KEYS TO THE GAME
The Bills’ best chance to beat the Browns is with a few well-timed big plays. They have the perfect guy for the job in receiver Lee Evans, a Bedford native. In his four years in the league, Evans has five touchdowns of at least 70 yards, the most in the NFL since 2000.
Evans has 47 catches for 768 yards, a 16.3 average and four touchdowns this year, including an
85-yard touchdown and a 70-yarder last week.
“You might take one or two steps back,” Browns safety Brodney Pool said. “We can’t let him get behind us.”
Evans has been at his best in December, totaling 65 catches, 1,190 yards and an NFL-high 16 touchdowns in 15 December games. He leads the NFL since 2004 with 14 catches of at least 25 yards in December.
The Browns defensive backs have improved at keeping plays in front of them. Six of the seven longest pass plays allowed were in the first half of the year, and none has been longer than 42 yards. They can’t afford to slip up this week.
Rattle the rookie
Bills quarterback Trent Edwards may be Stanford-educated, but he’s never seen the Dawg Pound in the snow with the playoffs on the line. The Browns have improved their pass rush in the second half of the year and sacked the Jets’ Kellen Clemens four times last week. If the defense can get pressure on Edwards, who’s been sacked nine times, it might unnerve him in the biggest game of his life.
Edwards, the first quarterback from the draft class of 2007 to start, is 5-1 as a starter, on a four-game winning streak and trying to become the first rookie to win his first three road starts since Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
Edwards has a strong arm and threw four touchdown passes last week in a win over Miami, giving him five for the year. He’s thrown five interceptions with a 62.8 completion percentage and an 80.1 rating.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Browns tight end Kellen Winslow vs. Bills safety Donte Whitner
Winslow has been quiet the last two weeks — seven catches for 69 yard yards — but could be in line for a big day. The Cardinals and Jets made stopping him their No. 1 priority, but the Bills might not want to devote Whitner to coverage, because it would weaken their run defense.
Winslow’s had huge days this year, including a 10-catch, 107-yard effort three weeks ago vs. Houston. Unless the Bills use a double team of a linebacker and Whitner, quarterback Derek Anderson will be looking for No. 80 all day. Winslow’s been a force this year, with 69 catches for 943 yards, a 13.7 average and five TDs.
Whitner, the eighth pick in 2006, had one interception as a rookie and none this year, but he’s got 78 tackles. He’s a Cleveland native and will have a lot of friends and family in attendance.
Bills running back Marshawn Lynch vs. Browns inside linebacker Leon Williams
Lynch returned last week from an ankle injury to rush 23 times for 107 yards vs. the Dolphins. In 10 games, he has 858 yards rushing, a 3.9 average and six touchdowns.
The Browns defense has cut 19 yards off its rushing stats (149.5 to 130.5) since Week 7, but still ranks 28th and has allowed a 100-yard rusher in 10 of 13 games. The Browns have battled injuries across the line, but are in their best health in weeks. Williams has seen a ton of time in the nickel package, as teams attack the Browns from three-receiver sets. He earned a game ball for his 11-tackle, 1½-sack, two-pass breakup effort versus the Jets.
WHERE: Cleveland Browns Stadium
WHEN: Today, 1 p.m.
RECORDS: Browns 8-5; Bills 7-6
LAST WEEK: Browns beat Jets 24-18; Bills beat Dolphins 38-17
SERIES: Browns lead 7-5 and 1-0 in playoffs
SERIES AT CLEVELAND: Browns lead 4-3
LAST MEETING: Bills won 37-7 in Buffalo on Dec. 12, 2004
COACHES: Romeo Crennel is 18-27 with Browns and overall; Dick Jauron is 14-15 with Bills and 50-64 overall
TV/RADIO: Channel 19, with broadcasters Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker; WMMS 100.7-FM, WTAM 1100-AM
NFL RANKINGS (OUT OF 32 TEAMS): Browns — offense 9th (17th rushing, 11th passing), defense 32nd (28th rushing, 30th passing); Bills — offense 28th (16th rushing, 28th passing), defense 30th (18th rushing, 28th passing)
BROWNS UPDATE: QB Derek Anderson has 26 touchdown passes and needs four to tie Brian Sipe for most in franchise history in a season.
• The Browns lead the league with 13.0 yards per reception and are tied for fifth with 5.7 yards per play.
• The Browns are last in the league in points allowed (27.4) and yardage allowed (389.7).
• They are 6-1 when leading at halftime, 7-1 when leading after three quarters and 3-0 with a 100-yard rusher.
• RB Jamal Lewis will make his 100th career start. He rushed 21 times for 118 yards and a touchdown last week. He has 921 yards this year.
BILLS UPDATE: RBs Marshawn Lynch (107) and Fred Jackson (115) had big rushing days last week.
• Lynch (858) and QB Trent Edwards (1,212) are the first rookie tandem to surpass 800 and 1,200 yards, respectively, since Detroit’s Barry Sanders and Rodney Peete in 1989.
• K Rian Lindell set a team record with 18 straight field goals before missing one last week. He has never missed an extra point in 245 attempts.
• The Bills have 13 players on injured reserve.
• Roscoe Parrish leads the NFL with a 17.5 average on punt returns.
BROWNS INJURY UPDATE: Doubtful: LB Antwan Peek; Questionable: WR Joe Jurevicius (knee); Probable: LB Willie McGinest (hip), DL Orpheus Roye (knee), RT Kevin Shaffer (knee), DE Robaire Smith (back)
BILLS INJURY REPORT: Out: DE Bryan Copeland (knee), S George Wilson (ribs), LB Coy Wire (neck); Questionable: DE Chris Kelsay (ankle).
THE PICK: The Browns show the world they deserve to be in the playoffs. Browns 34-17.