Outside of a few games, the 2023 NFL playoffs are pretty much set heading into Week 18. Every year, there are always a few teams that aren’t true contenders sneak in and lose the first round. Even in some instances a team with a losing record somehow makes it in, as it has happened six times in the history of the league.
The most recent example is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. Along with a losing record, the team was dead last in rushing and bottom 10 in the league in points scored. Yet, their division and schedule were so poor, they were just good enough to secure a division title and a home playoff game before being blown out by the Cowboys in the wildcard. The Cleveland Browns are not one of those teams.
Not only are they tied for the second-best record in the AFC, but they have already locked in the 5th seed for the playoffs. The Browns aren’t just a team that snuck in, they can go on a deep playoff run.
With Cleveland locking up the No. 5 seed, the highest Wild Card seed in the AFC, they will play whoever wins the AFC South division first round. This is awesome considering Kevin Stefanski since becoming the head coach of the Browns in 2020 has never lost to any team in that division, and it's not going to start anytime soon.
The favorite to win that division, the Jacksonville Jaguars, have already lost the Browns before going on a four-game skid — only to be broken after they beat the 2-14 Carolina Panthers. It also doesn’t help their chances that Trevor Lawrence has been extremely banged up this season, recording four different injuries.
The Indianapolis Colts were also beaten by the Browns earlier in the season, back when the Browns had P.J. Walker under center, and had one of their worst offensive outings of the season, as they were outgained on offense by 140 yards and only converted 25% of their third downs.
Lastly, there's the Houston Texans, who Cleveland blew out two weeks ago. They do have their starting quarterback, C.J. Stroud back in action, something they didn’t have when these two faced off, but the road for them to win the division is tough. Not only would they have to win their matchup against the Colts, but they would also need the Jaguars to lose to the lowly 5-11 Tennesee Titans.
It's not just the Wild Card round where the Browns have a favorable matchup either. Not only do they match up well against the best teams in the NFL, but they’ve also beaten the best teams in the NFL. No other team has beaten both the No. 1 seeded Baltimore Ravens and the No. 1 seeded San Francisco 49ers this year.
Both of those top-seeded teams are so explosive offensively because of how well they run the ball and when they most recently faced the Browns, they were held to under 150 total rushing yards, both were their lowest rushing totals in a game this season. It's not just the defense that matches up well either as the Browns offense has been red hot with Joe Flacco under center.
Over the past four weeks, Joe Flacco recorded four 300-yard passing games, the most consecutive in franchise history and the most in Flacco's career. Over the past two games, the Browns even put up their top two offensive yardage outings as well.
In conclusion, the Browns aren’t a dark horse that is just happy to be there, they are contenders gearing up to make a run. They boast the top defense in the NFL with an electric passing attack that can play with anybody in this league. This isn’t like 2020, they have top units on all three phases of the football and that is needed to be a true contender.
Now factor in a week of rest for significant players, and guys such as Ogbo Okorronkwo, or Elijah Moore could be ready for the playoffs. Cleveland is getting hot at just the right time, and they are not a team others are looking to face in the postseason.