The Browns are used to being the bums. Starting with a January 2003 playoff loss at Pittsburgh and stretching through this year’s bad kickoff loss to the Steelers, their record was 19-47. Now they’re running with the bullies.


WITH WILD-CARD BREAKOUT

The Browns are used to being the bums.

Starting with a January 2003 playoff loss at Pittsburgh and stretching through this year’s bad kickoff loss to the Steelers, their record was 19-47. Now they’re running with the bullies.

They’ve won four of their last five and led 21-6 in the one that didn’t work out.

Only seven teams have a better record than their 6-4.

“I think the team is coming together,’’ safety Brodney Pool said in the wake of Sunday’s stunning 33-30 overtime win at Baltimore.

It heads into its easiest stretch of the season, relatively speaking. But ...

A quick warning on each remaining foe:

- Houston (5-5). The Texans think they’re onto something after getting star wideout Andre Johnson back from an injury in a rout of the Saints.

- at Arizona (5-5). The Browns still aren’t taken that seriously in many outposts. In an Arizona Republic piece focusing on Cardinal playoff hopes, Dan Bickley writes, “Now they get to play two home games against manageable opponents (49ers and Browns) before their divisional showdown at Seattle on Dec. 9.’’

- at Jets (2-8). They beat Pittsburgh Sunday in the same stadium the Browns must visit ... ‘nuff said?

- Bills (5-5). OK, they got buffaloed 56-10 by Team Belichick Sunday. In their most recent home game against mortals, they socked it to Cincinnati 33-21.

- at Bengals (3-7). The Browns couldn’t stop Cincinnati in Cleveland, and that was before the Bengals got Chris Henry back.

- 49ers (2-8). No warning here. This team is bad.

The Browns?

“I feel good about the way this team keeps fighting,’’ Coach Romeo Crennel said.

The Browns must punch out a 4-2 record against the aforementioned six-pack to achieve the 10-6 record often needed to reach the playoffs.

It will be hard for the Browns to win the AFC North, because they would have to finish a game ahead of the Steelers. That’s because the first playoff tiebreaker in division races is head-to-head games. The Steelers won both against Cleveland.

More realistically, the Browns are stalking one of the AFC’s two wild-card spots.

WILD-CARD RACE AT A GLANCE

A look at AFC teams that won the two wild-card playoff spots since a 2002 realignment that created four divisions.

- 2006. The Jets (10-6) and Chiefs (9-7) got the spots. Denver (9-7) lost a tiebreaker.

- 2005. Jacksonville (12-4) and Pittsburgh (11-5) made it tough on the also-rans. The Chiefs missed out at 10-6.

- 2004. The Jets and Broncos got in at 10-6. Three 9-7 teams (Ravens, Bills, Jaguars) were out of luck.

- 2003: Tennessee (12-4) and Denver (10-6) got the nods. Miami missed out at 10-6.

- 2002. The Browns sneaked in at 9-7, joining 10-6 Indianapolis. Three 9-7 teams (Patriots, Dolphins, Broncos) were tiebreaker victims.

The top tie-breaker in wild-card races is record against AFC opponents; the Browns are 4-4.

Their top wild-card at this point are Jacksonville (7-3, 5-2 in the AFC) and Tennessee (6-3, 3-2 prior to the Monday nighter at Denver).

A look at the remaining schedules:

- Jaguars: Buffalo (5-5), at Indianapolis (8-2), Carolina (4-6), at Pittsburgh (7-3), Oakland (2-8), at Houston (5-5).

- Titans: At Cincinnati (2-8), Houston (5-5), San Diego (5-5), at Kansas City (4-6), New York Jets (2-8), at Indianapolis (8-2).

The Browns’ chances of passing the 7-3 Steelers is reduced by Pittsburgh’s relatively easy schedule: Miami (0-10), Cincinnati (3-7), at New England (10-0), Jacksonville (7-3), at St. Louis (2-8), at Baltimore (4-6).

Reach Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or e-mail steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com