So Much on The Line

The Cleveland Browns blew their chance last week to clinch their first playoff spot in five seasons. Now trying to secure the AFC's final slot is largely out of their hands, and coach Romeo Crennel knows not to expect any favors.

With their playoff fate resting on Sunday night's game between Indianapolis and Tennessee, the Browns play essentially a meaningless regular-season finale in the afternoon against the San Francisco 49ers.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Cleveland -10 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game, the over/under has been set at 40 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 52% of bets for this game have been placed on San Francisco +10 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Cleveland (9-6) could have cemented a playoff spot and preserved its hopes of winning the AFC North last Sunday, but fell 19-14 at Cincinnati. The news got worse for the Browns later in the day after the Titans beat the New York Jets 10-6.

That means the Browns need the Titans to lose at Indianapolis to gain the sixth seed in the AFC. That holds true regardless of what Cleveland does versus San Francisco (5-10). The only postseason scenario in which the result of this game matters is if the Colts and Titans tie. In that unlikely case, Cleveland would get in with a tie or victory.

There have been 16 ties in 7,812 NFL games since overtime was adopted in 1974.

"You can talk about it and all that, but it is what it is," Crennel said. "We lost a golden opportunity."

Normally, the defending Super Bowl champion Colts would be a formidable opponent for any team. But Indianapolis has already clinched the No. 2 seed in the AFC, and coach Tony Dungy has already indicated backup quarterback Jim Sorgi will play at least a half.

"Tony is just like all the other coaches in the league," Crennel said. "He's going to do what he thinks is best for his team. He's not really worried about my team. He's not worried about us. If he wins the game, that would help us but he's already in the playoffs, so he's going to do what he thinks is best for his team."

Crennel is still looking to guide Cleveland to its first 10-win season since it re-entered the league in 1999. The Browns can also finish with a seven-game winning streak at home - all since Derek Anderson made his first start of the season in a 51-45 win over Cincinnati on Sept. 16.

It's his last game against the Bengals, however, that will haunt Anderson if the Browns fail to reach the postseason. Anderson was 29-of-48 for 251 yards and two touchdowns, but matched a career high with four interceptions, including two that led to Cincinnati touchdowns in a 30-second span just before halftime.

"I regret we threw the picks, that's what I regret," Crennel said. "I don't regret how we went about the game because if you go back and look through the season, there have been times in that same situation where we are aggressive, we take it down and we score."

Braylon Edwards was a bright spot in the loss with two second-half touchdown receptions. Edwards is tied with Dallas' Terrell Owens for second in the NFL with 15 TD catches.

The Browns' Phil Dawson needs four points to break Lou Groza's franchise scoring record among kickers with 115 points. Dawson did not have a field-goal attempt last weekend for the first time since the season opener.

San Francisco looks to close its dismal season with a third straight victory. Third-string quarterback Shaun Hill improved to 2-0 as a starter in his career after the 49ers beat NFC South champion Tampa Bay 21-19 last Sunday.

The late-season success is hardly any consolation for San Francisco, which won its first two games and was expected to contend for a playoff spot after going 7-9 in 2006. Instead, the 49ers will wrap up their fifth straight losing season.

"This year we started out with a couple wins, and then we fell off the map," coach Mike Nolan said. "Without question, as far as our record goes, all of us in the organization feel that we've underachieved."

Even Hill's decent play comes with a caveat for San Francisco, which is attempting to build around Alex Smith - the top overall pick in the 2005 draft. Smith has been out since Nov. 12 with a shoulder injury, but is expected to compete with Hill for the starting job in 2008.

"I think there should be a competition," tight end Vernon Davis said. "There's got to be. You can't have that No. 1 guy sitting there and feeling comfortable. There's got to be some competition for every job."

Hill missed practice Wednesday with back spasms. If he can't play, Chris Weinke will start for the 49ers.

This is likely the final game for 14-year veteran defensive end Bryant Young. The four-time Pro Bowler was carried off the field after the home finale against Tampa Bay.

"I hope someday I can just have half the career he's had," said 49ers rookie linebacker Patrick Willis, who leads the league with 124 tackles.

This is the 49ers' first visit to Cleveland since 1993. The teams are meeting for the first time since the Browns won 13-12 on Sept. 21, 2003.

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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