CLEVELAND – Thanks to the New York Jets upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-13, the Cleveland Browns sit all alone atop the AFC North for the first time since 1994.
For Browns fans, it is also good to see the hated six-time Super Bowl champions and perennial divisional bullies lose, but to the one-win Jets a week after Ben Roethlisberger became the first quarterback to throw six touchdowns in back-to-back games,comes on the heels of the Browns biggest road wins in recent history.
After beating the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals, 24-3 on Thursday—giving the Browns a share of the lead—Pittsburgh’s stunning loss to New York, now has Browns fans thinking the impossible; are the Browns a playoff contender?
Not since 1994 have the words, “Cleveland Browns” and “first place” been mentioned in the same sentence, but considering the fortuitous windfall of events trending Cleveland’s way, the Browns could possibly make a return to the post-season under a first-time rookie head coach in Mike Pettine, a journeyman backup at quarterback in Brian Hoyer and a suddenly lights-out defense led by Donte Whitner, Joe Haden, Phil Taylor, Paul Kruger and Karlos Dansby.
With seven games remaining, there is still time for the Browns to address their issues at running the ball effectively and making timely stops on defense, but the way the Browns have been playing in winning five of their last six, anything is possible.
Cleveland’s remaining opponents have a combined record of 32-28-2, with three of them having losing records (Houston, Atlanta and Carolina) with four of their last seven games on the road and two against contenders (Baltimore and Buffalo)
While Cleveland gets to face a green Ryan Mallett making his first-ever NFL start and an overrated Andy Dalton at home, they also get the enviable task of trying to contain NFL MVP candidate, Andrew Luck and the prolific Indianapolis Colts.
While Cam Newton and Matt Ryan are no proverbial slouches, Kyle Orton has the Bills on the edge of contention and Joe Flacco is 12-1 all-time vs. Cleveland.
In what will be a grueling and challenging gauntlet, Cleveland could very likely win four out of seven projected matchups, which would give them a 10-6 record. Sadly, 10-6 might not be enough for them to win the division, but could give them a wildcard.
While it is premature and mere speculation right now to talk about possible playoff scenarios, for once, it is nice to be part of the post-season discussion.
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