Browns playoff picture: ‘So you’re telling me there’s a chance’
CLEVELAND — This is the type of storyline that Hollywood likes to come up with … The Cleveland Browns contending for the playoffs.
One of the famous lines from the original 1994 movie Dumb and Dumber was when Jim Carrey’s character, Lloyd, asked Mary what the chances were for a guy like him and a girl like her to get together, maybe one in a thousand? Her response was "more like one out of a million."
Lloyd responded with the classic line "So you’re telling me there’s a chance."
The Browns have a chance. A chance that is, to make the playoffs in 2014.
The Browns with a first year coaching staff and a number of overachievers are in the hunt for a playoff opportunity with less than half of the season to play. They also have arguably their top playmaker about to return in Josh Gordon after just one more game.
There are seven games left to play, but if the season were to end now the Browns would be playing the Colts on Wild Card weekend.
It’s easy to dream about the playoffs, as the Browns have only been to the post-season one time in the past 20 years. The last time the Browns were in the Super Bowl tournament was after the 2002 season when they lost to the Steelers in a Wild Card game when Butch Davis was still the coach on Jan. 5, 2003.
That is the only playoff appearance since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999. Prior to that, the Browns last made the playoffs after the 1994 season under Bill Belichick.
Most NFL coaches refuse to talk about playoffs, rather than to use the cliche of playing week-to-week and making the playoffs will take care of itself. However, Mike Pettine said he’s addressed the playoffs with the Browns.
"I think you have to tie (the playoffs) in," Pettine said. "You don’t want to ignore it because we know it’s out there. You address it. Yes, of course it was our goal in the beginning of the year. Be a playoff team. Why not us?
"We talked about the number of teams that had gone from –11, 12 years in a row teams had gone from worst to first, at least one worst to first in the division — and the number of teams that didn’t make the playoffs one year that make it the next.
"We weren’t going to hide from it, but at the same time, (the players) have to know that in order to accomplish that, we have to be extraordinary," Pettine said. "We have to be extraordinary each week. I think as long as you talk about playoff in the context of ‘the next game is the most important one and it’s a step towards that direction’ then I think it’s OK. I think it’s a mistake if you just ignore it."
Donte Whitner, who’s played in three NFC Championship games with the 49ers said Thursday night’s win over the Bengals could be the springboard for the Browns during the stretch run for the playoffs.
"(The win is) huge," Whitner said. "Any time in the National Football League when you step on the field, you want to have that confidence and you want to step on the field knowing that you’re going to win that football game. I think a win like (Thursday) night on a national stage in the fashion in which we won the football game — I think you can only breed confidence from that.
"We understand that the teams that make it to the playoffs and win and advance are the teams that get hot in November and get hot at the right time," he said. "We just want to get hot at the right time, and (Thursday) night was a good start to that."
The Browns remaining opponents have a combined record of 30-29-2 for a winning percentage of .508. The outcome might come down to who wins the AFC North and the records in division play. Currently, the Browns are tied with the Steelers for first at 6-3, with the Browns having already played this week and the Steelers facing the Jets on Sunday.
In the division, the Bengals are 2-1, while the Browns and Steelers are 2-2. The Ravens are 2-3 with their only division game remaining at home against the Browns on Dec. 28.
Whitner said he thinks the Browns are similar to the teams he played on in San Francisco. The Browns are plus 9 in the takeaway/giveaway department.
"We stack up very well," Whitner said. "The playoff team that I was on was three years in a row with the San Francisco 49ers. Each year we reached the NFC Championship, and the style of football that we played there was similar to the style of football that we play here.
"We wanted to get a lot of turnovers because we understood that getting turnovers, you get the offense the ball more and there is a direct correlation between turnovers and winning," he said. "Usually, when you go back and look at the statistics at the end of the year, the teams that are in the top 10, top 12, are usually, 95-percent of them, are in the playoffs. We wanted to play a physical style of football, a relentless style of football, and it’s similar here."
The Browns are in a position they are not used to being in … Here is a week-by-week breakdown of the Browns remaining games and the possibilities that lie ahead.
Nov. 16 vs. Texans (4-5) — The Texans come to town with a new quarterback as Ryan Mallett has been announced by Bill O’Brien as the starter replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Browns defense will be challenged by play makers Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, while the defense is led by dominant defensive end J.J. Watt.
Nov. 23 at Falcons (2-6) — The Falcons have had tough season to date, but have explosive weapons on offense in Julio Jones and Roddy White with Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan. Also, the Falcons are tough to beat at home in the dome.
Nov. 30 at Bills (5-3) — The Bills are in playoff contention and the Browns own the Bills first round draft pick in 2015 for the draft day trade between the two teams. A Browns win could help in the playoff hunt as well as give themselves a better pick from the Bills. The Browns will get to take a close up look at the player they passed up in the draft in Sammy Watkins.
Dec. 7 vs. Colts (6-3) — Arguably, the best team remaining on the Browns schedule. Andrew Luck and his offense has been explosive. The game also marks the return of Rob Chudzinski, Trent Richardson and D’Qwell Jackson to FirstEnergy Stadium.
Dec. 14 vs. Bengals (5-3-1) — After being embarrassed by the Browns on national television, 24-3, the Bengals will try and rebound in a crucial AFC North match up which could go a long way in determining the division winner.
Dec. 21 at Panthers (3-5-1) — Carolina is down to date, but playing on their home field could make it tougher for the Browns. The Panthers have a game-changing quarterback in Cam Newton and a top rookie receiver in Kelvin Benjamin.
Dec. 28 at Ravens (5-4) — The regular season finale could determine the playoff destiny for both teams as it could be pivotal in the AFC North, in terms of the tie-breaker in the standings. The Browns had a chance to beat the Ravens early in the season at home, but a last second field goal by Justin Tucker gave the Ravens a 23-21 win.