As the 49ers and Browns crawl their way through the 2017 NFL season, they share one key thought: The end of the season cannot come soon enough. With both teams off to abysmal 0-7 starts, thoughts of the 0-16 Detroit Lions from 2008 are definitely starting to creep in. It appears as though whichever team does secure that first win will also be the one picking second in the upcoming draft.
As a 49er fan, I am torn between wanting my team to avoid the historic lows of the 2008 Lions or seeing them secure the first overall pick to take the player of the future. I can imagine Browns fans are just hoping their team doesn’t trade whatever pick they end up with for a pair of 7th rounders and some magic beans.
Looking at both the 49ers and Browns’ schedules, each team has four realistic chances to get that first (and most likely only) W of the season. Here are each team’s best chances:
San Francisco 49ers
(1) Week 9 V. Arizona Cardinals
This article would be moot if not for a week 4 overtime Larry Fitzgerald touchdown, which allowed the Cardinals to beat the 49ers with only 32 seconds left in the game. While the Cardinals would normally be considerable favorites, things have changed since week 4.
The 49ers have made the quarterback switch from the inefficient Brian Hoyer to rookie C.J. Beathard. Beathard definitely looked like a rookie in his first career start last week against the Cowboys, but should be dramatically improved by week 9. Further, the Cardinals have lost their quarterback, as Carson palmer will miss the rest of the season with a broken arm. Drew Stanton does not warrant the respect of Palmer, and the 49er Defense should have a fighting chance.
If the 49ers can keep it close and be the last ones to touch the ball, a Robbie Gould field goal would give them their first win of the year in front of the Niner faithful.
(2) Week 10 V. New York Giants
For the first time since week 1, the Giants will be playing a team with fewer wins than themselves. While the Giants might enter the game as the favorite, the 49ers will not be an easy team for them to take down.
With all of their injuries to big name wide receivers, the Giants have been forced to rely on rookie tight end Evan Engram and a run game that, while beginning to show signs of life, has long been underwhelming. As a result, the 49er secondary may actually have a chance to keep opposing wide receivers in check for most of the game. If this happens, the game will come down to a battle of the trenches. If Solomon Thomas and the 49ers’ young defensive line can own the line of scrimmage against a porous Giants offensive line, San Francisco could very well land their first W against an old rival.
The 49ers will need to get off to a strong start in order to expose a potentially tired Giants squad, who will be travelling across the country for this game. But beating this classic rival would be extra sweet for the struggling Niners.
(3) Week 13 @ Chicago Bears
The Bears just won a game in which their rookie quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky, completed only 4 passes. That considered, it is safe to say that the Bears offense alone will not beat the 49ers. The real test will be whether Beathard can keep the ball out of the hands of the Bears defense, which has kept their team in games with improbable defensive scoring. As long as the 49ers can keep the Bears’ defense from scoring any points, they will have a chance to win the game.
Expect former Bear and current 49ers kicker, Robbie Gould, to be locked-in and looking to seek some redemption against his former squad. While it could take as little as a walk-off field goal to secure this win for the Niners, don’t expect to see this game on Redzone too often.
(4) Week 17 @ Los Angeles Rams
When these two teams played on Thursday night of week 3, no one was expecting much. Instead, we were treated to one of most exciting games of the season. The Niners ultimately lost 41-39, but their offense showed signs of life against what was supposed to be a formidable Rams D.
With the Rams looking poised for an actual playoff game this year (and possibly even an NFC West title), the Niners chances of winning this game are tied to whether the Rams have anything left to fight for in week 17. If not, the Niners might just have a chance at improving their record to 1-15 against a Rams back-up squad. Unfortunately, if the Rams are fighting for better playoff seeding, this game might not be the chance the Niners were hoping for.
(1) Week 13 @ Los Angeles Chargers
The main reason this matchup is being considered is the fact that the Browns actually beat the Chargers for their only victory last season. Aside from that piece of history, the Browns will not have much of a chance. This 3-4 Chargers team is much better than its record suggests. If not for a couple of early season field goal issues, they could very easily be atop the AFC West.
The Browns will have to hope the Chargers get in their own head (as they have been known to do) and recall the embarrassment of last season. If the Chargers are second-guessing themselves all game, the Browns may actually have a chance to keep this one close until the end.
(2) Week 14 V. Green Bay Packers
The Browns’ chances for victory against the Packers will depend on one element: Will Aaron Rodgers be playing? If the injured quarterback is able to miraculously return to the field by week 14, he and the Packers will win. However, if Rodgers is still unable to play and the Packers are relying on back-up Brett Hundley, The Browns have a shot.
If it is Hundley behind center, the Packers will run a simpler offense, with a heavy dose of running the football. If the Browns can play fundamental defense without taking penalties or giving up a big play, they may give their home fans something to cheer about. Further, with all of the injuries to the Packers, who knows who will be starting for them by week 14, especially on the defensive side of the ball. This means that the Browns may take a couple deep shots during the game, trying to take advantage of a nameless Packer secondary.
Even with Aaron Rodgers on the bench, “Browns beat the Packers” is a headline few football fans are ready for.
(3) Week 15 V. Baltimore Ravens
In their final game in front of their home fans, the Browns will find themselves in front of a familiar opponent. While the Browns took a 24-10 loss to the Ravens in week 2, the Browns might not be facing the same Ravens team come week 15. After taking a rough hit this week, Joe Flacco finds himself in the league’s concussion protocol. The hit was bad enough that it wouldn’t be surprising to see him out for a while. If the Browns can take advantage of a couple of Ryan Mallett interceptions, they might just be able to put up enough field goals to secure a victory. I won’t speculate as to who will be playing quarterback for the Browns in week 15, as that player may not even be on their roster. But with the team motivated by a chance to dash the Ravens’ playoff hopes, the defense might just have enough inspiration to come out with the W.
(4) Week 16 @ Chicago Bears
Like the 49ers, the Browns’ best shot at a win this season might come at Soldier Field.
While the Browns’ chances in this game are rooted in similar circumstances to the Niners, they will have the added motivation of knowing that week 16 is there last chance for a win. After all, the Browns face the Steelers in week 17 and as inconsistent as they have been, the Steelers find themselves atop the AFC North. If they want to win a game, it will have to be in week 16.
The Bears will not be an easy game as they might be playing for the coaching future of John Fox. At the same time, both teams will likely be jockeying for draft positioning at this point, making what should be a meaningless game, crucial to the futures of both teams.
Photo courtesy: San Fransisco 49ers