Since returning to the NFL in 1999, Cleveland Browns have been the laughingstock of the NFL. They’ve finished with a winning record just twice in that span. But the Browns are having their best season in years — another sign that 2020 is an unusual year. The team is just one win away from their first 10-win season since 2007. If they don’t blow it, Cleveland will end one of the longest active playoff droughts in all of American pro sports.
The Browns’ playoff history
The original Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens. So Cleveland lacked an NFL team until the “new” Browns formed in 1999. Since then, Cleveland has made the playoffs just once — in 2002 when they lost the wild card to the Steelers. To find the Browns‘ last playoff victory, you must go back to their first tenure in Cleveland: the 1994 playoffs.
The Browns beat the Patriots at home in the wild-card round before dropping the divisional game to the Steelers. When was the last time Cleveland won their division? You must go even further back to 1989. The Browns won what was then the AFC Central — no longer a division. They’ve never finished in first place in their current division, the AFC North.
The Browns should be playoff-bound in 2020
Through their first 12 games, the Browns are 9-3. According to Yahoo Sports, they’re poised to make the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. With the expanded playoffs this season, the top seven seeds in the AFC will make the postseason. The Browns are currently the No. 5 seed. With just four weeks left in the regular season, it would take a pretty big collapse for the Browns to miss the playoffs again.
As it stands right now, the Browns would play the fourth-seeded Titans in the wild-card round. If this happens in January, the Browns have a good chance to get their first postseason win of the 21st century. Those teams played each other in Week 13. The Browns won the game, 41-35, but it wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. The Browns had a 38-7 lead at halftime.
The Browns won’t win the AFC North
Even though the Browns may end up with their best record since returning to the league in ’99, it is unlikely that they will win their division for the first time in more than 30 years. They currently sit in second place in the AFC North, but they are behind the Steelers.
Pittsburgh is off to its best start in franchise history, with an 11-0 record behind the play of QB Ben Roethlisberger. With the Steelers having that big of a lead in the division, it’s not looking good for the Browns to be able to overtake them for the division lead this late in the season.
The Browns do host the Steelers in Week 17 so if the Steelers in the next couple of weeks it would open the door for Cleveland to have a chance to win the division in the final game. Browns fans shouldn’t count on that, though, and they should be happy just making the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Not winning the division, though, means the Browns won’t play a home game in the wild card round.