Link to my preview column re: 9ers-Browns. Text below:


Niners vs. Browns. Browns the worst team in the NFL. Bar none. Worst record in the league — 2-10. Bar none. Maybe the Browns should be barred from the NFL. They’re that bad. Bar none.

One thing you can’t bar or hedge or talk around. This is an important game for the 49ers, believe it or not. It is not some throwaway game against a worthless opponent. Not long ago, the 49ers themselves qualified as a worthless opponent. And they never want to descend to that sorry designation ever again by losing to Cleveland. Refuse the descent. Stomp the sad sack Browns.

The Niners should be a lock to win because the Browns are the only franchise with more chaos on the field and in their front office. The Jed-York-Trent-Baalke-Paraag-Marathe-Jim-Tomsula Combine is nothing compared to the weirdness in Cleveland.

Word is Browns owner Jimmy Haslam will clean house after this season. Which means goodbye to general manager Ray Farmer, which probably means goodbye to head coach Mike Pettine. Which means clean out a bunch of players. Just go on a cleaning spree.

And that means the current Browns players and the current administration have a tenuous stake in the current operation, very little hold on what happens after this season. And that sure means the players have nothing to play for. Not ready to compete. Not interested in competing. Want to quit.

The Cleveland Browns are a big fat mark begging to be taken. The Niners need to take. Remorselessly. Take this game and the Niners record will be 5-8, 3-2 in their most recent five games. Not great, but an improvement, an uptick in the learning curve. It also will mean the Niners have a two-game winning streak. Well, stop the presses.

And then there’s this in the 49ers favor — Browns starting quarterback Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football. Johnny Fool-Ball. You think the Niners have a drama with Colin Kaepernick and how Kaepernick allegedly has few friends on the team and how his play certainly declined season after season as his wardrobe improved. Well, compared to Manziel, Kaepernick is a wonder child, a paragon of good behavior, strictly small potatoes in the acting-out department.

You’ve heard the phrase “a train wreck waiting to happen.” You could apply that to Manziel, except for one thing. Manziel is a train wreck that already happened. He has gone off the rails often.

Note on Manziel: His going off the rails allegedly has to do with alcohol. Nothing funny in that. It is serious for Manziel and could be for people in contact with him. As with anyone who has alcohol problems, we hope Manziel works this out.
Cut to last offseason. Manziel checked himself into a treatment facility for 10 weeks. It is widely assumed it was an alcohol treatment center. For most of the beginning of the season, Manziel was not the Browns starter. Josh McCown was. But in mid-November coach Pettine named Manziel the starter. Manziel’s big chance. Anyone with the character and stature to be a starting quarterback would take this chance firmly in hand.

Manziel allegedly understood the importance of his opportunity. He told the media, he was “not going to do anything that’s going to be a distraction to this team or be an embarrassment to the organization.”
Well, hold the phone, Johnny. Video surfaced of him at a night club during the bye week. He was allegedly holding a champagne bottle and he was singing and allegedly having a grand old time.

No distraction? No embarrassment? Come on, Johnny.

Pettine saw the video. A friend of mine, a former 49ers player, imagined Pettine approaching Manziel early in the morning.
“Coach says to Manziel, ‘Johnny, can we talk a minute?’ Coach is moving his finger like, ‘Come over here.’ When you see the finger, you know you’re in trouble. Johnny’s thinking, ‘God, he saw the video. I’m screwed.’ ”

Johnny being Johnny, he compounded the offense by allegedly lying about the incident and allegedly getting his friends to lie for him. He allegedly said the video was not from the bye week. It was recorded earlier. Allegedly that was proven false. A lot of allegedlies in this story.

One thing was not allegedly. Pettine demoted Manziel. Instead of being first string, Johnny got a quick ticket to third string. This was the Heisman Trophy winner banished to the end of the line. This guy is fast approaching bust.

“When you have a great opportunity in front of you, it is important that you demonstrate that you can handle the responsibility,” Pettine said at the time. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the trust and the accountability piece. This is where we had an obvious shortcoming.”


But McCown injured his collarbone. Season over. Pettine started Austin Davis at QB, but he flopped. Enter Manziel. Yet again. Enter Manziel stage left to face the Niners.

Why Manziel? Well, just about every team needs a quarterback to play a regulation game, and the Browns are down to Manziel And the Browns invested a lot in him. They need to see if he can play. Call the remainder of the season his audition and his test. Can he play in the NFL? Can he stay out of trouble?
So, this is the quarterback awaiting the 49ers, a train wreck trying not to be a train wreck. And this is the team awaiting the 49ers, a team on a seven-game losing streak and counting. If the 49ers are on the upswing, truly on the upswing, they must beat — ruin — this really bad team. If the 49ers lose, that would be very very bad. Good teams take care of business in a businesslike manner.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn&