After saying bye-bye to their bye week, the 49ers open their 10-week run toward an NFC West championship by hosting the Cleveland Browns today at Candlestick Park.
After a layoff following their victory over the Lions in Michigan – and Handshakegate – the 49ers are faced with a number of questions.
Can they maintain their momentum from a 5-1 start?
Will wide receiver Braylon Edwards be able to play and make a contribution?
Will Frank Gore continue his streak of 100-yard rushing games and also pass Roger Craig into second place on the team’s all-time rushing list?
Are the Browns, at 3-3 and coming off a 6-3 victory over the Seahawks, just a speed bump on the road to a fifth straight victory – which would be the Niners’ longest win streak in 10 years – or a stumbling block?
Oddsmakers have the 49ers as 9-point favorites over Cleveland, which is making its second trip to the Bay Area in three weeks, having lost to the Raiders 24-17 on Oct. 16.
It’s uncertain whether the Browns will have their top running back – and Madden video game cover boy – Peyton Hillis. Hillis, who didn’t play last week or practice Thursday, is listed as questionable, and he’s a key piece for the Browns, who rank just 27th in the NFL in scoring at 16.2 points per game.
Quarterback Colt McCoy, the former Texas star, has some weapons in wide receiver Greg Little (25 catches) and running backs Joshua Cribbs and Montario Hardesty, who had 95 yards on 33 carries vs. the Seahawks.
The Browns are stronger defensively, where they rank fourth in total defense (291 yards per game) and eighth in points allowed (20 per game). The Browns already have 16 sacks.
San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman told Niners Nation this week that the Browns defense is “extremely disciplined.”
The 49ers are hoping Edwards, out since the second game of the season, will get a chance to play. Both Edwards and center Jonathan Goodwin – hurt against the Lions – practiced Thursday, and appear set to play Sunday, reported Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.
Edwards this week said he’s optimistic he can play. His return will give the 49ers their starting wide receiver combo – Michael Crabtree and Edwards – for the first time since Sept. 18.
“He looks in pretty darn good condition physically,” Roman said. “He’s been working really hard and that’s been Braylon Edwards since the first day he got here.”
Gore, meanwhile, can pass Craig with 110 yards Sunday. The Browns rank 20th in the NFL against the run, allowing 119.5 rushing yards per game. Gore trails all-time 49ers rushing leader Joe Perry by 390 yards.