Like so many seasons in Ohio, the 2023 Cleveland Browns started off with so much promise. The roster was loaded on both sides of the ball, a new defensive coordinator inspired a new swagger, and the team had the 10th easiest schedule in the league. More two-thirds of the way through the NFL season, a litany of injuries have taken their toll on the one-time Super Bowl hopeful.
At 7-5, the Cleveland Browns still hold the seventh seed in the AFC. But the team is without their top two quarterbacks, star running back, and both starting tackles. Their top receiver, defensive end, and cornerback are also banged up, and none of this is likely to improve anytime soon.
Riding a two-game losing streak, the question on everyone’s mind in Northeast Ohio is…
Can the Cleveland Browns Still Make the Playoffs?
It would be a feat for a team that has started four different quarterbacks to play in the postseason, but the Cleveland Browns are still in the thick of it. It’s unlikely that they’ll take the division, as they sit two games behind the Baltimore Ravens with five to go. The good news is that the AFC is muddled. There are 11 teams with a .500 record or better at six wins, and only two of those teams – Miami and Baltimore – have nine.
For the team to have a reasonable chance to make the postseason, they will likely need to win ten games. 11 wins would virtually guarantee them a trip. They could do it with nine but would need some help. That means the Cleveland Browns need to win three of their remaining five games to have a chance at the postseason.
Better at Home
One thing that’s become clear for the 2023 Cleveland Browns: They are much better at home than they are on the road. The Browns are 5-1 at home, winning by an average score of 19-10. They’re 2-4 on the road, losing by an average of 31-24. As good as the defense is, they’re often the catalyst for these wins and losses. At home, they’ve allowed only 24 points one time, while they’ve allowed at least 24 in every single road game this season.
The Final Five Games for the Cleveland Browns
With the team needing three wins, it’s lucky then that three of their remaining five games are played in Cleveland. The bad news is that three of their remaining five games are against other AFC playoff hopefuls. That includes this Sunday’s matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It looked like the Jaguars would be without their franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence, after a nasty-looking ankle injury on Monday night. But news broke shortly after that Lawrence might be able to play after all. It will be a game-time decision, but it’s safe to say seeing C.J. Beathard under center would buoy the Browns playoff hopes.
The Cleveland Browns then play two of the NFL’s worst in three weeks to close out their 2023 home slate. Defeating the Chicago Bears and the New York Jets, who could pick in the Top 5 of the 2024 NFL draft, is critical. A loss to either would be devastating. The Browns travel to Houston between these two games to take on the Texans. The Texans have made a remarkable turnaround. But they are a young team with a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback. That’s one where the vaunted Cleveland Browns defense needs to show up in a big way.
The team’s 2023 schedule wraps up in Cincinnati. That game looked like a reasonable win for the Cleveland Browns… until Jake Browning had his coming-out party on Monday night. Where the Bengals will be a month from now is anyone’s guess.
Long story short: Yes, the Cleveland Browns can still make the playoffs. Even with Joe Flacco or Dorian Thompson-Robinson leading the charge. But will they?
Main Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports