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The 18 in Limbo

Who will claim the five up-for-grabs playoff spots in the NFL? Plus, Week 10 picks.

Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions looks over his shoulder on his way to a third quarter touchdown at Ford Field on October 23, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. Atlanta won the game 23-16.

“It’s time for us. If we’re going to do something, we need to start making some sort of move.” —Dennis Allen

Oakland’s coach said those words just 48 hours before the Raiders gave up a record-tying seven passing touchdowns to someone named Nick Foles. I’m telling you this because I want you to remember something — no matter what you’re about to read over the next 5,000 words, nothing will make me look dumber than that quote makes Dennis Allen look. It’s a little liberating, actually.

We’re going to do some NFL housecleaning this week. I want to figure out our 12 playoff teams. If it’s OK with you, I’m throwing Kansas City (9-0), Seattle (8-1), Denver (7-1), New England (7-2), San Francisco (6-2), New Orleans (6-2) and Indianapolis (6-2) into the postseason. Barring a massive fluke along the lines of “Uh-oh, we’re five minutes into this Monday-night game and Aaron Rodgers suddenly looks like Seneca Wallace,” those seven teams will be playing in January.

If it’s OK with you, I’m also eliminating the following seven teams: Jacksonville (0-8), Tampa Bay (0-8), Minnesota (2-7), Atlanta (2-6), Pittsburgh (2-6), St. Louis (3-6) and Oakland (3-5). Thank you and please drive through.

That leaves five open spots for 18 teams. Wait, EIGHTEEN TEAMS? If you think that’s a crazy number, I’m contractually obligated to remind you that, in 2012, 3-6 Washington and 3-5 Cincinnati finished with 10 victories apiece and crept into Round 1. In 2011, the Broncos dropped to 2-5 before a little thing called “TEEEEEEEEEEEEEBOWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!” happened. In 2009, the 4-6 Jets and 5-5 Ravens both went on to play Round 2 games. In 2008, the 4-8 Chargers improbably rallied to win the AFC West. As the famous philosopher Joaquin Andujar once said, youneverknow. So let’s count down “The 18 in Limbo” in order from “least likely to make the playoffs” to “most likely.”


Sked: @Zona, OAK, JAX, NE, @Jax, @Indy, DEN, @TEN
Playoff Odds: 40-to-11


I used 23 years of gambling experience and some residual gambling-degenerate DNA to come up with the playoff odds for these 18 teams. For Houston, Philly, Washington, Cleveland, Baltimore and the Giants, I used their Vegas odds to win their respective divisions since that’s their only realistic chance of getting a playoff seed.

How It Could Happen: First, Case Keenum has to officially transform into Tony Romo 2.0. Second, Ben Tate has to turn into That Backup Running Back Who’s Suddenly Running for 160 Yards a Game and Swinging Your Fantasy League. And third, they’d have to win three of four against New England/Denver (at home) and Tennessee/Indy (on the road) and sweep their other four games, then pull off a massive multi-team tiebreaker for the second wild card. It’s totally unrealistic, but not absurdly unrealistic.

Why It Won’t Happen: You know what IS absurd? Anything good happening to an NFL team after these 10 words crawl across the ESPN News ticker: “Wade Phillips will assume his duties on an interim basis.” I don’t care if we’re talking about an NFL head coaching job, an oil rigger, a Starbucks barista … I’m out as soon as I hear those 10 words. Even if it’s for one week.

The Verdict: The Texans will lose in Arizona this weekend and that will be that. I say no.


Sked: @Pitt, NYJ, Bye, ATL, @TB, @Jax, MIA, @NE
Odds: 30-to-1

How It Could Happen: There’s a lot to like here, including the lively running game; the semi-fearsome front seven; the fact that the Defensive Player of the Year might be a white guy named “Kiko Alonso”; Doug Marrone (my favorite new coach of 2013); tough/respectable losses to New England, Kansas City and Cincy; EJ Manuel’s return (this week!); and the creampuffiest of schedules down the stretch (especially if New England clinches a 2-seed early).

Why It Won’t Happen: They’d have to run the slate like Washington did last season, turn the “EJ and C.J. Show” into a thing and maybe even win another one of those improbably ludicrous Friday Night Lights–type games (like when they beat Carolina in Week 2). Remember, this is the franchise that (a) lost four Super Bowls in a row, (b) lost the Music City Miracle, (c) hasn’t won a playoff game in 18 years, and (d) takes it personally every time I write about how much God hates Cleveland.

The Verdict: A Bills fan in Orlando named Tim sent me the most likely scenario: “After the Bills inevitably rip off their 6-game winning streak, only to miss the playoffs because of a heartbreaking loss to the Ryan Mallett-led Pats in Week 17, Jeff Tuel’s hideous 101-yard Pick 6 will haunt me for the entire offseason. Life of a Bills fan!” I say no.


SKED: @Phi, SF, NYG, KC, @Atl, DALL, @NYG
Odds: 12-1

How It Could Happen: The whole “You can’t count out any NFC East team until they get to nine losses” thing … and even then, you can’t totally count them out.

Why It Won’t Happen: You know how Washington got its three wins? The team taking advantage of Matt Flynn getting one final NFL start before his Arena Football career kicks off (Week 4); an injured Jay Cutler getting replaced by a McCown brother (Week 7); and the Chargers scoring a game-winning TD that got overturned, then choking on three straight plays from the 1-yard line (Week 9). Did you see them last night in Minnesota? The Washington Professional Football Team stinks.

The Verdict: There’s only one hope: Alfred Morris gets so frustrated about getting frozen out on touchdown carries, he throws the team on his back and pulls a 2012 Peterson down the stretch. Not since Bud Kilmer kept giving Wendell’s touchdowns to his white teammates at West Canaan have we seen a football coach so blatantly screw over his starting running back. You suck, Mike Shanahan. (Yes, I paid $35 for Morris in my fantasy auction.) I say no.


Sked: CIN, @Chi, NYJ, PITT, MINN, @Det, NE, @CIN
Odds: 9-to-12


They’re actually +1200 to win the AFC North right now, but I think those odds are too high. Same for the Browns at +800. Who knows with the Bengals after all their injuries?

How It Could Happen: They’ll need the Bengals to keep losing elite players for the year (we’re already up to four), and they’ll need another injury to a starting Browns QB, followed by a play-by-play announcer saying the four most chilling words in football: “Here comes Brandon Weeden …” Speaking of chilling, one of my readers jumped on the email from my Week 8 column about the symmetry of “Sweet Caroline” and Scatman Crothers getting murdered in The Shining and dubbed them into the same video. It’s kind of amazing.

Why It Won’t Happen: I thought about using that startling “Baltimore hasn’t led a game since October 6” stat that made the rounds this week, but let’s just go with this email from Dave in Missouri: “I think I’m going to drop Ray Rice for Rashad Jennings this week. Am I crazy?”

The Verdict: Here’s how you know it’s been a disappointing Ravens season — I’ve watched multiple Ravens games and never once suspected their players were using PEDs. I say no.


Sked: OAK, GB, DALL, @Wash, @SD, SEA, @Det
Odds: 8-to-1

How It Could Happen: Because they’re the Giants — the team that makes you scream things like “Why aren’t they dead yet?” and “COULD SOMEBODY FINISH THEM OFF, PLEASE????” Look at their suddenly not-so-bad schedule: three straight home games against Oakland (Team That Just Gave Up Seven Passing TDs Alert!), Green Bay (Seneca Wallace Alert!) and Dallas (Tragic Romo Ending Alert!) — that could propel them to 5-6 in just 16 days. Could 7-9 be enough to win a pathetic NFC East tiebreaker over the Cowboys and cement their “Nobody Believes in Us!” legacy? Lord, I hope not.

Why It Won’t Happen: Just remember, Football Outsiders has them ranked 30th in DVOA for a reason.

The Verdict: It’s like one of those ’80s horror movies where the embattled female lead keeps dropping the knife and assuming Myers or Voorhees is dead just because he got stabbed in the leg. Just cut his head off already. I say no.


Sked: @TB, SD, CAR, @NYJ, @Pitt, NE, @Buff, NYJ
Odds: 8-to-1

How It Could Happen: Galvanized by the “unfair” fallout against Richie Incognito and nearly 375,000 different Colonel Jessup/Code Red jokes on the Internet, a decent Dolphins team finds itself fueled by a hybrid of “nobody believes in us” and “everybody hates us” emotions, ripping off five of six wins before seemingly choking away a playoff spot in Buffalo. In Week 17, they fend off the Jets thanks to eight Geno Smith turnovers as Ryan Mallett carves up the Bills, clinching the second AFC wild-card spot for Miami. That’s followed by Incognito jumping out of the stands and getting carried off on the shoulders of his former teammates, then getting immortalized in a feel-good Disney movie called The Offensive Lineman.

Why It Won’t Happen: There are distractions, there are major distractions, and then there’s everything that happened these past six days with Miami.

The Verdict: Feels like 8-8. I say no.

Unrelated: I have a good feel for anything that might mushroom into a massive sports story at this point, but the collective newspaper/Internet/sports-radio/talking-head reaction to Incognito vs. Martin blew me away. How did this become the most polarizing NFL story since Michael Vick came back from jail? And how does the story keep gaining steam? People are so fired up that there was angry shouting on “Mike & Mike” this week. Repeat: There was angry shouting on “Mike & Mike” this week!!!! On Monday, I thought the big takeaway would be “Oh yeah, I totally forgot — football players are dumb meatheads” and we’d be making jokes about Jonathan Martin wasting a perfectly good plate of spaghetti. Instead, it has launched the following story lines …

  1. “How can we stop bullying in the workplace?”
  2. “Did Miami’s coaching staff order the Code Red?”
  3. “Should people outside a locker room be allowed to tell people inside a locker room how to act?”
  4. “What’s the difference between being a leader and being an asshole?”
  5. “Why did the Dolphins so steadfastly stick up for Incognito when he seems like such a humongous jerk? Is this like Stockholm syndrome?”
  6. “What are the boundaries of racially charged teasing between teammates?”
  7. “Should the locker room be like a family — in other words, what happens in the house stays in the house?”
  8. “Wait, NFL players make rookies pay for everything? This really happens?”
  9. “When one of the Mikes becomes upset on ‘Mike & Mike,’ should this be considered a national emergency?”
  10. “What’s going to happen to the Dolphins now? Can they recover from this?”
  11. “Isn’t there a certain irony in the bully culture of blogs/Twitter/message boards now rushing to the defense of Jonathan Martin and taking a strong stand against bullying?”
  12. “Hey, all the ex-players on TV who keep saying that Martin needed to stand up for himself and punch Incognito when Martin clearly had mental issues know that they sound like insensitive Neanderthals, right?”
  13. “How do we honor tradition and team building without crossing the line into hazing?”
  14. “What does this story say about us?”


That’s a whopping 14 story lines! On Grantland, we’ve already run two terrific takes — one by Brian Phillips, one by Andrew Sharp — and we probably could have run five or six more. Two lingering points stuck out for me. First, Sharp made a fantastic point about how we spent the past three decades deifying Michael Jordan … a homicidally competitive superstar who brutalized any teammate who didn’t meet his lofty standards. What Jordan did to Kwame Brown, Brad Sellers and others wasn’t any different from what Incognito did to Martin. I’m not saying this should alter MJ’s legacy or anything. But we’ve seen bullying in sports since basically forever, and other than your occasional Real Sports/Outside the Lines/E:60 piece, nobody really cared until Martin vs. Incognito. Now? People care. Just feels like more and more people are going to be coming out with their stories. This ain’t ending anytime soon.

And second, I’m endlessly fascinated by people who keep bringing up “the code” in football locker rooms like it’s the military or something. I never played football past ninth grade, so I don’t feel comfortable saying it’s right or wrong. But more than a few ex-players genuinely believe that there’s something to the whole “Everything that happens in the locker room NEEDS TO STAY IN THE LOCKER ROOM” thing, and that nobody can fully understand it unless they’ve played football. That this story ballooned during the same week as Tony Dorsett’s heartbreaking CTE story meant something, I think. It’s just becoming clearer and clearer that professional football is a profoundly messed-up sport. And yet we’re still watching. Anyway …


Sked: Bye, @Cin, PITT, JAX, @NE, CHI, @NYJ, @Pitt
Odds: 6-to-1

I’m breaking the rules and coming back to them later.


Sked: DEN, @Mia, @KC, CIN, NYG, @Den, OAK, KC
Odds: 9-to-2


Sked: HOU, @Jax, INDY, @Phi, STL, @Ten, @Sea, SF
Odds: 4-to-1

How It Could Happen: San Diego is three plays away from being 7-1.3 Arizona has the NFL’s best defense (according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings) and may have stumbled into something special with Andre Ellington. Would you be shocked if the Cards or Chargers turned into our Red-Hot Second-Half Team and grabbed a wild card? Speaking of shocking, I’d like to welcome Toronto mayor Rob Ford to the Tyson Zone. Congratulations, Rob. You did everything you had to do. And then some.


Week 1: Houston comes back from three scores down to beat them. Week 3: Tennessee scores on a semi-miracle TD pass to beat them. Last week: They get the game-winning TD reversed, then choke from the 1.

Why It Won’t Happen: The Chargers blew it — they’re hitting the toughest part of their schedule and had to be better than 4-4. And the Cardinals blew it last spring when they said the words, “You know who can turn this around for us? Carson Effing Palmer, that’s who.”

The Verdict: Look, nothing would make me happier than being able to wager against Palmer in a playoff game. And I’d much rather watch the Chargers in a playoff game than, say, the Jets or Titans. But this feels like two coulda-woulda-shoulda seasons here. Arizona needed to steal one of those three Saints/Niners/Seahawks games and they didn’t. San Diego went 0-3 in Good Luck/Bad Luck games. Feels like 9-7 for both. I say no.


Sked: @GB, WASH, Bye, ZONA, DET, @Minn, CHI, @Dall
Odds: 3.5-to-1

How It Could Happen: Somehow Nick Foles has thrown for 13 TDs and 0 picks and has a QB rating of 127.4! I know, I’m as shocked as you guys. In Philly’s four victories, the Eagles scored 33, 36, 31 and 49 points — that’s something, right? They also caught a huge schedule break this weekend (Seneca Wallace in Green Bay — a line that dropped NINE POINTS), they’ll be favored in the Washington/Minnesota games, and they might control their own destiny in Week 17 in Dallas. You don’t even need recreational drugs to envision the 2013 Eagles making the playoffs — just a few drinks.

Why It Won’t Happen: Their four wins came against teams with a combined record of 8-25. Football Outsiders ranks their defense 30th out of 32. They scored 10 points total in EIGHT CONSECUTIVE QUARTERS against the Cowboys and Giants (in Week 7 and Week 8, no less). Everything hinges on Nick Foles. I could keep going.

The Verdict: The Eagles are just one of many reasons why I’ve turned into Billy Ice this season — there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to what happens with them every week. I’m not even guessing about their playoff future. You can’t make me. Meanwhile, here’s an inspiring suggestion from Derek in Los Angeles.
 “Forget calling yourself ‘Billy Ice.’ Personally, I think going rock bottom will save your season and nothing says that more than ‘Billy Zima.’ Going the wine cooler route always helps a career. Just ask Bruce Willis.”

Billy Zima it is! You can’t climb back from rock bottom until you’ve hit your head against the rock. Sitting at a frigid 13 games under .500 with just seven weeks to go, I think I’m here. The good news: I think I finally mustered the courage to declare a verdict on Philly’s playoff hopes. I say no.


Sked: PHI, @NYG, MINN, @Det, ATL, @Dall, PITT, @Chi
Odds: 5-to-2

How It Could Happen: Am I the only one who thinks Seneca Wallace can beat Philly this Sunday? It’s the old “Guy looked horrible when he got thrown into a game without warning, now everyone assumes he’s going to keep sucking when he’s just gotten a week of practice and he’s lucky enough to play a shaky defense at home” thing. Billy Zima has been tricked by this one before. And after that, they have the Giants and Vikings … and then Rodgers might be ready … I mean …

Why It Won’t Happen: Read that last paragraph again. It’s ridiculous. How can you come back in three or four weeks from a fractured collarbone?

The Verdict: They need to get to 10 wins AND get lucky with the whole Bears/Lions/Panthers/Cardinals tiebreak quagmire? I don’t see it. We did learn one cool thing, though: Rodgers is worth a whopping NINE POINTS to every Green Bay gambling line. I blame my friend Chad Millman for this — last year, he created a fake stat called PSVAR (Point Spread Value Above Replacement) that led me to send him 15 scathing “GET THE EFF OFF MY FAKE STAT CORNER, MILLMAN!” emails. Just kidding. Last month, Chad wrote that Rodgers had the NFL’s highest PSVAR at +10, with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and the Manning brothers trailing him at +9. In other words, if Rodgers ever got injured, Chad believed it would swing the ensuing Packers line by 10 points. What happened this week? Rodgers went down and the Eagles-Packers line swung from “Green Bay by 10” to “Green Bay by 1.” So Chad was off by a point. Not bad.

Here’s why I brought this up: In my 2013 preview column, I picked the Packers to miss the playoffs, worried about their schedule and apologized to Green Bay fans for building both of my fantasy teams around Aaron Rodgers — something I hadn’t done since 2008 with Tom Brady, when, well, you know. So when Rodgers fractured his collarbone, Packers fans started sending me “YOU JINXED RODGERS, YOU DICK!” emails. Somehow, Chad Millman remained unscathed — the guy who created the fake PSVAR stat, ranked Rodgers first and in a roundabout way begged the NFL gods to injure Rodgers so he’d find out if his fake stat was good or not. Sorry, Chad wins any Aaron Rodgers Jinx-Off here. Send your hate mail to As for Green Bay’s 2013 playoff hopes … sometimes it’s just not your year. It happens. I say no.


Sked: @SF, NE, @Mia, TB, @NO, NYJ, NO, @Atl
Odds: 5-to-2

How It Could Happen: Are you kidding? It’s happening! Riverboat Ron is 5-for-6 on fourth-and-shorts and joking that he’d rather be called “Calculated-Risk-Taker Ron.” Bill Barnwell is trotting out stats in his Monday column like “Every team that’s won four straight games by two touchdowns or more has ended up making the playoffs.” Even Vegas has noticed — they have the Panthers getting less than a touchdown in San Francisco against an equally hot Niners team. There’s a lot to love.

Why It Won’t Happen: What if they’re just the Good Bad Team and they’re meant to whup on the other bad teams and that’s it? What then? What happens in those four games against the Niners, Pats and Saints (twice)? I can’t shake that Week 5 loss in Arizona — Carolina’s offense had more sacks than points and turned over the ball four times. Don’t we need to see them play well in San Francisco before we even consider sticking them in the playoffs?

The Verdict: I’m going rogue — I think Calculated Risk-Taker Riverboat Ron’s Panthers get all the way to 11 wins and maybe even battle New Orleans for that NFC South title. I say yes.


Sked: JAX, INDY, @Oak, @Indy, @Denv, ZONA, @Jax, HOU
Odds: 5-to-2


Sked: Bye, @Buff, @Balt, MIA, OAK, @Car, CLE, @Mia
Odds: 5-to-2

How It Could Happen: The Titans never should have blown that OT game in Houston in Week 2; they somehow survived a brutal three-week stretch against the Chiefs/Seahawks/Niners with Ryan Fitzpatrick prominently involved; and they have a pretty easy second-half schedule if you throw out the Denver game. Meanwhile, the Jets kicked New Orleans’s butts last Sunday while brazenly hijacking Andy Reid’s “We’ll let our defense and special teams carry us and avoid letting our QB do ANYTHING” strategy. J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Why It Won’t Happen: The Jets lost to Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Cincy by a combined score of 106-28; they’re a late hit and a light shove away from being 3-6; and they’re the Jets. The whole “Let’s try to win without Geno hurting us” strategy can work for one week, and maybe even two or three, but not for two months. I just don’t see it even with a fairly easy schedule. As for Tennessee, they look a little too obvious, right? Two Jacksonville games, Houston and Oakland … that’s 8-4 right there. So they’d have to go 2-2 against Arizona, Denver and Indy twice to make the playoffs? It’s so easy! Just pencil them in! Everybody believes in you, Tennessee!

The Verdict: There’s a good chance we’re looking at the Round 1 opponent for my beloved Patriots right here. In one corner, we have Geno Smith … someone who inspires at least one “Can you believe we might have a chance to bet against Geno Smith in the playoffs” email in my reader inbox every day. In the other corner, we have Bernard Karmell Pollard and the Titans. You might remember me joking since early September about the “inevitability” of a Pollard-Pats playoff showdown. That joke is no longer funny. He’s coming for the Patriots, and this time, he’s coming for Belichick … and maybe even the entire Kraft family. I say no for the Jets and yes for the Titans.

And since the thought of seeing Pollard in a playoff game frightens the living hell out of every Patriots fan, I’d like to offer a video clip to put you in a better mood. We made it because my Grantland Channel guys are bored now that they’re not working for 80-plus hours a week on the Bill & Jalen NBA Preview. It’s called “2 Balls, 1 Dog” and stars my dog, Rufus, along with two tennis balls and the Pacific Ocean. We were going to wait to premiere it at Sundance, but instead, we’re premiering it here. You can’t break us, Bernard Karmell Pollard.


Sked: DET, BALT, @STL, @Min, DALL, @Cle, @Phi, GB
Odds: 2-to-1


Sked: @Chi, @Pitt, TB, GB, @Phi, BALT, NYG, @Minn
Odds: Even

How It Could Happen: If the Lions win in Chicago this weekend, they’ll sweep the season series, hop into the NFC North driver’s seat and maybe even have a chance at a 2-seed. Vegas made the game a pick’em, which means they’d favor Detroit by three on a neutral field. Even Chicago fans don’t think this Bears team is good. Then again, couldn’t you see them winning one of those super Bearsy home games on Sunday — a kick-return TD, tons of momentum, then a Cutler pick-six, then Forte ripping off a 60-yard TD, then Megatron catching a pseudo–Hail Mary in triple coverage, then the Bears somehow pulling it out in the last three minutes because of a dumb penalty or something — and just kind of hanging around? I’m prepared for anything.

Why It Won’t Happen: Because Bears fans are asking each other, “How the hell are we 5-3?” And because Lions fans are asking each other, “Seriously, how the hell are we gonna screw this up?”

The Verdict: I don’t believe in the Bears. You know who I believe in? The Lions of Detroit. I believe that their comeback victory against Dallas was the most important thing that’s ever happened to Matt Stafford. I believe Calvin Johnson is the biggest non-QB game-changer in football. I believe we’re headed for a December of “Ndamukong Suh is a DOMINANT defensive player” stories. I believe in any schedule that — if they get by the Bears — yields seven non-playoff teams. Most of all, I believe in omens … and if you don’t think Megatron Nowitzki winning the 2013 World Series of Poker 24 hours after Aaron Rodgers went down wasn’t a good omen for the 2013 Detroit Lions, you’re kidding yourself. I say no for the Bears and yes for the Lions.



Sked: @NO, Bye, @NYG, Oak, @Chi, GB, @Wash, Phi
Odds: -250

How It Could Happen: You’ve seen the rest of their division, right?

Why It Won’t Happen: If they lose in New Orleans on Sunday night and Philly beats the Seneca Packers, we’re suddenly tied atop the NFC Least. That would be followed by a bye week and Cowboys fans FREAKING THE F— OUT. And we haven’t mentioned the tortured history of the Romo-Jerry Era yet. Now that Courtney Stodden and Doug Hutchison finally broke up, Romo and Jerry might be America’s most destructive couple.

The Verdict: Dirty little secret about the Cowboys … they’re actually pretty good. If they’d closed the Denver/San Diego/Detroit games, they’d be 8-1 right now. (Yeah, I know that’s one of those “if my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle” comments, but it’s true.) They can’t get to nine wins with that schedule? Come on. Seriously? Seriously? I say yes.


Sked: Bye, @Cin, PITT, JAX, @NE, CHI, @NYJ, @Pitt
Odds: 6-to-1


Sked: @Balt, CLE, Bye, @SD, INDY, @Pitt, MINN, BALT
Odds: -1,000

How It Could Happen: With a two-game lead in the AFC North, the Bengals are 1-to-10 favorites to win that division. But the Browns just got two straight competent weeks from Jason Campbell! LOOK OUT! THE BROWNS ARE ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!

Why It Won’t Happen for Cincy: I thought the Patriots got screwed when they lost Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo; losing Geno Atkins and Leon Hall is actually worse. Is this turning into the Season From Hell for the Bengals? If they lose in Baltimore this Sunday, Cleveland hosts a banged-up Cincy team in Week 11 with a chance to pull even in the loss column AND win the season series. Could the Browns recover from the wreckage of Hurricane Weeden and eke out an AFC North title? Could 9-7 and a season sweep over Cincy be enough?

Why It Won’t Happen for Cleveland: Because God hates Cleveland. Don’t forget this for a second. Example No. 534: Anthony Bennett over Victor Oladipo.

Example No. 535: This Andrew Bynum story.

Example No. 536: This email from Eric Rosenthal in Thousand Oaks …

I’m 22 years old and have watched every Packers game since I was born. Favre, Rodgers, and a few well-played Matt Flynn games are all I’ve ever seen. Watching Seneca Wallace play football for 4 quarters literally made me sick. I feel like I was tortured. Then I remembered that other fans have dealt with years and years of incompetent quarterbacks. How the hell do they not hate football by now? It’s seriously the most miserable experience there is, and I finally understand what all these people complain about. I looked it up and Wallace played 14 games for the Browns over two years. I always thought you were joking, but now I truly believe that God must hate Cleveland.

The Verdict: Allow me a quick tangent before I give you my answer here …

Have you noticed how many subpar-to-lousy QBs have looked competent in situations that, historically, seemed like they were no-chance-in-hell situations? I think it’s the biggest reason why I’ve turned into Billy Zima this season. In the old days, you couldn’t make the line high enough for Mike Glennon going into Seattle, or Jeff Tuel going against Kansas City’s ferocious defense. And there was little chance of an injured Thad Lewis blowing your two-team teaser by winning on the road against a decent Dolphins team. Now this stuff is happening every week, and I think it’s because they’ve made the league so much safer — receivers scamper all over the field without worrying about getting creamed, and QBs don’t seem like they’re fearing for their lives anymore. Well, except for you guys, Brandon Weeden and Blaine Gabbert. Billy Zima misses the old days, when you can bank on Mike Glennon doing everything short of crapping his pants against the 12th Man.

Anyway, once upon a time, the thought of Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell “saving” a Browns season seemed impossible. In 2013? Totally reasonable. I’ll believe anything in 2013. And if it were anyone other than Cleveland, I’d pick the beyond-banged-up Bengals to blow the AFC North thanks to the Browns swooping in. Sadly, we’re always four words away from the words “Here comes Brandon Weeden.” I just can’t shake them. So, begrudgingly … I say yes for the Bengals and no for the Browns.