The Browns are trying to get excited about playing a game against the 49ers that has almost zero bearing on their chances of making the playoffs.
If they win Sunday, they will set a franchise record for winning at home for the seventh time, something no Browns team has ever done. They have won six home games 11 times, but never seven.
Winning would raise their record to 10-6. It would be the team's best record since 1994 and represent a six-game improvement over last season. But in the end, those would be hollow victories.
Making the playoffs hinges on the Colts knocking off Tennessee. The Browns lost control of their own playoff fortunes when they lost to the Bengals, 19-14, in the 15th game. The loss dropped them to 7-5 in the AFC.
If the Titans beat Indianapolis, they would also be 7-5 in the conference. Head-to-head is the first tiebreaker, but it isn't applicable because the Browns and Titans did not meet in 2007. Conference record is next, followed by record against common opponents. The Titans would have the edge, 4-1 to the Browns 3-2.
"You can talk about it and all that, but it is what it is," coach Romeo Crennel said. "We lost a golden opportunity because we did have control. Now we don't have control, so we're going to go play this next game, try to win this next game and then we'll see what happens on Sunday night."
As if the Browns don't already feel bad enough about blowing the game in Cincinnati, they must wait until the final game of the regular season ends to discover whether their season extends into January. The Colts and Titans were scheduled to play at 1 p.m., but NBC moved the game to 8:15 p.m. Originally, the Chiefs-Jets contest was going to be the primetime game.
Now the Browns' fortunes could depend on how long Colts coach Tony Dungy plays his starters. Dungy says backup quarterback Jim Sorgi would play 'at least' a half. Dungy said he wants to win the game and keep his primary players sharp, but he also wants to rest them. The Colts have a first-round bye.
Linebacker Willie McGinest said he would be happy if Peyton Manning played the entire game, but he added Dungy has earned the right to rest him and the other starters if Dungy believes that will help the Colts prepare for the playoffs.
And while beating the 49ers probably would have no bearing on the playoffs, Crennel does not plan to just go through the motions in practice this week.
"It's the next game and it's important that I win every game," Crennel said. "That's the way I approach it. And I think generally, that's the way most coaches approach it.
"What kind of message am I sending to my team if I don't say the game is important? Why do they go through the work that they go through during training camp and offseason to say that the game is not important? Every game is important."
GAME PLAN: The Browns will not know until late Sunday night whether they are in the playoffs. Indianapolis would have to beat the Titans for that to happen. The Browns-49ers game has no bearing on the playoff situation unless the Titans and Colts tie. In that case, the Browns would be 10-6 if they beat the 49ers and the Titans would be 9-6-1.
Coach Romeo Crennel does not plan to rest his starters in anticipation time off would reenergize the players if they do make the playoffs. Playing well against the 49ers would give a confidence boost to Derek Anderson, who last week threw four interceptions against the Bengals.
"I'm going to play to win the game on Sunday and whoever gives us the best chance to win, that's who I'm playing," Crennel said.
Rookie Brady Quinn has not taken a snap this season. Anderson needs two touchdown passes to tie the franchise record of 30 set by Brian Sipe in 1980.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson vs. 49ers RB Frank Gore. Jackson is quick and athletic. Given the problems the Browns have with injuries on the defensive line, he will have to be especially active against Gore, the 49ers' leading rusher with 1,008 yards. He is also their leading receiver with 51 catches. Jackson does a good job of anticipating where the ball carrier is headed. Keying on Gore will be the major factor in how well the Browns play Sunday.
Browns WR Braylon Edwards vs. 49ers CB Nate Clements. The Browns targeted Clements in free agency but did not match the money the 49ers offered. Now Edwards will try to beat him. Edwards already set one record this year with 15 touchdown catches, breaking the record of 13 set by Gary Collins in 1963. He is 14 yards short of the record of 1,236 yards receiving set by Webster Slaughter in 1989.