jets
The Jets are a mess, and I want no part of them. And that should seem pretty obvious, given that I’m taking the 2-10 Jaguars.
Bears (-3) over VIKINGS
It’s the battle of the (statistically) worst passing offenses in the NFL! This game really boils down to whether or not the Bears can get out to an early enough lead so that the Vikings have to move away from Adrian Peterson. Christian Ponder is pedestrian at best, and that Bears front line will likely give him a rough day.
These two teams played just two weeks ago. Peterson averaged 6.0 yards per carry…and the Vikings lost 28-10 because Ponder was only 22-for-43 passing for only 159 yards, which rounds out to 3.7 yards per attempt.
Let’s just say that it’s never a good thing when your running back almost doubles your quarterback in yards per attempt.
Falcons (-3.5) over PANTHERS
The Panthers lost to the Chiefs last week. I know that there were extenuating circumstances that may have led to the increased level of play, but at the end of the day, they’re still the Chiefs.
I can’t in good conscience pick the Panthers this week no matter how fraudulent I think the Falcons are.
BUCCANEERS (-7.5) over Eagles
Tampa Bay really let me down last week. I thought they were going to give the Broncos a real run for their money, and they came out flat. The game wasn’t nearly as close as the final 31-23 score may have indicated; Denver controlled that game.
All the same, the Buccaneers offense is still very potent, and the Eagles defense has given up 28+ points six weeks in a row!!! And with Nick Foles at QB for Philadelphia, this seems like easy money.
Rams (+3) over BILLS
Don’t want to spend too much time on this game since it’s fairly inconsequential. But the Rams have a pretty good defense, and Jeff Fischer should be able to draw up a plan to slow down the Bills running game. If they can force Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw, it would play into the Rams’ favor.
Cowboys (+3) over BENGALS
I’m not sure how I feel about the Bengals. They rank in the top 13 in the NFL in both offensive and defensive rushing and passing. But something just feels fraudulent about them. They just don’t grip me as a real contender.
The Cowboys have the talent to beat the Bengals for sure, if they can put together a complete game. Their passing game is certainly nothing to be sniffed at, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has experience game-planning for Cincinnati.
I’ll take the Cowboys in this one out of gut instinct. It’ll be a close game though.
Dolphins (+10) over 49ERS
The Colin Kaepernick era was bound to have a few bumps as it was getting started. After a three-point loss to the Rams last week, it’d be pretty tough to stomach laying 10 points against a decent Dolphins team.
I expect the 49ers to win on the strength of their defense going up against a rookie QB, but that’s too big of a spread for an inconsistent young QB to cover.
Saints (+4.5) over GIANTS
Drew Brees was awful last week. I don’t believe there’s any way that happens again. Look for a big rebound game from the Saints.
SEAHAWKS (-10) over Cardinals
You’d have to be crazy to lay 10 points with a 7-5 team, right? Nope! The Seahawks have a real shot to actually win the NFL West, and they are a terror at home.
Oh yeah, and the Cardinals are terrible.
PACKERS (-6.5) over Lions
I keep hearing people ask, “What’s wrong with the Lions?”
What’s wrong with the Lions is that they’re the Lions! Maybe we should have been asking that question last year when they were actually good. (I say all this, of course, as a fan of a team that’s also never good.)
They still have a very explosive passing attack, but their running game and defense leave a lot to be desired.
I don’t like them this week especially as a dome team going into Lambeau for a night game. That’s not exactly a recipe for success.
Texans (+3.5) over PATRIOTS
This is the toughest game of the week to pick and could also be the best game to watch.
I’ve said a couple times this season that something is missing with this Patriots team. I can’t figure out exactly what it is, but they just don’t have that magic spark like they’re an unbeatable team.
The Texans defense will give Tom Brady and Co. some issues in this game, and their offense should be able to move the ball as well.
I don’t know who wins this one, but I think it comes down to a field goal, so go ahead and take the three-and-a-half.
Last week: 7-8
Browns picks: 7-4-1
You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.