Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

December 20, 2018 at 1:01 pm.

Browns’ goal is winning record

The Cleveland Browns chances of making the playoffs in 2018 are a lot closer to none than slim, but that doesn’t diminish what they have accomplished in this bounce-back season or alter their goals for finishing the season.

Two games remain, starting Sunday in a home contest with the downstate rival Cincinnati Bengals. They finish the season against another AFC North foe when they visit the Ravens in Baltimore.

The Browns were 0-16 last season. At 6-7-1 they and the Houston Texans (4-12 in 2017) have the most improved records in the NFL this season.

Beating the Bengals would assure the Browns of their best record since they finished 10-6 in 2007. That was also the last time they had a winning record. They can break that inglorious streak by winning the last two games.

“That’s actually my goal,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “The playoffs are something we can’t control. Having a winning record, that’s something we can control. That’s my main focus. Let’s win out. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It gives us a stepping stone for next year.”

The Browns beat the Bengals, 35-20, in Cincinnati on Nov. 25. Hue Jackson, fired as Browns head coach on Oct. 29, was unemployed for only two weeks. That ended when he rejoined the staff of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis on Nov. 13, which means Jackson was on the Bengals sideline as a defensive assistant when the rivals met in Cincinnati last month.

Jackson shook the hand of Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield after the game, but Mayfield did not want to chat with Jackson. Mayfield described Jackson as “a fake” a day later on Instagram, but refused to explain what he meant by it.

The slam on Jackson is still fresh enough in everyone’s mind for it to add spice to the game Sunday. Both teams are coming off victories; the Browns edged the Broncos, 17-16, in Denver last Saturday. The Bengals beat the Raiders, 30-16, in Cincinnati a day later.

“(Jackson) just wanted to be a part of the game and when the opportunity arose (coaching with the Bengals), he couldn’t turn it down,” Peppers said. “So I have no ill-will towards him. I’m thankful for everything he taught me. Thankful that he brought me here, but still looking forward to kicking his ass again.”

Not only would the Browns win seven games for the first time since 2014 (7-9) if they beat the Bengals; they would also assure themselves of finishing no worse than third place in the AFC North for the first time since 2010 when they were 5-11 and the Bengals were 4-12.

“If I have to worry about (motivation), we have the wrong people,” interim head coach Gregg Williams said. “People don’t understand that when you ask about motivation and you ask about intensity, we’re inside of the white lines; let’s roll. If that becomes a factor, the most important thing that I have to do is recommend to the people upstairs is that guy doesn’t belong.”

Williams was named interim head coach the day Jackson was fired. The Browns are 4-2 under Williams.

SERIES HISTORY: 91st regular-season meeting. Bengals lead series, 50-40. The Browns haven’t swept the season series with Cincinnati since 2002. That drought will end if they beat the Bengals in their home finale on Sunday.