KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
OBR GAME THREAD: Click this link if you know what's good for you.
TV: CBS, Don Criqui, Steve Beuerlein
PREDICTION: Browns 23-19
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Browns play power football and should win the battle at the line of scrimmage against a team without a dominant front on either side of the ball. The goal is to get RB Peyton Hillis going and ride him through the fourth quarter, when an undermanned Bills defense has given up several long runs. The Browns aren't explosive offensively. The Bills can put up points, but have been forced to shuffle their offensive line. RB Fred Jackson must start strong because protection for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick could be suspect.
FAST FACTS: The Browns have won three straight in the series. ... The Bills have six interceptions in the past three games (eight total in 2010).
GAME PLAN: With a 60 percent chance of snow or freezing rain in the forecast, both teams better have their running games in order. Buffalo's 32nd-ranked run defense must find a way to slow down Cleveland RB Peyton Hillis, the kind of big, bruising back that usually tops 100-plus yards with ease. Stopping Hillis and putting the game in QB Jake Delhomme's hands would be a good move. Delhomme, who will start if rookie Colt McCoy (high ankle sprain) remains sidelined, has completed almost 70 percent of his throws in McCoy's absence but was also intercepted three times by Buffalo in a 20-9 Carolina loss a year ago. Buffalo's running game has sputtered of late and needs more of a contribution from rookie C.J. Spiller. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick needs an error-free game and can't be such a risk-taker in what figures to be a close, low-scoring game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills 32nd-ranked run defense vs. Browns RB Peyton Hillis, who is 38 yards shy of 1,000 yards. He also has 11 touchdowns.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
December in the North is the time to run the football, and Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium against the Bills' defense is the place the Browns plan to run it.
The Bills, 2-10, rank dead last against the run. They are allowing an average of 170.9 yards a game on the ground and they have allowed 14 rushing touchdowns.
As though he were preparing his mind and body for Orchard Park, where the forecast calls for rain and snow and a day-time high of 34 degrees on Sunday, Peyton Hillis wore no sleeves under his jersey at practice Wednesday and Thursday. Save for a couple brave linemen, he was the only one with his arms exposed to the biting 25-degree temperature.
"I love cold weather," Hillis said. "As far as running the ball, I think everything slows down a little bit. You can read things more patiently. You just have to have the right mindset.
"When you're warming up it gets bad, but when you start playing the game, you hardly notice it. When you come off the field you notice it a little bit. Halftime and when you're not in the game is probably the worst part of it."
Last year December was a month to remember for the Browns because of the way they ran. Led by Jerome Harrison the last three games, the Browns rushed for 900 yards over the last four games, all victories. In the 12 games prior the Browns rushed for 1,187 yards and lost 11 times.
"This time of year you have to be able to run the ball because you can't throw it quite as far," tackle Joe Thomas said. "Sometimes you get bad weather when you can't throw it at all. It comes down to defense and being able to run the ball."
The run offense has been up and down the last few weeks. They rushed for 88 yards in Jacksonville and lost. They rushed for 152 yards against Carolina and won. They rushed for just 52 yards last week in Miami, their second-lowest ground production of the season, and still beat the Dolphins, 13-10.
Coach Eric Mangini is not buying the notion running against the Bills will be a jog in the park.
"They have two big, physical guys up the middle," Mangini said, referring to Kyle Williams and Marcus Stroud. "Chris Kelsay (an end) causes problems in the running game. (Linebacker) Paul Posluszny makes plays all over the field.
"We have to do a good job of being able to handle those guys, being able to anchor and sustain the blocks and then making sure you get a hat on hat in the running game. You've got somebody on somebody every time."
The Browns are 3-1 when Hillis rushed for 100 yards. He rushed for 144 yards against the Ravens in a 24-17 loss. He rushed for 102 against the Bengals in a 23-20 victory, 184 against the Patriots when the Browns won, 34-24, and 131 against the Panthers in a 24-23 Browns victory.
Cleveland native Donte Whitner is looking forward to another matchup against his hometown Browns. The Bills (2-10) host the Browns (5-7) Sunday, the fourth consecutive season the teams from different AFC divisions have faced each other.
Cleveland has won the past three meetings 8-0, 29-27 and 6-3 in games punctuated by mistakes, odd happenings and brutal weather. The 8-0 game was played in whiteout conditions in Cleveland while last year's game featured wind gusts of more than 25 mph.
Sunday's forecast in Buffalo calls for frigid temperatures, snow and maybe freezing rain. Whitner has about 70 friends and family coming in for the game.
"I remember not being able to do anything on offense or defense because we were sliding everywhere," Whitner said of the 8-0 game in 2007. "I think it'll be easier this time because they have grass and we have turf, so it will be easier as far as traction. But as far as dealing with the weather, it's always tough especially in Cleveland and Buffalo."
Dealing with opposing tight ends is always tough on the Bills, too. Buffalo's challenge this week is dealing with tight end Ben Watson, who enjoyed many big games against the Bills while a member of the New England Patriots.
Watson has a career-best 50 catches for 575 yards and three touchdowns so far for the Browns.
While covering the tight end is usually the responsibility of the strong safety in most defenses, it's not Whitner's job on every play, coach Chan Gailey said. He's happy with how Whitner has performed; the 2006 first-round pick is second on the team in tackles with 110 and third in passes defended with six. Last week he picked up his first interception.
"You can't put it on one guy," Gailey said when asked about his team's struggles against tight ends. "Everybody gets to take part in that. It's not Donte Whitner, it's not one guy, it never is. Nothing is ever one guy. That's what makes this the amazing game that it is. It takes everybody to get the job done. He has not had total responsibility for that or we haven't put the major responsibility of that on him all year. We're all a part of it back there."
Indeed, a lot of Buffalo's struggles have also involved play by the outside linebackers, or lack of play. Reggie Torbor, Kawika Mitchell (since released) and rookie Antonio Coleman have all been lost for the season with injuries. Former Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman, picked up on waivers, never made it into a game before going on IR with a problem Achilles. This week, former Patriot Pierre Woods was signed. He's expected to play against the Browns.