If three games unfold the Browns' way this week, they will clinch a playoff spot for the first time in five years.
Chronologically, the first game that matters is between the Broncos and Texans in Houston Thursday night.
The other two games begin at 1 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday. If the Texans beat or tie the Broncos, the Browns beat the Bills in Cleveland Browns Stadium and the Chiefs beat the Titans, the Browns will lock up the second wild-card spot.
They could improve to the first wild-card spot or even win the AFC North before the season ends, but coach Romeo Crennel doesn't want to hear a word about either of those scenarios just yet. He is reluctant to even talk about clinching because he does not want his players to be thinking about games over which they have no control.
"Playoffs?" said Crennel, uttering the word as though the definition is unknown to him. "Playoffs? I don't know anything about playoffs.
"We play the Buffalo Bills on Sunday and we have to improve in order to be ready for Buffalo. That's our focus. That's been the focus all year, to try and get ready for the next game. We're not the New England Patriots."
Jacksonville, 9-4, is presently the first wild-card team. The Jaguars play the Steelers in Pittsburgh Sunday. The Browns can still pass the Steelers and win the AFC North, but for that to happen, the Steelers would have to lose at least two of their final three games and the Browns would have to beat the Bills, the Bengals in Cincinnati and the 49ers in Cleveland.
The Browns put themselves in control of their playoff situation by beating the Jets, 24-18, last week in the Meadowlands. The victory gave them a one-game lead over the Titans and Bills in the wild-card chase.
If the regular season were already over, the Browns would be the second wild-card team and they would play the Steelers in the first round of playoffs.
Crennel is not just using typical coach-speak when he says the Browns have to concentrate on the Bills and nothing else this week. If Buffalo beats the Browns, both teams would be 8-6. The Bills would gain the tiebreaking edge over the Browns in a two-way tie because head-to-head is the first tiebreaker.
The Bills, 1-4 after five games, are 6-2 since then. Rookie quarterback Trent Edwards is 5-1 as a starter. The Bills had six touchdown passes before beating Miami 38-17. Edwards threw four touchdown passes against the Dolphins.
"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," Crennel said. "They are 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 are happy to be playing at home -- a statement that never would have been made in December in eight previous seasons. They have won five straight home games. They never had a winning record at home in the expansion era until now.
Four of the last five games were played on the road. The Browns were 3-2 in that stretch.
SERIES HISTORY: 13th meeting. The Browns lead the regular-season series, 7-5. The Browns and Bills played only once in the expansion era in a game the Browns would rather forget. The Bills won it 37-7.
--Marty Schottenheimer's first victory as an NFL coach was over the Bills on Nov. 4, 1984. The Browns won 13-10 on a cold, rainy day in Buffalo.
--Bud Carson's final game as head coach was against the Bills, coincidentally, exactly six years later. The Browns fell to 2-7 with a 42-0 loss after playing for the AFC championship one year earlier. Carson knew he would be fired and started Mike Pagel over Bernie Kosar.
--The Browns and Bills met in a playoff game one time. The Browns won a shootout, 34-30, on Jan. 6, 1990, but surprisingly, Kosar passed for only 251 yards. He threw three touchdown passes and had a passer rating of 130.1.
--The most crucial play in the playoff victory was not an offensive play. It wasn't even a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Eric Metcalf. The clinching play was an interception at the Browns 1 by Clay Matthews with three seconds to play.
--Luke McCown was playing his second game as an NFL quarterback in the 37-7 loss to the Bills. He completed eight of 20 passes for 62 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
--The leading rusher for the Browns in the 30-point loss three years ago was Adimchinobe Echemandu -- five carries for 13 yards.
--Derek Anderson will be making his 16th career start Sunday. He has thrown 26 touchdown passes this season -- four short of the team record set by Brian Sipe in 1980.
BY THE NUMBERS: 104 -- Phil Dawson's point total in 2007, the fourth time he has scored 100 or more points.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When he breaks through, usually it's a big gain. He's done it a couple times this year. Some people felt that maybe he was over the hill and didn't have it, but he still has that burst." -- Browns coach Romeo Crennel, on Jamal Lewis.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Browns have not had to deal with the numerous season-ending injuries they have become accustomed to, but getting a healthy group of linebackers to the field on Sunday has become increasingly challenging.
Left outside linebackers Antwan Peek and starter Willie McGinest missed practice Wednesday -- McGinest with a strained hip and Peek with a high-ankle sprain. Peek's injury is more serious. He was injured in the second quarter vs. the Jets last week and did not return.
Leon Williams would start if McGinest and Peek are forced to sit. The Browns want as many healthy linebackers as they can muster because last week, Bills running backs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson each rushed for 100 yards.
"Lynch, he's been hurt a little bit but he's back and he's a good runner," coach Romeo Crennel said. "He runs inside. He runs outside. He catches the ball and he doesn't go down easy.
"Jackson, he's another kid who runs hard and catches the ball out of the backfield. Both of those guys make them pretty good and give them a pretty good running attack. They've got a big offensive line to go with them. That helps."
The inside linebackers are healthy. D'Qwell Jackson will be making his fourth straight start after missing three starts with an ankle injury. Middle linebacker Andra Davis has been healthy all season. Chaun Thompson could play inside, or Williams could move inside and Thompson outside in third-and-long situations.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--RDE Robaire Smith missed practice Wednesday because of lower back spasms. He missed practice with a sore neck last week but played against the Jets.
--LDE Orpheus Roye missed practice to rest his ailing right knee.
--FB Lawrence Vickers missed practice with the flu.
--CB Eric Wright could get his starting job back at left cornerback. Wright dressed last week but did not start. He missed the games against Houston and Arizona with a knee injury.
--The Browns were awarded former Steelers center Marvin Philip on waivers and waived center Greg Eslinger to make room for him.
--Veteran LB Keith Adams was signed. Linebacker Colby Bockwoldt was waived. Adams has played in 82 games with 23 starts since being drafted by the Titans in the seventh round in 2001.
GAME PLAN: The Browns receivers have a distinct height advantage on the Buffalo secondary. Braylon Edwards is 6-foot-3 and Joe Jurevicius is 6-5. Tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. is 6-4.
New starting safety Jim Leonhard is 5-8, and right cornerback Terrance McGee is 5-9. He would be matched against Jurevicius.
The temptation is to throw deep and win jump balls, but the Bills do a good job of keeping the receivers in front of them and making tackles. The strategy has not worked perfectly because the Bills have allowed 18 touchdown passes.
If the Bills jam the box with strong safety Donte Whitner to stop Jamal Lewis, they can get one-on-one coverage with their receivers.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns LT Joe Thomas vs. Bills DE Aaron Schobel. Schobel leads the Bills with 4.5 sacks. He is a seven-year veteran, so Thomas better be ready for his tricks and deceptions. Thomas is not as big as some tackles Schobel faces, but at 6-6, 315 pounds, he is quick on his feet. Thomas is a smart player and one of the most studious on the team.
Browns RCB Leigh Bodden vs. Bills WR Lee Evans. Evans has four touchdown catches and a team-high 46 receptions. Bodden snapped out of a slump to play well against the Jets last week. He saved a touchdown by breaking up a pass in the end zone. Rookie quarterback Trent Edwards is likely to test Bodden again with reliable Evans as a target.
INJURY IMPACT: LB Antwan Peek has battled injuries all season, yet he has managed to play in every game. His ankle injury could force him to miss the game Sunday.
DE Robaire Smith was still bothered by a sore neck when he played against the Jets. If his back spasms diminish, he will play Sunday.