Growing Browns refuse to give up playoff dream

CLEVELAND -- Wins bring confidence, and confidence brings brashness.

So it was after Sunday’s Cleveland Browns win over Carolina that safety Damarious Randall -- the team’s effervescent talker -- was saying it means trouble for somebody if the Browns can somehow sneak or scratch into the playoffs.

“I mean, if it takes care of itself and we end up the sixth seed, somebody is going to be in trouble,” Randall said.

It might sound crazy given the reality of the Browns' situation, but that didn’t stop his teammates from backing him up.

“Facts,” defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi said.

“Absolutely,” receiver Jarvis Landry said. “You’re looking at a hungry team. You’re looking at a hungry town that loves their team.”

“Always thinking playoffs, man," cornerback T.J. Carrie said.

In the truest glass-half-full outlook ever, the Browns would be a team to be wary of if they can make it to January, because to get there they would have won four in a row and six of seven. The problem is getting there is a Himalayan task.

Here's the reality: The Browns are 5-7-1, and even after winning three of four they have less than a 1 percent chance of winning out and reaching the playoffs, according to ESPN analytics.

Further reality: There are two wild-card spots; the Chargers have virtually secured one of them, which leaves one playoff spot. In the AFC there are four teams at 7-6 (Miami, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Tennessee) and one more at 6-7 (Denver).

The final reality: For the Browns to reach the playoffs, the universe would need significant reordering. They would have to win their final three, two on the road (at Denver, home against Cincinnati and at Baltimore), then hope for massive help that might be equivalent to winning the Powerball in consecutive weeks.

But that doesn’t change the attitude developing with the Browns. They could be looking back and thinking that they could have beaten Pittsburgh by blocking on Joe Schobert’s interception return, by making some kicks in New Orleans, by getting a first down call in Oakland or a first down in overtime in Tampa Bay. Win half of those four and the playoff chatter would have much more legitimacy.

What is fair is the Browns look at where they are after winning three of four, and they like it.

“You can definitely see that this team is on the up and up,” Randall said.

What the chatter also might reveal is what the Browns are building toward. With quarterback Baker Mayfield playing so well so consistently -- his 51-yard touchdown to Landry was summed up by Landry: “Hell of a throw” -- and with winning three of four, the Browns are starting to feel like the team they were advertised to be when the season started.

They weren’t expected to beat everyone. They still aren’t. But they can beat almost anyone they line up to play. There are mismatches -- the Texans and Chargers come to mind -- but when they prepared to play Carolina they did so believing they could win. They will have that feeling for all of their remaining games.

Belief is growing, in the team and in each other, which along with a certain level of brashness is the root of the talk.

“Resolve, resiliency,” Ogunjobi said of his team. “I just trust the guys around me. That’s why I go out and do what I do, even when I’m hurting.”

Ogunjobi played despite a left biceps injury that had him seeking a second opinion last week. Center JC Tretter has played all season with an ankle sprain; he didn’t miss a snap Sunday even though he could barely make it to the sideline at one point.

Mayfield started the game with a 66-yard pass to Breshad Perriman to set up a touchdown, then threw the highlight reel pass to Landry for a 51-yard score. His day included an undefendable 28-yard throw to David Njoku and a 15-yard pass for a first down from his end zone as the Browns tried to run out the clock. Mayfield went 18-of-22, and three of his throws went between the hands of receivers.

To even talk about the playoffs seems preposterous on many levels, but finishing the season strong to propel themselves toward truly competing in 2019 is absolutely valid.

The Browns, though, won’t stop dreaming until someone tells them they can’t -- even if it is brash, unrealistic, a pipedream, or all the above.

“We are playing for the city,” cornerback Terrance Mitchell said, “and to defy all odds.”