Not much makes sense about the way the AFC has transpired this season, other than that change is inevitable.
Several weeks ago the New England Patriots looked like an also-ran, while the Buffalo Bills were rampaging their way to what appeared to be the East Division title. Through week 14 the Patriots are now 9-4 and two games ahead of the 7-6 Bills.
The Kansas City Chiefs looked rather ordinary earlier this season, showing perhaps a hangover of two consecutive Super Bowl appearances. They’re now working on a six-game winning streak and are atop the West Division with a 9-4 record.
Then there’s the North Division, where the Baltimore Ravens (8-5) are clinging to a one-game lead over the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. It wasn’t long ago that the division looked like the Ravens to
win easily and for the Browns, Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers to fight for the other three spots. It’s now a toss-up with four games remaining in the 17-game schedule. A deeper look at the coming month actually plays out favorably for the Browns.
The Browns have an opportunity to make another upward move in the division this week with a home game against the struggling Las Vegas Raiders. The Bengals are at the improving Denver Broncos, the Ravens.
host the Green Bay Packers and the Steelers host the Tennessee Titans. The Browns will face a difficult game at Lambeau Field against the Packers on Christmas Day, before finishing at Pittsburgh and home to the Bengals.
The Bengals have home games against the Ravens and Chiefs before closing with a trip to Cleveland. After hosting the Packers, the Ravens play at Cincinnati and close with home games against the Los Angeles Rams and the Steelers. Pittsburgh, after hosting Tennessee, finishes at Kansas City, home to the Browns and at the Ravens.
There are many working parts at play, but the bottom line is the Browns would likely be in a good spot to make the playoffs with wins in three of their final four games. Their schedule appears to be a bit easier, but, as this season has shown, the most predictable thing is unpredictability.
A legitimate concern for the Browns is the consistent poor play of the offense, which managed just 17 of the 24 points in the 24-16 win over the Ravens last Sunday. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is struggling in getting on the same page with his receivers, a problem that can be shared across position groups.
The good news is that the defense has put together three straight outstanding efforts after the 45-7 debacle in a loss to the Patriots in November. The defense is relatively healthy for this time of the season, and the offseason additions are playing as expected.
Nothing is more important as the weather turns winter cold than to have a stout defense. That might be the Browns’ ticket to a second straight trip to the postseason. Maybe?