Playoffs? There is still a chance for the Browns


It’s the first week of November and we’re back on standard time, which usually coincides with the time of the year when the Browns are hopelessly out of the playoff picture.

Not this year. Although a 4-5 record isn’t a great source of pride, it’s good enough for sole possession of second place in the crumbling AFC North Division, two games behind the 6-3 Cincinnati Bengals.

There might not be a lot playoff talk in the locker room, but the subject isn’t that far out of the conversation. A win over the Bengals in Cincinnati after the bye week would put it at the forefront of talk.

That, in itself, is welcome news for veterans like offensive tackle Joe Thomas and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. The two have a combined 13 years of experience (not including this season), but nary a playoff berth for either of the two.

The 24-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday worked wonders for the mood of the players. After a practice today, they can head to parts unknown for a short vacation, knowing there’s a reason to return for the resumption of practice on Monday.

“These next three weeks are going to be very interesting,” Jackson said. “Baltimore plays Cincinnati this weekend. Right now we’ve positioned ourselves to be right in the middle of the pack.”

The Bengals entered the season as the favorite of many to win the division title, with the Ravens a close second. The Pittsburgh Steelers were viewed as a transition team that could go either way, and the Browns were again considered a likely candidate to finish last.

Nine weeks into the season, the Bengals are still the favorite, but their hold on first place is precarious because of injuries. In recent weeks the defense has lost lineman Geno Atkins, safety Taylor Mays and cornerback Leon Hall to season-ending injuries.

The Ravens are on life support after their record slipped to 3-5 with the loss to the Browns. The Steelers, who are 2-6, are looking at a second straight season without qualifying for the playoffs.

Normally, the Browns would have to go 6-1 to close the regular season with a 10-6 record to even think about advancing to the playoffs, but this isn’t a normal season. The AFC North, which for a long time was considered one of the best divisions in the NFL, is sub-par. It’s possible that a 9-7 record and winning a tie-breaker could be enough to win the division.

At this time the players aren’t concerned about tiebreakers or how things might shake out in the last week of December. It’s all about building off the win over the Ravens and riding the hot hand of quarterback Jason Campbell.

“I think we’re on the upswing,” Thomas said. “The offense and defense are playing better, and we’re in the hunt, and it’s right where we want to be. Do we wish we were in first place? Sure, but I think we’re comfortable with where we are.”

You can’t say that Campbell has emerged onto the scene. Nine-year veterans that are 31 don’t emerge. It’s more like coming to the surface after being under the radar for a period of time.

Campbell might be playing some of the best football of his career, although he felt he was playing well with Oakland in 2011 when he broke a collarbone against the Browns. In two starts this season he’s completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 561 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.

“I think I’m there,” Campbell said. “I feel like I’m in a different place where my mindset is. I have strong faith and I continue to come out here each day and not try to put any pressure or stress and let it all hang out and have fun.”

That attitude seems to be taking hold throughout the locker room.