The Cleveland Browns secured a wild-card berth on Thursday by beating the New York Jets 37–20 on TNF in what amounted to be the fourth consecutive win under the guidance of former Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco.
The win helped Cleveland make the playoffs for the second time since 2002, with the Browns now having an 11-5 record this season only trailing the Ravens (12-3) in the AFC North division.
Now, while that might sound like not much, Baltimore still has to play two games and there is a chance the Browns overtake them in the standings if the Ravens don't apply themselves and do what they still need to clinch the No. 1 seed in the division, let alone fighting for earning a bye week in the postseason.
The Browns are poised to enter the playoffs as the AFC's No. 5 seed as things stand. If that ends up being the case, then the Browns would be the best/favorite road underdog throughout the playoffs on the AFC side of the bracket. That is, of course, assuming the Ravens win the North.
Baltimore's upcoming Week 17 game against the Miami Dolphins is pivotal, to say the least. Yes, Baltimore only needs one more win to win the AFC as a whole and the North division by extension. That would be an extraordinary outcome, as the Ravens wouldn't play football once more until the weekend of January 21.
However, a loss could make things very difficult and put a lot of pressure on Baltimore heading into their season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 7.
For one, the Ravens would need to win (assuming Cleveland beats the lowly Bengals in Week 18) if they want to win the AFC North. For two, the Steelers (8-7) might not be in contention for the playoffs but looking for a final win to wrap up the season with a positive record (if they lose in Week 17 against the postseason-bound Seattle Seahawks.
In the current AFC Playoff Scenario, following Thursday's game between the Browns and the Jets, the Ravens are in line for a first-round bye. The playoff matchups would feature the Miami Dolphins against the Indianapolis Colts, the Kansas City Chiefs versus the Buffalo Bills, and the Jacksonville Jaguars taking on the Cleveland Browns.
The opponents of Baltimore next Sunday, the Miami Dolphins (11-4), also clinched a playoff spot for the second year in a row last Sunday, and by beating the Ravens they would also win the AFC East for the first time since 2008.
Talk about similar scenarios, as a Dolphins loss followed by a defeat in Week 18 could see Miami dropping the AFC East and falling to a road-underdog seed in the playoffs in favor of the Buffalo Bills.