San Francisco 49ers vs. Cleveland Browns

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Game:  San Francisco 49ers (5-10) vs. Cleveland Browns (9-6)
Where: Cleveland Browns Stadium (Cleveland, OH)
When: 1:00 PM EST
Announcers: Matt Delvin & J.C. Pearson (CBS)

What does today's game mean? It depends on what you look at.

If the only thing important is to make the postseason, then today's game really doesn't mean anything. Barring the rarity of a Titans' tie tonight against the Colts, the outcome of the Browns/49ers contest doesn't mean a thing. However, if you also care about waking up each and every Sunday and watching the Browns go out and take care of business, especially at home, then today's game has just as much meaning as any other week. This isn't the time to test players for next year -- we could be playing in the playoffs next week. This is the time to build some momentum and hope for the best, and the only way to do that is by keeping Derek Anderson under center.

Continuing my trend, I'm going to highlight a couple of other games to watch today. These games will have the most significant impact on the Browns' playoff chances:

Tennessee Titans (9-6) vs. Indianapolis Colts (13-2): We're getting two games today that are of the same importance to us. In the morning, we want to see the Browns break the franchise record for most home wins in a single season. In the final game of the NFL season, we want the Indianapolis Colts to send us to the postseason by crushing the Tennessee Titans. On paper this should be a Colts win, but of course this game had to be the finale, meaning Peyton Manning will not go the entire way. Marvin Harrison will make his return, which could keep Manning in the game until some point in the second quarter. It'd be great to see Manning put a few quick touchdowns on the board before he hands the game over to backup Jim Sorgi. For those of you thinking the Titans will automatically win against the Colts backups, consider this: Vince Young is having a horrible year. Last week, when the Titans were at home, they barely put ten points on the board against the Jets. With all of the experience the Colts backups have had this year, I believe the Colts' backup defenders are as good as the Jets' starters. I haven't lost a single non-Browns playoff implication prediction on Dawgs By Nature this year, so let's hope the trend continues. In this game, you can count on the Colts sending the Browns to the West Coast next weekend to battle the Chargers.

Now, here's the preview for the showdown between the Browns and the 49ers...

OFFENSE

Category 49ers Browns
Points Scored 14.1 (32nd) 25.4 (6th)
Passing 149.8 (32nd) 235.4 (11th)
Rushing 91.0 (27th) 115.5 (14th)
Total Offense (yards) 240.8 (32nd) 350.9 (8th)

DEFENSE

Category 49ers Browns
Points Scored 22.9 (19th) 25.0 (27th)
Passing 229.9 (26th) 240.5 (29th)
Rushing 115.5 (22nd) 130.7 (28th)
Total Defense (yards) 345.4 (24th) 371.2 (31st)
- Quarterback
The Browns could go back to starting Trent Dilfer and I'd give him the edge over 49ers' quarterback Chris Weinke. Weinke has stayed around the league despite never really doing much, and he happened to walk into the starting role after the team signed him two weeks ago. The 49ers were not successful this year under Alex Smith or Dilfer, but Shaun Hill was rolling and making the 49ers look like a respectable offense. I fully expect the 49ers to go back down the drain under Weinke because our secondary has been solid the past two months, Weinke doesn't have a strong arm, and the 49ers don't have a breakout receiver. We all know the story about Mr. Anderson; he took the red pill and was able to enter the real world. I'm not referring to the Matrix; I'm just hoping he took something to get over his flu and errant throws last week to perform like the good NFL quarterback we've seen many times this season.
- Running Back
Frank Gore is one of the best running backs in the league, and he hasn't had a negative year by any means. He's run for over 1,000 yards, averaging 4.3 yards a pop, and he leads the team in receptions with 51. The issue is that the 49ers have been so ineffective in the passing game that Gore's opportunities have been limited -- his 4.3 average is no where near the 5.0+ average he had last season. Jamal Lewis continued his late-season surge last week against the Bengals; it's just a shame that he wasn't given about ten more carries considering the weather conditions. The weather in today's game should be fair, and Lewis' carries may be limited today if the Browns jump out to an early lead. Where as we shouldn't rest Anderson, resting Lewis in case of a potential playoff match would make sense. That's another reason I hope to see both Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison active today.
- Receiver
The Browns have three receivers -- Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, and Joe Jurevicius -- that have posted better numbers than the 49ers' top receiver this season. San Francisco's answer to helping their receiving game in the offseason was to dump a fairly productive Antonio Bryant and replace him with the former Seattle Seahawks dropster Darrell Jackson. For a team that worked so much on improving their defense in the offseason, they didn't do anything to improve their explosiveness on offense. Tight end Vernon Davis has had his moments this season, but has been limited again due to injuries. He will play against the Browns, and I wouldn't be surprised if Weinke tries to get him the ball often if he's matched up against our linebackers.
- Offensive Line
The 49ers are giving up 3.33 sacks per game. The Browns are giving up 1.2 sacks per game. Frank Gore is underachieving compared to what he did last week. Jamal Lewis is having his best season in years. You tell me which offensive line has the edge here?
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Defensive Line
Ah, where do I begin. For all I know, our starting defensive line today could consist of Melila Purcell, Bobby Hamilton, and Louis Leonard. Hopefully, it'll consist of Robaire Smith, Shaun Smith, and Orpheus Roye. The second option is better, but as we all know, it's still nothing to get excited about. I wouldn't mind having defensive end Bryant Young on our team right about now, as he has recorded 6.5 sacks this season. Marques Douglas on the other side of the 49ers' like is fairly effective too, and overall would probably be the best defensive lineman on our team. Like any other week, there's nothing worth comparing to the Browns.

- Linebacker
I am looking for a big ball game from...Mr. Kamerion Wimbley. The Browns have not recorded a sack since early December, but I expect that to change against a vulnerable 49ers defense. This will be Weinke's first live action of the season, and because he's not even Joey Harrington-caliber, it'll be difficult for him to execute with pressure in his face. Mike Nolan isn't a dumb coach though -- in Weinke's last NFL start, he picked up a victory in a 10-3 contest where his throws were limited. Weinke will look to hand the ball off to Gore more than 30 times today, meaning our linebackers will need to make sure-tackles against the shifty running back. The 49ers have the edge due to the superior play this season of rookie linebacker Patrick Willis. I'd rather take Willis than Wimbley at this point; Willis currently leads the 49ers with 162 tackles. Tully Banta-Cain has been a disappointment overall for the 49ers, but still adds to the quality of the team's linebackers in comparison to the Browns.
- Secondary
We were clamoring for Nate Clements in the offseason, but I'm happy that we saved the money. Clements isn't a bad player, but this year he hasn't proven to be worth one of the highest-paid defensive players in the league. You can't find any complains with how the Browns' defensive backs played again last week. Even Leigh Bodden, who has struggled at points in the season, looked like a Pro Bowler last week with two interceptions and a critical breakup of a touchdown to Chad Johnson. Our cornerbacks shouldn't have to worry about covering down the field with Weinke under center today, but our safeties need to be ready all day if Gore gets to the second level.
- Special Teams
Joe Nedney hasn't had many chances to kick this season -- he's only averaging a little over one attempt per game. Nedney's never been an inaccurate kicker, but when you don't get many cracks there's nothing you can do about it. Dawson is the Browns' Good Guy, and Joshua Cribbs is a Pro Bowler. Clearly, we've finished the season with one of the best special teams units in the NFL. The 49ers aren't too explosive on their returns. Amidst all of the teams that have returned kicks this year, the 49ers haven't taken a single one to the house.

FINAL PREDICTION:
Cleveland Browns 30, San Francisco 49ers 16.
In an unusual situation that may be an NFL-first, the Browns control the sixth seed in the AFC heading into Week 17, but whether they win or lose, they don't control their own fate. Still, the Browns are heading into this game preparing like they will be in the postseason the following week: that means no Brady Quinn, and a lot of Derek Anderson again. The Browns have been a below-average NFL team on the road this year, as displayed in their losses to the Bengals and Raiders this season. However, they've been one of the NFL's best teams at home and could break a team record by winning seven at home this weekend. The 49ers are trying to build a three-game winning streak to boost their confidence heading into next season, but that will have to come without the guy who has gotten them here: Shaun Hill. Chris Weinke will start due to Hill's injury, and that is worst than having Trent Dilfer under center.

This is the official gameday topic for the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 as they square off against the San Francisco 49ers. All comments regarding the game should be posted in this topic. Enjoy the game, and GO BROWNS!!!
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