Four weeks have passed since the Cleveland Browns made the move to fire Hue Jackson halfway through his third season as their head coach. Since then, they have already come close to matching their total win total with him at the helm.
The Browns officially went 4-36-1 under Jackson, including a 2-6-1 record in 2018 prior to his dismissal. But they have gone 3-1 since then under interim head coach Gregg Williams, claiming victories over the Cincinnati Bengals (where Jackson is now), the Atlanta Falcons, and the Carolina Panthers. The only team that has beaten them is the Houston Texans, who finally lost a game on Sunday since September.
During that same period of time, the Pittsburgh Steelers have fallen to 7-5-1 because they have lost three games in a row, going 1-3 in the same span of time that the Browns have gone 3-1. It’s almost hard to even imagine, but that is where we sit with three games remaining on the schedule.
And with the Steelers’ schedule over the final three weeks, it’s not inconceivable that the currently 5-7-1 Browns could finish the regular season with the same record as Pittsburgh. Cleveland’s final three games are at the Broncos, at home against the Bengals, and then on the road in Baltimore. They’ve already beaten the Bengals and Ravens this season.
Meanwhile, the Steelers get to face the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints back to back, both games very much a problem. The way they have performed, particularly in the fourth quarter defensively, over the past three weeks, we certainly can’t put it past them losing both of those games.
So Pittsburgh and Cleveland could enter the season finale sharing a 7-7-1 record and the opportunity to go into the regular season finale with possible bragging rights as the number two team in the AFC North—perhaps even the number one team, should the Ravens lose one of their next two games (among them one against the Los Angeles Chargers).
Imagine that. It’s conceivable that the Cleveland Browns could win the AFC North, this season, with a record of 8-7-1. Granted, that would require that the Steelers lose out, including to a Bengals team that doesn’t have Andy Dalton or A.J. Green, but they did just lose to the Oakland Raiders, and Cincinnati did just give the Chargers a fight.
The reason the Steelers would have to lose out, of course, is because a pair of 8-7-1 records would favor Pittsburgh, as they have the head-to-head tiebreaker, posting a 1-0-1 record against the Browns in their two matchups this year.
But the fact that we could even conceivably talk about the possibility of the Browns winning the division in 2018 is worrisome, not just for now but for the future. This is a team that actually has talent, and finally even a quarterback, and if they ever manage to find the right coach, the Steelers’ schedule, and path to division titles, is going to get that much harder.