November 22, 2014

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Browns: Time to talk playoffs?

BEREA – If the season ended today, the Browns would be tied with Tennessee for the final playoff spot in the AFC.
After a survey of the locker room, the Browns are 100 percent certain their season doesn`t end today.
As fans throughout Northeast Ohio spent Thanksgiving discussing the Browns` surprising 6-4 record and dissecting their playoff chances, the people who will determine the team`s fate practiced. And there was no talk of the possibilities this season may hold.
“We`re fighting tooth and nail every week,” linebacker Willie McGinest said Wednesday. “The message has been sent: We`re not talking about (the playoffs), we`re not worried about it, we`re just going to play one game each week and at the end of our 16-game stretch we`ll see what happens.”
The excitement surrounding the Browns was heightened by the wasn`t-then-was overtime win over the Ravens on Sunday. While talk shows are filled with playoff chatter, the players refuse to participate.
“You gotta look one game at a time,” center Hank Fraley said. “You can`t look ahead. You start doing that, you`ll forget you`re playing Houston. It`ll catch up to you and you`re going to drop a few games. The main thing is to stay focused, and that`s what good teams do.”
McGinest won three Super Bowls in New England, receiver Joe Jurevicius played in three Super Bowls and Fraley lost one to New England with the Eagles. They are captains, and part of their job is to help remind the players without playoff experience not to get ahead of themselves.
“It`s a little difficult from the standpoint that we haven`t been in this situation before,” third-year receiver Braylon Edwards said. “But we understand that you have to take it one game at a time.”
Edwards did admit to checking the standings, something the veterans said they ignore.
“I`m a fan of the game,” Edwards said. “I know everybody`s records, I know the ESPN power rankings, but that`s just me. I follow football.”
The fans are doing the same, and their exuberance is understandable. The Browns haven`t been in, or contended for, the playoffs since 2002, their only postseason berth since 1994. The Browns were 4-12 last year and began this season with minimal expectations, so even premature talk of the playoffs is a welcome phenomenon.
It`s also logical. The Browns trail Pittsburgh by a game in the AFC North and lose the tiebreaker after being swept in the season series. But in the race for two wild-card spots, the Browns are tied at 6-4 with Tennessee for the second spot behind Jacksonville (7-3).
With six games left, anything can happen. But the Browns have the most favorable schedule of the wild-card contenders, as their remaining opponents have gone 22-38 and none possesses a winning record.
The first tiebreaker for non-division foes is head-to-head, so a win Sunday over the Texans (5-5) could prove critical. The Browns don`t play Tennessee, so the next tiebreaker is conference record. The Browns are 4-4 and Tennessee is 3-3.
The next tiebreaker, if needed, is record versus common opponents, with a minimum of four games. By the end of the season, the Browns and Titans will have played the Jets, the Texans, the Bengals and the Raiders. Tennessee is 2-0 and the Browns are 1-1.
While this makes for interesting dinnertime conversation, coach Romeo Crennel has a different theme during team meetings.
“Human nature says you`re going to look to see where you are and where you might end up,” he said. “Part of my job is to try to slow some of that human nature stuff down and tell them if you start looking too far ahead, what`s right in front of you will kick you in the butt.”
Right tackle Kevin Shaffer has seen it happen. He was quick to relay a story from his days with the Falcons, when they started 6-2, then went 2-6 to miss the playoffs.
“You never rest early until you`re in,” he said. “We haven`t done anything.”
Perhaps that`s the most important message being relayed by the players. Six wins through 10 games is a significant improvement for the Browns, but four more wins are likely necessary to qualify for the playoffs.
“It`s not like we`ve clinched anything,” McGinest said. “Let`s do what it takes to get there first. It`s a goal right now. We`re just excited to be playing good football.
“When we make it, we can talk about it all day long.”
Note
Nose tackle Ethan Kelley (knee) and cornerback Eric Wright (knee) didn`t practice Thursday. Right tackle Kevin Shaffer (knee), defensive lineman Shaun Smith (knee) and receiver Tim Carter (finger) were limited.
Running back Ahman Green (knee) didn`t practice for the Texans.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.

THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
Here`s a look at the remaining schedules for the wild-card contenders. We`re assuming New England, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh win their divisions. San Diego and Denver are also competing for the AFC West title.

CLEVELAND BROWNS (6-4)
Nov. 25    vs. Houston (5-5)
Dec. 2    at Arizona (5-5)
Dec. 9    at N.Y. Jets (2-8)
Dec. 16    vs. Buffalo (5-5)
Dec. 23    at Cincinnati (3-7)
Dec. 30    vs. San Francisco (2-8)
Composite record of opponents: 22-38
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (7-3)
Nov. 25    vs. Buffalo (5-5)
Dec. 2    at Indianapolis (8-2)
Dec. 9    vs. Carolina (4-6)
Dec. 16    at Pittsburgh (7-3)
Dec. 23    vs. Oakland (2-8)
Dec. 30    at Houston (5-5)
Comp. record of opp.: 31-29
TENNESSEE TITANS (6-4)
Nov. 25    at Cincinnati (3-7)
Dec. 2    vs. Houston (5-5)
Dec. 9    vs. San Diego (5-5)
Dec. 16    at Kansas City (4-6)
Dec. 23    vs. N.Y. Jets (2-8)
Dec. 30    at Indianapolis (8-2)
Comp. record of opp.: 27-33
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-5)
Nov. 25    vs. Baltimore (4-6)
Dec. 2    at Kansas City (4-6)
Dec. 9    at Tennessee (6-4)
Dec. 16    vs. Detroit (6-4)
Dec. 24    vs. Denver (5-5)
Dec. 30    at Oakland (2-8)
Comp. record of opp.: 27-33
DENVER BRONCOS (5-5)
Nov. 25    at Chicago (4-6)
Dec. 2    at Oakland (2-8)
Dec. 9    vs. Kansas City (4-6)
Dec. 13    at Houston (5-5)
Dec. 24    at San Diego (5-5)
Dec. 30    vs. Minnesota (4-6)
Comp. record of opp.: 24-36
HOUSTON TEXANS (5-5)
Nov. 25    at Cleveland (6-4)
Dec. 2    at Tennessee (6-4)
Dec. 9    vs. Tampa Bay (6-4)
Dec. 13    vs. Denver (5-5)
Dec. 23    at Indianapolis (8-2)
Dec. 30    vs. Jacksonville (7-3)
Comp. record of opp.: 38-22
BUFFALO BILLS (5-5)
Nov. 25    at Jacksonville (7-3)
Dec. 2    at Washington (5-5)
Dec. 9    vs. Miami (0-10)
Dec. 16    at Cleveland (6-4)
Dec. 23    vs. N.Y. Giants (7-3)
Dec. 30    at Philadelphia (5-5)
Comp. record of opp.: 30-30
Wild-card tiebreakers
If two teams from different divisions finish the season tied for one of the two wild-card berths, one of the following scenarios will apply.
1. Head-to-head
2. Conference record
3. Common games (min. of four)
4. Strength of victory
5. Strength of schedule