The Cleveland Browns still control their own destiny toward making the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2002. All they need is a win over Mason Rudolph and the Steelers.
Pittsburgh made it easier by choosing to rest Ben Roethlisberger and instead using Rudolph as its starting quarterback. It’ll be the first time Rudolph faces the Browns since the helmet incident with Myles Garrett, so that’ll add some drama. But this is really about Cleveland’s postseason chase, with the Browns’ loss to the Jets in Week 16 delaying what still can be a glorious return to the playoffs for Cleveland.
Baker Mayfield should have his main receivers back at his disposal after Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge all were forced to sit out against New York due to COVID-19 contact tracing. The Browns should try to establish the run game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but how Mayfield performs on play-action passes could be the final determiner of a playoff spot.
Here are the various ways the Browns can make it to the playoffs in Week 17.
1. Browns beat Steelers
Before Week 16, it looked like this game could decide who wins the AFC North. But Pittsburgh came back from 17 down in the second half against the Colts, and the Browns lost to the Jets. That means the Steelers sealed the division title, and it’s the Browns with the most to play for in Week 17.
These teams played back in Week 6, and it was a total blowout in favor of Pittsburgh, 38-7. Of course, things will likely be much different now with Rudolph starting instead of Roethlisberger.
Rudolph has attempted only four passes during the 2020 season. He got a lot of work in 2019 with Roethlisberger missing time with an elbow injury, but that hasn’t been the same case in 2020. Rudolph has taken more QB knees than he has thrown passes.
Cleveland’s best hope is getting its pass rush to cause Rudolph trouble, because the Steelers’ running game has been a major problem all year.
2. Colts lose to Jaguars
The Colts enter Sunday as the No. 8 seed in the AFC, one spot out of the postseason. A loss by them locks up a playoff berth for Cleveland, Baltimore and Miami without that trio needing to do anything else.
It just seems unlikely that Indianapolis loses a must-win game against the team that just locked up the No. 1 pick in the 2021. Philip Rivers has had a surprisingly good year on his one-year deal, and the Colts have multiple strong running backs. Aside from all the weird tie scenarios, this seems the most unlikely to push Cleveland into the playoffs.
The Browns kick off at 1 p.m. ET Sunday, while the Colts don’t play until 4:25 p.m. ET. If Cleveland loses to Pittsburgh and Rudolph, the Browns will still have hope in the late-afternoon window, but it would be riding on the Jaguars pulling a major upset.
3. Titans lose and Dolphins win/tie and Ravens win/tie
The Titans would clinch the AFC South title with a win, but them losing opens up big can of worms. A Tennessee loss coupled with positive results for Miami and Baltimore pushes Cleveland into the postseason, too.
Cleveland also has the unlikely tie scenarios to consider. The Browns also make it into the playoffs with:
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