Browns and Bills battle for berth

Pigskin Pick 'Em

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2007

Buffalo and Cleveland have more in common than being unlikely playoff contenders.

And the once-proud franchises can thank the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers for that.

The reason the Bills and Browns will be fighting for their postseason lives come Sunday in Cleveland revolves around both teams' inept ability to overcome their division rivals.

And the stats are eerily similar.

The Bills haven't beaten the AFC East-leading Patriots since 2003, having dropped nine straight and 14 of their last 15 matchups to their rivals 455 miles due east of them.

On the flip side, the Browns have also lost nine in a row to AFC North-foe Pittsburgh since their last win in 2003, and have come up short in 15 of their last 16 games against their bitter cross-border rivals.

No wonder Buffalo hasn't qualified for the postseason since 1999, losing the infamous Music City Miracle game in Tennessee, and Cleveland hasn't been back since 2002, when, coincidentally, they fell to the Steelers by a field goal.

Both, however, are now seeking a return to January football despite trotting out pitiful defenses that probably couldn't even stop the New York Knicks.

"My family has been talking about it and saying there's a buzz in Cleveland about the potential of who would have thought a Buffalo-Cleveland game in December with playoff implications," said Bills receiver and Cleveland native Lee Evans. "It's going to be a great atmosphere, a big game, and I'm certainly looking forward to it."

So am I.

Allowing 22.4 points a game, right around the league average, the Bills run to 7-6 has been nothing but lucky.

Flip-flopping quarterbacks more than often than George Costanza claims to be an architect, Buffalo started the season 0-3, including a last-second lost to Denver, and then surrendered nine points in the final 20 seconds in a wild Monday night setback to Dallas.

Four wins in a row albeit over Baltimore, the Jets, Cincinnati and Miami, teams with a combined 12-40 record put them back on track.

Mix in another victory over both Miami and the Jets, and a Houdini-esque escape at Washington, thanks in part to Joe Gibbs' sudden case of amnesia, and Buffalo is basically already in a playoff game, requiring a win to have any shot at advancing to the postseason.

With rookie quarterback Trent Edwards at the helm, owning a 5-1 mark as a starter, and fellow rookie Marshawn Lynch (six TDs) in the backfield again after a three-game absence due to injury, the Bills' offense is as formidable as its been in recent history.

"Buffalo scored 37 points (against the Dolphins last week), so our defense is going to have to get ready," said Browns coach Romeo Crennel. "They've settled on the quarterback, and (Lynch) is a talent that you have to deal with. There are a lot of things we have to look at, but probably one of the biggest things is that you have two teams with similar records, they're neck-and-neck, and both teams will be fighting for their lives. It should be one of those knock-down, drag-out kinds of games."

The Browns (8-5), who can clinch a playoff spot with a win, a loss by Tennessee on Sunday and a loss or tie by Denver today, can afford to lose and still remain alive.

But there's more at stake here than a wild card berth.

Favored by 5 1/2, Cleveland is still in contention for a division title, just one game behind the Steelers (9-4), although Pittsburgh owns the tiebreaker having already beaten the Browns twice this season.

But don't be surprised if Cleveland actually pulls it out.

While Pittsburgh hosts 9-4 Jacksonville this week before concluding the season with trips to St. Louis and Baltimore, never easy places to play, the Browns finish at Cincinnati (5-8) and then at home against the lowly 49ers (3-10).

And with the way quarterback Derek Anderson has the Browns' offense clicking on all cylinders, Cleveland could be the hottest AFC team, other than New England, entering the playoffs.

As for highly-touted backup Brady Quinn, sorry buddy, but I'm not sure you'll ever take a snap along the banks of Lake Erie.

Anderson has exceeded any expectations people may have had for the 24-year old, sixth-round draft pick, who, in all likelihood, will retain the position as the face of the franchise, just as fellow sixth-rounder Tom Brady has in New England.

Throwing 26 touchdowns against 14 interceptions, Anderson is captaining the feel-good-story of the year.

Making it even more remarkable is the manner in which he's doing it, constantly in dire need of points as Cleveland's defense, allowing a league-worst 27.4 points and 389.7 yards per game, continues to show no signs of improvement.

Rejuvenated running back Jamal Lewis can be thanked for some of that scoring, too.

Acquired in the offseason, the formerly embattled 2,000-yard rusher has seemed to be playing with a chip on his shoulder all year, no more evident than his game-clinching, 31-yard run with under two minutes to play against the Jets last week, when he spun, shook and rumbled his way to the end zone, his ninth rushing touchdown, and 11th overall, this season.

But no matter what happens on Sunday, each team will certainly have its hands full should they be playing in January.

If the Bills somehow win their wild-card game, a date with New England in Foxborough will definitely be penciled in for the following week.

A first or second round matchup with Pittsburgh, which probably won't receive a bye, is a good possibility for the Browns.

Both teams have to get there first, though.

And Cleveland has the inside track.

BROWNS, 41-28.

Today

Denver (minus 1) at Houston

Another NFL Network thriller. Who will get injured this week? TEXANS, 21-17.

Saturday

Cincinnati (minus 8 1/2)

at San Francisco

Carson Palmer can make up for his embarrassing season. BENGALS, 48-7.

Sunday

Arizona (plus 3 1/2)

at New Orleans

Both teams are somehow still alive for the playoffs at 6-7. SAINTS, 33-21.

Atlanta (plus 13 1/2)

at Tampa Bay

Bobby Petrino should be banned from coaching at any level even Pop Warner. BUCCANEERS, 31-10.

Baltimore (minus 3 1/2)

at Miami

Going out on a limb ...

DOLPHINS, 14-13.

Green Bay (minus 9 1/2)

at St. Louis

Packers need a win to keep pace with the Cowboys.

PACKERS, 33-21.

Philadelphia (plus 10)

at Dallas

Doesn't matter, Dallas clinches home-field advantage. COWBOYS, 30-21.

Jacksonville (plus 3 1/2)

at Pittsburgh

Steelers are fading fast.

JAGUARS, 28-21.

New York Jets (plus 23 1/2) at New England

The Jets could have cameras in the Patriots' locker room and it wouldn't make a difference. PATRIOTS, 52-13.

Seattle (minus 7) at Carolina

Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck is having the best year of his career. Carolina's Steve Smith is having one of his worst.

SEAHAWKS, 28-13.

Tennessee (minus 4)

at Kansas City

Titans have lost four of their last five. Chiefs have lost six straight. Something's gotta give.

I say it's Tennessee's defense. CHIEFS, 28-21.

Indianapolis (minus 10 1/2) at Oakland

The Colts' potent offense seems to be back just in time to face Oakland's porous defense. COLTS, 41-20.

Detroit (plus 10) at San Diego

Jon Kitna must have meant 10 losses. CHARGERS, 38-27.

Washington (plus 4 1/2)

at New York Giants

Eli Manning and the Giants are due for a collapse.

REDSKINS, 23-22.

Monday

Chicago (plus 10)

at Minnesota

Chicago looked more like the Bad News Bears last Thursday against Washington.

VIKINGS, 35-21.

Comments and criticisms may be sent to Clarion sports reporter Matthew Carroll at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.

LAST WEEK: 11-5 (spread); 14-2 (straight up)

SEASON: 111-85-11 (spread); 130-78 (straight up)



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