The AFC playoff race is a muddled mess, which means the Browns are in the hunt: Week 11 NFL notes

CLEVELAND - Even with Sunday's loss to the Bengals, the 4-6 Browns are still very much alive in the AFC playoff race.

That's more of a testament to the rest of the AFC than the Browns.

With the Jets' loss to the Bills, the current ceiling for the final AFC wild card became .500.

The AFC West runner-up, which is currently 9-1 Kansas City, is in firm control of the fifth seed in the conference.

Beyond that, eight AFC teams are within a game of each other for the last spot.

Only the 2-8 Texans and 1-9 Jaguars appear to be out of the picture. Everyone else has at least four wins, which is enough to hold out hope in this fight.

So who's going to get that second wild card?

The Jets have beaten the Patriots and Saints but also been obliterated by the Titans and Bills. Miami has major offensive line issues but Ryan Tannehill has played well when given time to throw and the Dolphins have capable pass rushers on the other side of the ball.

Baltimore is up and down on a week-to-week basis but proved last season that they can be dangerous if they get hot at the right time. Pittsburgh had a woeful start to the season but has now won four of its last six to get back in the mix.

Five of San Diego's six losses have been by eight points or less but they have perhaps the most difficult remaining schedule with trips to Kansas City and Denver, as well as a matchup with Cincinnati. Oakland has a Swiss cheese pass defense and Terrelle Pryor can't seem to stay healthy.

In short, pick out of a hat, choose a color - your best guess is as good as mine. Two home games against the Steelers and Jaguars up next give the Browns a golden opportunity to assert themselves as a factor, despite their own inconsistency.

Other week 11 observations

The backup quarterback is seriously underrated. Nine backups or third-stringers started games Sunday. Some (Nick Foles, Jason Campbell, Chad Henne) have won the top job. Others (Scott Tolzien, Ryan Fitzpatrick) have their fan bases yearning for their first-stringer back under center ASAP. Then there are the Vikings, who have three quarterbacks on the roster that should probably all be backups.

Props to Bobby Rainey, who is making the most of an opportunity in Tampa Bay after the Browns cut in October. Starting due to a number of injuries in the Bucs backfield, Rainey torched the Falcons defense for 163 rush yards and three touchdowns. In six games with the Browns, he got 13 carries for 34 yards.

Speaking of the Browns' rushing game…it's still a problem. Chris Ogbonnaya broke a 43-yard run in the first quarter but ran it just seven more times for a total of 69 yards. Willis McGahee had six carries for 13 yards. Since joining the Browns in week 3, McGahee has run it 106 times for 275 yards, just 2.6 yards per carry. The Browns are 26th in the NFL in rush yards per game and have only one TD on the ground (worst in football). Only three teams (Miami, Dallas, Atlanta) run the ball less times a game than the Browns. You can see why.

In Berea Saturday, DIII Heidelberg's Cartel Brooks rushed for a record 465 yards in a win over Baldwin Wallace.  That's not too far off the 550 yards the Browns' three main backs, McGahee, Ogobonnaya and Trent Richardson (pre trade), have accumulated in 10 games behind their offensive line this season.

Andy Dalton didn't have to win the game, so the Bengals won the game. Cincinnati scored 21 points off turnovers in their record setting 31-point second quarter. Before the Browns' breakdown, Dalton was on his way to another of his own, throwing two first-quarter picks, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Dalton completed less than half of his 27 passes and has struggled since throwing five touchdowns against the Jets.

Jordan Cameron needs to be more involved in the Browns offense. In the season's first four games, Cameron was targeted 53 times. That number is down to 35 in the past six weeks and he has only reached paydirt once. Defenses may be paying more attention to Cameron, as well as receiver Josh Gordon, but the Browns don't have a wide enough array of weapons to redirect the offensive focus.

Pittsburgh needs to retire the bumblebee jerseys, for the sake of eyes around the world. One positive: they inspired this Transformers-themed meme .

One of those giant, 100-yard American flags tore in half in Buffalo . Brandon Weeden was not underneath.

Game-changer of the week:  Green Bay's Scott Tolzien's backbreaking fourth quarter pick-six . The Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul leaped up, grabbed the pass and took it to the end zone, pushing the Giants' lead to two touchdowns.

Standout play of the week: Oakland's Rashad Jennings shows that the Wildcat can still, on occasion, be worthwhile (and explosive).

Super Bowl pick after week 11 Sunday: Denver (9-1) vs. New Orleans (8-2)

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