The Houston Texans have come out of nowhere to win the AFC South this season. C.J. Stroud should be the AFC Rookie of the Year, and Demeco Ryans should win the Coach of the Year, in my opinion. The Browns have won with the ageing Joe Flacco, who, over the last six weeks, has seemingly turned back the clock. Injuries have hurt both teams over the previous month and could factor into this game.
Houston boasts an exciting rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. They ended the regular season on an impressive 7-3 run and secured their playoff position by beating Indianapolis last week to secure a seat at the table for postseason play. Houston certainly has what it takes to advance beyond the initial rounds; will their success continue after that? Last Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Houston defeated Indy 23-19 behind an efficient performance by Stroud. He completed 20 of 26 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns without much help from their backs (60 yards on 28 carries) but made good use of his two red zone trips (2-for-2). Indianapolis outgained Houston by 54 yards while never falling far behind but were only 1-for-11 on third down despite running for an average of 6.1 yards per carry average.
The Texans appear well rested and healthy heading into Saturday’s Wild Card showdown against the Browns, although several defensive players are listed as questionable to play in this crucial contest.
Cleveland comes into Wild Card weekend as a road favorite, having won four out of their last five. Their only loss occurred during Week 18, with starters resting ahead of postseason play; they should feel untouchable good about Saturday. QB Joe Flacco has reignited the Dawg Pound’s faith and inspired confidence previously absent due to Deshaun Watson’s injury. Watson has been a bust so far in Cleveland.
The Browns possess an exciting team capable of making an impactful playoff run this year. Though they likely won’t reach Super Bowl Sunday, Cleveland could easily upset one or more teams with its winning formula of two parts Joe Flacco and five parts defense – including 49 sacks (2nd in pass rush win rate), 323.2 passing yards per game with Flacco passing the ball downfield, and 1st place in passing yards allowed against them (1st).
The Browns enter Saturday’s matchup with an extensive injury list, missing several players at practice earlier in the week. Notable among these injured players are K Dustin Hopkins – likely out with a hamstring strain – Amari Cooper (probable), Flacco (probable) and DE Myles Garrett, who is questionable with both shoulder and hamstring ailments.
I like the Texans in this game; I know the Browns’ defense is elite, but they are not as good when playing away from Cleveland. Also, I think C.J. Stroud is special! I mean, really, really special, and he proved last week he could win what was a playoff game on the road. Go with Stroud to win his first-ever playoff game. Texans 23, Browns 20. Pick: Texans +2.5
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