The Cleveland Browns Can't Possibly Screw This Up, Right?

Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield / Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Everything is strange in this year we'd all like to forget, so it's only fitting that the Cleveland Browns are actually good. In the midst of their best season since Derek Anderson was under center, Cleveland will finish the year with a winning record no matter what happens in Week 17 and even had a chance to win the AFC North as recently as last week.

Now, however, their playoff hopes come down to one game and one game alone. If the Browns win against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, they will be in the postseason for the first time in 13 years. If they lose, they're out unless the Colts lose to the Jaguars (extremely unlikely) or the Titans, Bengals, and Bills all lose.

The Browns do have a rather significant factor in their favor heading into Week 17: with the Steelers already division champs, Ben Roethlisberger will sit. Mason Rudolph will get the start. Presumably, several other important Steelers will not play. Pittsburgh has nothing to play for other than crushing the hopes and dreams of a division rival, which is fun but the reward pales in comparison to the risk of losing a key piece to injury in the process.

So they can't screw this up, right? Their playoff hopes are on the line and the Steelers will have at least a couple of backups playing. Rudolph proved last year that he is not a starting NFL quarterback. The Browns are a talented squad and have a handful of legitimately impressive wins on the season. Good teams take care of business when they need to in the regular season, and Cleveland should be able to do that.

On the other hand... They are the Browns, the most cursed franchise in the NFL and arguably all of sports. Nothing would encapsulate that more than losing to the Rudolph-led Steelers in what is essentially a win-or-go-home game. Especially a week after they lost to the one-win New York Jets because their top four receivers were ruled out due to COVID contact tracing and they were missing two starting linemen due to injury. Everyone thought the Jets were going to go winless this season, but the one thing they were actually good at was run defense, and managed to stifle the two-headed monster of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

That right there sounds like the Browns of old. But every other week of the season has proven this team is not built from the same stuff as the inept squads of old. They can prove that with a win this Sunday. They clearly are capable of doing so. Now they just have to do it, but that's always been the hangup with Cleveland over the years.

It's all coming up aces for the Browns. They can't fail now. Right?