Other than a brief layoff at the airport decades ago, I’ve never stepped foot in Cleveland. And yet, I’ve always felt a kinship with the city and its sports teams. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for underdog stories and between the Guardians, Cavaliers and Browns, there are enough tales of woe to start an underdog pound. 

But for the Browns, this was supposed to be different. They have a strong defense and came into the season with a big-money quarterback in Deshaun Watson, who many hoped would rebound and return to his former glory. 

But that didn’t happen. Watson underachieved, got hurt and was lost for the season. The other quarterbacks on the roster have also been struck by bad luck. P.J. Walker got hurt and has bounced back and forth from the practice squad. Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been hurt, recovered and is now injured again. 

So, on Nov. 20, with the team trying to tread water in the playoff race, they went out and signed Joe Flacco to their practice squad. Flacco made his bones as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, the franchise formerly known as the Cleveland Browns. Before you know it, Flacco was on the active roster and at 38 years old, made a start in a losing effort against the Rams on Dec. 3. 

But something stood out in that game. Flacco looked decent. But it was easy to cast that aside and expect reality to come crashing down soon after. Since leaving the Ravens after the 2018 season, Flacco went 3-14 during stints with the Broncos and Jets.  

We’re still waiting for that reality to happen. The Flacco-led Browns are riding a three-game winning streak and he has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of those games. He hasn’t been perfect as he’s also tossed 7 interceptions over his four starts, but he’s been a steady presence for an offense that just needs to do enough to allow Cleveland’s defense to get stops and force their opponents into mistakes. 

And with a win on Thursday night over the Jets, the Browns will clinch a playoff spot. All with a guy who was more or less left to the NFL scrap heap. What a story. What’s more, Cleveland has a chance to make some noise in the postseason. Remember, the Browns have beat the Ravens AND the 49ers.  

I’ll be rooting for them. Especially on Thursday, because yours truly picked up Flacco off the fantasy waiver wire when Justin Herbert went down with an injury. And I’m playing for a championship this week. And I’ve got Amari Cooper in another league where I’m in the finals. 

Go get ‘em, Joe! And Amari! 

NFL’S TOP 10 

  1. Ravens – Ric Flair once said, if you want to be the man, you have to beat the man. And Baltimore did just that on Monday night. If this season has taught me anything it’s that I can’t pick a winner to save my life. I’m not surprised that the Ravens won, but to take the 49ers apart in Santa Clara was impressive and most unexpected. And Lamar Jackson might have locked up the MVP award in the process.

  2. 49ers – That’s it, Brock Purdy stinks. Worst. Quarterback. Ever. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to say? People on X (or Twitter, whatever) spewed their takes and vitriol that they’ve clearly had cocked and loaded after Purdy’s ugly performance. And he deserves some scorn. But here’s the thing: Even the best quarterbacks will look shaky under pressure. That includes Tom Brady. San Francisco’s offensive line was decimated by the end of the game and that could be a concern going forward. You know what else is weird? The Niners went 1-3 against the AFC North this season.

  3. Dolphins – You won’t have Miami to kick around anymore, because they finally beat a team with a winning record on Sunday. Granted, it was the Cowboys, who have had their own struggles against so-called good teams, but still. They’ve now clinched a playoff berth and are a win away from winning the AFC East and are still in play for the No. 1 seed. Bravo, guys.

  4. Bills – I should have learned by now. I was so gassed up about Buffalo after a couple of wins and I moved them all the way up to No. 3. Then they needed a late field goal to beat the hapless Chargers on the road. So I’m moving them down a spot. But they’re still a team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs, assuming they get there, of course.

  5. Lions – They won a division title for the first time in 30 years. We’ll get into what could happen in the playoffs later, but for now, let’s just enjoy this. Their fanbase deserves to feel joy, if only for a few weeks.

  6. Cowboys – Dak Prescott did enough to win as he drove Dallas for a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but the defense couldn’t hold and let Miami escape with a close win. That’s fine, it happens. As does road losses for the Cowboys, who are now 3-5 this season away from Jerry World.

  7. Eagles – They beat the Giants at home, but man, they are really taking on water right now. The offense looks fine, but Philly’s defense is a shell of its former self. Hard to believe that. Not sure making Matt Patricia the defensive coordinator can fix getting pushed around up front.

  8. Browns – I went on and on about Joe Flacco already. And their remaining games are against the Jets and the Bengals. We could be looking at 12 total wins for Cleveland.

  9. Chiefs – What is going on? To lose to the Raiders at home is one thing, but for Kansas City to allow Las Vegas to score two defensive touchdowns is just embarrassing. They’re going to make the playoffs, but they’re looking like a one-and-done team.

  10. Rams – Nobody wants a piece of L.A. right now. Their offense has been remade and the defense is doing enough to get by. Special teams are a mess, but let’s not throw too much cold water on what the Rams have accomplished in what was supposed to be a season of retooling. 

 

WHAT’S THE CHATTER? 

Clown of the Week Award: Jaire Alexander gets the big red shoes this week. The Packers suspended the cornerback this week for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Alexander called the coin toss for Green Bay last Sunday and won. However, instead of saying that his team would defer, which he was instructed to do, he said “I want our defense to be out there.” In case you didn’t know, that’s the wrong answer. Due to a technicality, that means you’re making a decision now and that you choose to kick. At the start of the second half, the Panthers would get their choice, which would inevitably be to receive. Ooof. 

Now, it didn’t end up costing Green Bay because the officials cleared up what Alexander actually wanted, so it ended up fine. But the Packers’ front office wasn’t pleased and made a punitive decision, which might end up being a bad thing because the team is still fighting for a playoff spot at 7-8 and really need a win this weekend against the Vikings. But rules are rules. 

Sit down, Russ: The Broncos are throwing the towel in on the season, because they’ve made the decision to bench Russell Wilson for the last two games. It’s not for on-field reasons, it’s to prevent a possible injury that would cost them guaranteed money during the offseason. I could go into it, but do you really care? I don’t.  

That’s how you respond: I, and many other people, blistered Steelers receiver George Pickens last week for his failure to block on a running play against the Colts. It must have been a weird week for the young player, but he did his talking on the field against the Bengals. And the young man put in work. He caught four passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns in a dominant win that kept Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes alive. Kudos. 

So predictable: I went to Twitter to get instant reaction after the Chiefs lost on Monday and I wasn’t disappointed. My timeline was littered with people making Yoko Ono jokes about Taylor Swift. It’s so dumb, and yet, I still laughed. That says more about me, for sure. 

APPOINTMENT VIEWING FOR WEEK 17 

Jets at Browns: Cleveland will lock up a playoff berth. I’m calling it. What would be great if Amari Cooper could rack up another 200-plus receiving yards and a couple touchdowns. I’ve got some serious money on the line here. 

Lions at Cowboys: Is this a playoff preview? We don’t know. What Detroit should be more worried about is the Rams making the playoffs. If L.A. gets there, they would most likely be the No. 6 seed, which could mean a potential Rams-Lions playoff game. Matthew Stafford returning to the place that started his career. Sean McVay coming to face Jared Goff, the quarterback he dumped in order to win a Super Bowl. Now that has some serious sizzle. 

Patriots at Bills: With Bill Belichick reportedly on the way out of New England, it would make perfect sense for the Patriots to win this game. Not saying it’s gonna happen, but it does seem like the team has been playing better over the past few weeks. 

Raiders at Colts: Antonio Pierce should be named the permanent head coach in Las Vegas. He’s done enough to get the job and there isn’t a candidate out there that would clearly be a better option. Pierce was a solid player and it seems like he has the support of the locker room. That means a lot.  

Rams at Giants: L.A. can clinch a playoff berth if they win this game and the Seahawks lose. On paper, the Rams are the favorite, but after the effort the G-Men put up against the Eagles on Monday, I’m not so sure. This won’t be easy. 

Saints at Buccaneers: Pulling for Tampa here. They’ve been playing well. Plus, the Saints stink. Dennis Allen won’t be the head coach in New Orleans for much longer. 

49ers at Commanders: Let’s see how San Francisco responds after an embarrassing loss. I’d like to see them come out and more or less end this game by halftime. 

Dolphins at Ravens: The game of the week. Now that the Dolphins have beaten a team with a winning record, they can build on that success by beating the current top seed in the AFC seed. I don’t think it will happen, but then again, I didn’t think the Ravens would beat the 49ers on the road.  

Titans at Texans: Houston could be getting C.J. Stroud back this week after the rookie missed a couple games with a concussion. They need him in the worst way if they have any hope at the playoffs. 

Steelers at Seahawks: I can’t believe this is happening. I’ve spent all season dogging on Pittsburgh, but now I must root for them to win in Seattle because I want the Rams to clinch a playoff berth. Sigh.  

Bengals at Chiefs: If Kansas City loses, look out. It’s definitely possible. Taylor Swift might want to start watching the games at home. 

Packers at Vikings: Both teams are in the thick of the playoff hunt. Should be a fun one. 

Enjoy the games! 

Sid Saraf
Sid Saraf

NFL Analyst

Currently a Mobile Editor at Yahoo, Saraf spent 5.5 years (Oct. 2010 – Feb. 2016) working for FOX Sports as an NFL Editor and Writer. Prior to that, Saraf worked for CBS Interactive for 4.5 years (May 2006 – Oct. 2010) as a Staff Editor.

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