KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker
SERIES: 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.
PREDICTION: Browns 30-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bills are excited about the sudden 1-2 punch they have with RBs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. Buffalo ran the ball 40 times last Sunday, and would love a repeat performance against Cleveland's run defense allowing 130.5 yards per game. QB Trent Edwards is proving to be a strong game manager, and he will feast on the Browns' shaky secondary if he's able to set up off play-action. ... The Browns' offense is even more potent now that RB Jamal Lewis has found his groove and is providing a physical running presence. But this game figures to be won or lost on how well QB Derek Anderson exploits a Bills secondary that is without FS George Wilson. With WRs Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius and TE Kellen Winslow all 6-feet-3 or taller, Anderson should have success putting the ball up for his receivers against Buffalo's undersized defensive backs.
KEY INJURIES: Bills: DE Chris Kelsay (ankle sprain/bruise) is practicing and hopes to return; Wilson (broken ribs) is out at least two games. Browns: OLBs Willie McGinest (hip) and Antwan Peek (ankle sprain) are uncertain.
FAST FACTS: Bills WR Lee Evans has tied the franchise record held by Glenn Bass and Eric Moulds with five career TD catches of at least 70 yards. ... Anderson needs four TD passes to match Brian Sipe's franchise record of 30 in 1980.
--QB Trent Edwards will try and raise his record as a starter to 6-1 against Cleveland on Sunday. The last Bills rookie QB to win four games in a row was Joe Ferguson in 1973. Edwards' four touchdown passes last week against Miami was a team rookie mark.
--TE Robert Royal, who caught two touchdown passes last week, figures to be a popular target for rookie QB Trent Edwards Sunday in Cleveland as a way to defuse the Browns' decent pass rush. Royal's teams (Washington and Buffalo) are 8-2 when he scores a touchdown.
--RB Marshawn Lynch, who returned to action last week after missing three games with a high-ankle sprain, was able to practice all week and shows no ill effects from his injury. He needs 142 yards to become just the fourth Bills rookie to reach 1,000.
--WR Lee Evans has 16 touchdowns in the month of December, most in the NFL in that month since 2004. Marvin Harrison is second with 13.
--DE Chris Kelsay (ankle) practiced on a limited basis again but he is expected to try and play Sunday at Cleveland. The Bills need all the pass rush they can generate against Derek Alexander.
--DE Anthony Hargrove was excused from practice for personal reasons.
--WR Joe Jurevicius missed practice Thursday with a knee injury.
--LB Antwan Peek missed practice for the second straight day Thursday with an ankle injury.
--DE Orpheus Roye practiced on a limited basis Thursday. He has a right knee injury.
--DE Robaire Smith practiced on a limited basis Thursday with a sore back.
--RT Kevin Shaffer practiced on a limited basis Thursday with a knee injury.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
When the Buffalo Bills began the season 0-3, general manager Marv Levy wasn't thinking that his team would be 7-6 and in the thick of the AFC wild-card playoff race.
"No, at 0-3 I was hoping like the devil that we'd be 1-3," he said.
Buffalo's remarkable staying power continued with an easy 38-17 victory over the hapless Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium, setting the stage for a critical road game at Cleveland.
The Browns (8-5) and Jaguars (9-4) lead the wild-card race and the Jaguars already own a head-to-head result tiebreaker over the Bills.
The Bills, riding a two-game winning streak and finding an offensive spark behind rookie quarterback Trent Edwards, like their chances.
"We're right in the thick of it and we pretty much control our own destiny right now," wide receiver and Cleveland native Lee Evans said, referring to the scenario where the Bills defeat the Browns and then win their final games against the Giants and Eagles.
The Bills, who had struggled to find the end zone all season, erupted for a season high for points against Miami (0-13), a team they needed a fourth-quarter rally against in early November to beat by three points.
But Edwards was in a zone as he fired a season-high four touchdown passes, two each to tight end Robert Royal and Evans. It was Evans' 70-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory and showed that Edwards, who grew up in California, has the arm strength and ability to play in cold weather Buffalo.
It was 30 degrees at kickoff and sleet fell later in the game.
"We knew at that particular moment we needed to make a play," said Edwards, who became the first Bills quarterback since Drew Bledsoe in 2004 to fire four touchdowns in a game. "It worked out perfectly. It was the right coverage, the right call and it was just a matter of getting the ball up and letting Lee go and make a play."
The Bills made plays on the ground, too.
Rookie running back Marshawn Lynch, seeing his first action in three games after suffering a high-ankle sprain against Miami, ran for 107 yards and first-year pro Fred Jackson added 115 yards against the Dolphins' No. 32 run defense. It was the first time since 1996 (Thurman Thomas and Derrick Holmes) that the Bills had two backs top the century mark.
Defensively, the Bills collected five sacks and four takeaways.
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.t."