Editorâ€™s note: Due to an early deadline, results from the Titansâ€™ game with the Colts were unavailable.
The Browns deserved to make the playoffs. Analysts can crunch numbers, commentators can quibble over close calls, and fans can dream about what might have been, but it all comes back to that cogent point. Cleveland was a better team than Tennessee throughout this season, as well as being more exciting and infinitely more entertaining than the Titans.
Yet, thanks to a strange sequence of tiebreakers used by the NFL, the Browns had to wait well into the evening Sunday to learn their postseason fate.
The whole situation stunk worse than Cleveland Browns Stadium after its infamous sewage flood over the summer.
â€œThe teams that deserve to be in the playoffs make the playoffs,â€ guard Eric Steinbach said after Clevelandâ€™s 20-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers. â€œWe had a great year, but no matter what happens, you canâ€™t look past the records. The best six teams (in the AFC) get in.â€
Maybe this time, they didnâ€™t. Not if Tennessee beat Indianapolis in their Sunday night contest, which would have sent the Titans to the postseason and the Browns home for the year â€” despite a 10-6 season that put Cleveland back on the pro football map.
Winning a team-record seven times at home was nice, but getting the chance to play one more game on the road would be even better.
â€œI am just proud of our team,â€ said Browns linebacker Willie McGinest, who had two sacks in the victory. â€œWe stuck together no matter what was going on. We played a good game and had some fun.
â€œThis is what happens when you let the caged tiger out. Everyone is playing well. Someone steps up every week.â€
Frankly, outside of Rocky Top Country, there arenâ€™t many people who would rather see the bland Titans in the playoffs than the high-octane Browns (admittedly, it is still hard to put the latter three words together and not be lying).
On the other hand, itâ€™s also safe to assume that San Diego and Pittsburgh would rather see Tennessee lining up across from them next weekend. By drawing the Titans, both division champions would have a virtual cakewalk into the second round of the playoffs.
Cleveland, however, would provide a much more dangerous opponent. The Browns proved they could beat teams through the air with Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Derek Anderson, on the ground with Jamal Lewis, and on special teams with Joshua Cribbs.
All they needed was the opportunity to keep playing, which is why the entire team was in front of its television sets on Sunday night â€” with fingers and toes crossed, rooting for the Colts.
â€œOther teams are scared of us,â€ Browns kick returner Joshua Cribbs said. â€œI think weâ€™re a damn good team and if we get in, weâ€™ll be even more deadly. The camaraderie and the spirit on this team is so great. Our success, itâ€™s well deserved.â€