Cleveland Browns: Spoilers of the AFC North?

Joe HunleyContributor IDecember 22, 2010

MIAMI - DECEMBER 05:  Defensive back Joe Haden #23 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates intercepting the ball against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on December 5, 2010 in Miami, Florida.  Cleveland defeated Miami 13-10. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

Yes, the Cleveland Browns are in the playoff picture. Well, let me clarify that, the Browns may have a "say" in who takes the AFC North Division crown.

The Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers both have records of 10-4, and the tiebreaker goes to the Steelers, but each will face the Browns before the regular season closes.

Thursday night, the Steelers host the Carolina Panthers, and given the play of the Panthers, the Steelers should improve their record to 11-4. If the Ravens lose to the Browns on Sunday, Baltimore's hope for a division title is eliminated.

If Baltimore does defeat the Browns this Sunday, they improve to 11-4, and clinch a playoff spot. This would send the Ravens and Steelers into their final games with both possibly sitting at 11-4.

The final week will have the Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals playing in Baltimore, and the Browns hosting the Steelers.

A victory by the Bengals over the Ravens will end the drama—Pittsburgh will take the AFC North crown regardless of what happens between the Browns and Steelers, as a defeat of the Steelers by the Browns would have both the Ravens and Steelers sitting at 11-5—with the Steelers having the tiebreaker.

With wins over the Bengals and Browns, the Ravens would end the regular season at 12-4, hoping that the Browns defeat the Steelers, putting the Steelers at 11-5.

Can the Browns play the role of spoiler and deny either the Ravens or Steelers the division crown?

Although the Browns have been playing some rather lackluster football in recent weeks, they do have the ability to have an impact on who wins the division.

The story-line of the Browns this year is one of a team that has an uncanny ability to play at the level of its opponent. Wins over New Orleans, New England and a "fight to the finish" with the N.Y. Jets, show a team that is capable of playing with anyone.

Losses to Buffalo, Cincinnati and a scare at Carolina (missed field goal), show a team possessing the ability to perform on a rather pathetic scale.

This season has shown a Browns team that, at times, has played with a thirst to win, been intense and had a coaching staff that has thrown everything minus the kitchen sink at opponents.

The Browns have also taken the field resembling a team with little intensity, along with ultra-conservative coaching on the offensive side of the ball. This "play not to lose" mentality reminds one of a boxer who enters the ring covering up to protect himself from punches, instead of throwing a few damaging punches to his opponent.

Can the Browns defeat the Ravens, or the Steelers?

This will depend on which Browns team, and coaching staff show up.