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Browns 60-second rant: Cleveland can push San Francisco

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Posted Oct. 25, 2011 @ 6:59 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

I believe the Browns, who are bigger underdogs than they have been at any point of this season, can give the 49ers a tough game on Sunday, Here's my rationale:

— The 49ers, at 5-1, are three games up on their nearest competitor in the NFC West. San Francisco has been very sharp, and it has had to be to build such an impressive lead in its division so early. The Niners have this division under control, it seems. Could their play start to slip a little now that they're in such a good spot?

— Teams coming off a bye, as San Franclsco is, are 3-9 this season. Could the 49ers be rusty?

— The 49ers don't have an especially strong offense. They are gaining 302.5 yards per game and 5.16 yards per play. The Browns, allowing just 291.0 yards per game and 4.74 yards per play, should be able to hold up well enough.

— The Browns' offense isn't high-scoring or explosive, but it is converting 42.2 percent of its third-down tries, and it has committed only six turnovers. Yes, this is a plodding offense, but it is prudent. Cleveland can hang around in games even when it isn't playing all that well, simply by playing keep-away. (See the win vs. Seattle on Sunday.)

— The Browns have one road win (at Indianapolis) and showed improvement late in a seven-point loss at Oakland.

The 49ers have been impressive. The Browns have been competent. Any regression from San Francisco, which is certainly possible, and another solid, grinding game from Cleveland, and this matchup ends up closer than some may expect. That said, the Browns, who have nine offensive plays of 20 yards or longer this season, likely need to make a big play or two to pull off the outright upset.

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