Browns have a not-so-crazy path to an AFC North title; here’s what needs to happen

For the first time in 10 years, you can mention the words "Browns" and "playoffs" in the same sentence without sounding completely crazy, and that's because the Browns are actually in the hunt for a postseason spot. 

Although that might not sound possible for a team that's currently 5-7-1, the reality of the situation is that the Browns are back in the AFC North race after a weekend where they were the only divisional team to win, which almost never happens. As a matter of fact, the last time the Browns won in the same week where the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals all lost came FIVE YEARS ago (Week 9 of 2013). 

With the Steelers and Ravens both losing, the Browns now have a completely plausible path to a division title. 

So what has to happen? Glad you asked. 

Here's a look at every AFC North contender's schedule and what has to happen for the Browns to win the division.

Browns (5-7-1)

  • At Denver (6-7)
  • Cincinnati (5-8)
  • At Baltimore (7-6)

What has to happen: This one's easy, the Browns have to win out and there's no room for error. If the Browns even lose a single game, that means the best they could do on the season is 7-8-1, and unfortunately for them, 7-8-1 won't be good enough to win the AFC North. The problem is that the Steelers are already guaranteed to finish at least 7-8-1 and Pittsburgh would win a tiebreaker over Cleveland due to their head-to-head win against the Browns in Week 8. Browns' final record in this scenario: 8-7-1. 

Ravens (7-6)

What has to happen: All the Browns need from the Ravens is for Baltimore to go 1-1 over the next two weeks, which is completely possible, and that's because the Ravens still have to play the Chargers. If Baltimore loses to the Chargers and beats Tampa, that means the Ravens would be 8-7 heading into their regular season finale against the Browns. If the Browns win that game in Baltimore, it would put them on the cusp of their first playoff berth in 16 years. Ravens' final record in this scenario: 8-8.  

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Steelers (7-5-1)

  • New England (9-4)
  • At New Orleans (11-2)
  • Cincinnati (5-8)

What has to happen: Here's where things get a little dicey. For the Browns to win the division, the Steelers are going to have to lose all three of their remaining games. The good news for the Browns is that Pittsburgh's next two games are against the Patriots and Saints, and it wouldn't be surprising at all to see the Steelers lose both of those. At that point, the Browns would need Hue Jackson and the Bengals to deliver a Christmas miracle in the form of a Week 17 win. Jackson didn't get the Browns anywhere near the postseason during his time in Cleveland, so maybe he could make up for that by helping the Bengals devise a game plan to beat the Steelers. If the Bengals pull the upset, the Browns could steal the division. Steelers' final record in this scenario: 7-8-1

If this all happens, Lake Erie would be filled with tears of joy because the Browns would win their first division title since 1989. The Browns could also sneak in as a wild-card team at 8-7-1, but that's a lot less likely and a lot more games would have to go in their favor. 

Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: Things are changing in Cleveland. 

Interim coach Gregg Williams already has as many wins in five games (3-2) as Hue Jackson had in two-and-a-half seasons (3-36-1). The Browns are also 4-2-1 at home this season, which means they've clinched their first winning home record since 2007. 

The only thing the Browns need now is some support and Baker Mayfield is trying to make it happen. After the Browns beat the Panthers 26-20 on Sunday, Mayfield said he would love to see it.

"We would love to have more fan support," Mayfield said, via via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "[It] was cold; I get it. But having more people, especially at our last home game coming up, we would love to have more people in the stands cheering for us because we feed off of the energy."

The Browns close their home schedule with a Week 16 game against the Bengals (and Hue Jackson), and if everything goes according to plan, the Browns will still be fighting for a playoff berth. 

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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