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Three years ago, the Cleveland Browns went 0-16. They went 1-31 over a stretch of two seasons. They were stuck on one playoff appearance since coming back to the NFL in 1999, and that came 18 years ago.
The Browns’ return to the playoffs will be one of the highlights in a weekend of postseason football. This is the first season of the NFL’s expanded playoff field, and that means two more games than normal. Among those contests will be Cleveland’s first playoff game since the 2002 season, which happens in prime time on Jan. 10.
No. 5 Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at No. 4 Tennessee Titans (11-5), 1:05 p.m. ABC/ESPN
The AFC South went down to the wire, with the Titans taking the division title on a Week 17 win over the Houston Texans. That sets up a playoff rematch from last season, when the Titans went to Baltimore and upset the top-seeded Ravens. The Ravens finished the season on a roll, winning their final five games to make the playoffs. They had an astonishing 404 rushing yards in a Week 17 win over the Bengals that clinched a playoff spot, including 97 rushing yards from reigning MVP Lamar Jackson. Jackson is the first quarterback in NFL history with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
The Titans needed every second of the 2020 season to clinch a division title. A 52-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to A.J. Brown in the final seconds led to a Sam Sloman field-goal that ricocheted in off the right upright to beat the Houston Texans 41-38.
No. 7 Chicago Bears (8-8) at No. 2 New Orleans Saints (12-4), 4:40 p.m. CBS/Nickelodeon/Amazon Prime
The Bears backed into the playoffs, but they got in. The Bears lost to the Packers 35-16 in Week 17, but a loss by the Arizona Cardinals pushed the Bears in through the back door to the postseason. The Bears are just the third team in NFL history to make the playoffs after a five-game losing streak. The others to pull that off were the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals and the 2014 Carolina Panthers, who lost five in a row but won the NFC South at 7-8-1.
The Saints were shut out of a bye for the second straight season despite a great record. Last season the Saints were the No. 3 seed in the NFC despite a 13-3 mark and lost their first playoff game to the Minnesota Vikings. This season the Saints won in Week 17 but didn’t get any help and have to settle the No. 2 seed in the first season of the NFL’s expanded playoffs.
No. 6 Cleveland Browns (11-5) at No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4), 8:15 p.m. NBC
The Browns are back in the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, against the team they faced in their only other playoff appearance since coming back to the NFL in 1999.
In Week 17 the Browns beat the Steelers, who were resting starters, and that sets up a rematch on wild-card weekend. The Steelers hung tough and lost 24-22 with Ben Roethlisberger, T.J. Watt and a few others sitting. Pittsburgh started 11-0 before losing four of their last five. The last time the Browns were in the playoffs, they blew a lead and lost 36-33 to the Steelers in a wild-card game at the end of the 2002 season. The last time the Browns made the playoffs, current starting quarterback Baker Mayfield was 7 years old.
BYES — AFC No. 1 seed: Kansas City Chiefs (14-2), NFC No. 1 seed: Green Bay Packers (13-3)
The Chiefs rested starters in Week 17 with the top seed already locked up. The Packers needed to win in Week 17 and did so, pulling away from the Bears late for a 35-16 win.
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