Browns’ Playoff Dreams Receive Good & Bad News in Jags Injury Update

Cleveland Browns playoff hopes are still alive under head coach Kevin Stefanski

Getty Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski watches from the sidelines during a Week 13 loss to the Los Angeles Rams

The Cleveland Browns will experience no shortage of drama during the stretch run of the 2024 NFL season as they attempt to end a two-year playoff drought and give themselves a chance to advance past the Divisional Round for the first time since—avert your eyes if you have a sensitive stomach—Bernie Kosar led the charge under center back in 1989.

After an ugly defensive performance led to a 36-19 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams, Kevin Stefanski’s squad is holding on for dear life in the AFC playoff picture.

One of four non-division-leading AFC teams with a 7-5 record heading into Week 14, the Browns are on the right side of the tiebreaker equation, sitting in the third and final wild-card slot at the expense of the Houston Texans.

They can still surpass the 7-5 Pittsburgh Steelers (and, if everything goes right, the 9-3 Baltimore Ravens) in the AFC North, but they also have to stave off challenges from the 7-5 Texans, the 6-6 Denver Broncos, the 6-6 Buffalo Bills and the 6-6 Cincinnati Bengals.

Gearing up for a tough matchup with the fourth-seeded Jacksonville Jaguars, the Browns received both some good and bad news from their Week 14 opponent’s initial injury messaging.

The Good News: Christian Kirk Won’t Take the Top Off the Defense

Early in the December 4 Monday Night Football contest, Christian Kirk found himself, as he often does, uncovered within a gap in the opposing scheme. Trevor Lawrence delivered a perfectly thrown football above the middle layer of the Cleveland defense but short of the hard-closing safety, hitting Kirk for a 26-yard gain.

But the dynamic wide receiver got up slowly before hobbling off the field and into the locker room with none of his trademark speed. He didn’t return, and Jacksonville head coach Doug Pederson revealed Tuesday, per NFL insider Adam Schefter, that he’d suffered a core injury that would cause him to miss “some time” and would require surgery.

No team—maybe except for a certain Bountygate-era New Orleans Saints squad—roots for injuries to the opposition. But the Browns certainly won’t be too torn up about this development considering Kirk’s prominence in the Jacksonville offense and their own strength defending the deep ball.

Cleveland ranks first in passing yards allowed and fourth in passing touchdowns allowed. Only Baltimore has allowed fewer net yards per passing attempt in 2023, per Pro Football Reference.

Meanwhile, Kirk ranks second among Jacksonville’s receiving options in targets (85), receptions (57) and receiving touchdowns (three) while leading the pack in receiving yards (787). Without him in the lineup, Cleveland can allocate more defensive attention to Calvin Ridley and Evan Engram while forcing the Jags into more dump-off passes to Travis Etienne when they’re not relying on Zay Jones, Parker Washington and the rest of an uninspiring receiving corps.

It’s the classic case of a strength getting even stronger prior to an important matchup.

The Bad News: Trevor Lawrence Is Still in Play

Maybe this won’t matter given the strength of the Cleveland pass defense and the weakness of Jacksonville’s pass-catching options. However, the Browns would certainly prefer to square off against the uninspiring C.J. Beathard rather than the dynamic right arm of Trevor Lawrence, who had been gaining momentum as his third season progressed.

Lawrence, like Kirk before him, was knocked out of Jacksonville’s Monday Night Football loss with an injury.

With 5:44 remaining in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 28 apiece, he dropped back on 3rd-and-11 and had his ankle stepped on by left tackle Walker Little. As he went to the ground, he was bent backward, potentially exacerbating the issue. After attempting to walk off the field and slamming his helmet into the grass, he received assistance for his own slow-motion exit to the locker room.

Shockingly, given the aftermath of his injury and the initial speculation from the collective NFL fanbase and the host of social-media-residing wannabe doctors that it could be a season-ender—or, at the very least, cost him significant time—Lawrence hasn’t yet been ruled out for even Week 14’s matchup with the Browns.

Maybe this is just gamesmanship by Pederson, forcing Stefanski to prepare his troops for Lawrence’s big arm and ability to throw on the move. High-ankle sprains are typically multi-week absences, after all.

But whether this is a preparation tactic or a legitimate update providing further evidence that Lawrence’s limbs, joints and tendons are made out of rubber, it’s less than ideal for the Browns as they try to keep their playoff hopes from falling by the wayside.

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