Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

December 13, 2018 at 12:54 am.

Improbable Browns remain alive in playoff chase

The Cleveland Browns have already accomplished more than most analysts thought they would this season, and with three games remaining more milestones are within each.

The Browns, at 5-7-1, have already clinched their best record since finishing 7-9 in 2014. They are 4-2-1 at FirstEnergy Stadium with a home game against the Cincinnati Bengals remaining, which means they have clinched their first winning record at home since 2007.

One of those milestones within reach is their first playoff appearance since 2002. They need help and have to win out, starting Saturday night when they visit the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High, but just the opportunity to play a meaningful game in the third week of December is something no one in a Browns uniform on the current roster has ever experienced. The 6-7 Broncos are one of the teams the Browns are chasing.

“I think everything when you’re dealing with pride helps in motivation,” Browns interim head coach Gregg Williams said. “Remember this when I say this: When you have to work extremely hard on motivation, you don’t have the right people. The right people are supposed to be motivated at this level. That’s how you keep your job. This job is a tough job at this level in the profession. The pride factor of seeing that (playoff) possibility is still there does help.”

The Browns have won three of their last four games. The Broncos are coming of a stinging 20-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

In addition to the Broncos, the Browns trail the Ravens, Dolphins, Colts and Titans (all 7-6) for the second wild-card spot in the AFC. The Chargers at 10-3 own the first wild-card spot.

“Our goal is to finish with a winning record for the first time in a long time,” safety Damarious Randall said. “Every game is important. Even if we aren’t going to playoffs, we still want to finish 8-7-1 regardless. Even if we have to ruin somebody else’s playoff hopes, we really don’t care. We’re going in thinking we can win every game. If it takes care of itself and we end up as the sixth seed, somebody’s going to be in trouble.”

The Browns are 1-5 on the road this season. They snapped a 25 road-game losing streak when they beat the Bengals, 35-20, on Nov. 25, but a week later were tripped up in Houston when Baker Mayfield threw three interceptions in the first half. Mayfield knows he can’t make the same mistakes against the Broncos and have a happy flight home.

“Take it one week at a time and put us into a position to – you talk about the playoff picture, we’re still right there,” Mayfield said. “We have to win out. For us, the mentality is ‘Win one week at a time.’ We can’t handle anything else. We just have to take it one week at a time. For us as a team, that’s what we need.”

The Broncos are 3-3 at Mile High, but they lost three straight home games after starting the season by winning back-to-back home games. They stopped their skid at home by beating the Steelers before winning in Cincinnati and losing in San Francisco.

Mayfield will have more than the thin Denver air and rowdy Broncos fans to contend with; the Broncos have picked off 14 passes and returned two of them for touchdowns.

SERIES HISTORY: 26th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 20-5. The history of the Browns and Bengals will forever be linked to three epic AFC championship games featuring quarterbacks John Elway of the Broncos and Bernie Kosar of the Browns. The Broncos won all three to advance to the Super Bowl in the 1986, 1987 and 1989 seasons.