Wishing everyone the warmest of Happy Holidays as we head toward another big weekend of Cleveland Browns football.
On to the questions! We're tackling three of them in our special one-day-early edition of the Browns Mailbag.
What can the coaching staff point to in order to avoid looking ahead to the Steelers game against a 1-13 Jets team? This is a golden opportunity to overtake a Steelers team that is struggling and take the division as long as they lose Sunday to the Colts! – Phil H., St. Clairsville
There's a couple of easy things Coach Kevin Stefanski and Co. can use as motivation.
First, the Browns NEED to win. That's plain and simple. Yes, they would still have a path to the playoffs if they were upset Sunday by the Jets, but they would lose control of their destiny. If the Browns win the next two games, they're in the playoffs. If they lose one or both, their odds drastically decrease and their fate is left in the hands of others. There's no need to scoreboard-watch over the next two weeks if the Browns take care of business, and that's a luxury a lot of teams would love to have.
Second, the Jets JUST beat the Rams, one of the best teams in the NFC. If that's not a wakeup call, I don't know what is. The win wasn't any kind of fluke, either. The Rams are at relatively full strength and were playing on their home field. The Jets led for the majority of the game and did the things winning teams do to close it out. Now, the Jets enter Sunday's game with some renewed confidence, and the Browns will be the first team to face them since they put a win on the board.
"They have talented players," Stefanski said. "They saw last week a formula to how you go get a win, taking care of the ball and going and getting the ball on defense. They have seen firsthand when they put it all together against a good football team, an NFC playoff team, when they put it all together, they are totally capable of winning, and that is the way I look at it."
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Giants last week by the Browns photo team
Aren't the Browns already locked into the playoffs? Even if the Browns lose one of two remaining games, they tie Ravens at 11-5 but stay ahead of Miami and either the Titans or Colts on head-to-head competition. Right??? — Bob K., Akron
I'd love it if this were the case, but unfortunately it's not. It's understandably very confusing, but the Browns' head-to-head tiebreaker over the Colts matters when it comes to the playoffs but wouldn't matter with the Titans in the event of a four-way tie at 11-5 for the Wild Card. The only way the Titans are a Wild Card team at 11-5, by the way, is if the Colts are 12-4.
The NFL provides a detailed explainer for all of these situations, but the Browns' playoff hopes are fairly simple if they just keep on winning. If Cleveland gets to 12-4, it's in the postseason and doesn't have to worry about what other teams are doing.
How can the Browns get more production from three tight ends in preparation for the bigger games? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia
What if I told you the Browns' tight ends are producing at an even higher level than the Vikings' did in 2019, Stefanski's last year with the team? That's exactly what's happened in 2020 even if the Browns' tight ends haven't been putting up performances that will win you a fantasy football title.
Last year in Minnesota, Kyle Rudolph and rookie Irv Smith Jr. combined for 75 receptions, 678 yards and eight touchdowns. This season in Cleveland, Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant and David Njoku — the three tight ends who play a starter's amount of snaps — have combined for 69 catches, 702 yards and eight touchdowns. They have two games left to play, of course, and their consistency has been one of many reasons why the Browns' offense has clicked more than it hasn't in 2020.
Sunday's game against the Giants was one of the best from the position group, as Hooper, Bryant and Njoku combined for nine catches, 82 yards and a touchdown. Also of major importance, especially with the Browns using two tight ends more often than not, is their blocking, which has been pivotal for a ground game that ranks among the best in the NFL and a passing attack that is among the league's best when it comes to sacks allowed.
"It has been a huge point of emphasis for us," tight ends coach Drew Petzing said. "You think back to April, May and June, we knew that was going to be a big part of our role as a group, and I know those guys really embraced that from the get go. We take a lot of pride. When we hear those conversations about our offensive line and our run game, we personally take a lot of pride because we do feel like we are a big part of that.
"We have had some tough matchups, and those guys have handled it really well so it has been fun to watch."