It’s quite a place, this Texas
Its hills, its prairies, its mountains high
Its valleys lush, its rivers and streams
That sparkle in the light…
The Cleveland Browns (4-6-1) are feeling pretty good about themselves. They’ve won back-to-back games for the first time in four years including a convincing beatdown of their in-state rivals. The Houston Texans (8-3) are feeling pretty great about themselves. The Texans have won eight straight games and sit atop the AFC South standings. It’ll be a hot time in the Energy City when these clubs collide.
The NFL’s two newest teams have played nine times since the Texans debuted in 2002; Houston leads the series 6-3 and has won four straight contests. The Browns last defeated the Texans in November 2007, a win that saw Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow II each catch a touchdown pass. Cleveland has only won in Houston once, a 22-14 decision in 2005.
Houston enters as 5.5-point favorites. The line opened at eight before dropping down two and a half points. The Browns are playing with swagger, but still will have their work cut out for them against the experienced, dangerous Texans.
The Texans’ offense ranks fourteenth in points scored (24.8). Second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson has recovered handsomely from last season’s ACL tear. Watson has thrown 220-of-333 passing for 2,807 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Running back Lamar Miller has picked up 773 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Watson has demonstrated his mobility as well to the tune of 345 yards and two scores on the ground. DeAndre Hopkins remains the team’s most explosive wide receiver with 73 receptions, 1,024 yards, and 8 touchdowns.
The Texans have primarily made their bones on defense. Houston’s defense ranks fifth in points allowed (20.2) and eight in yards allowed (333.6). Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will have Baker Mayfield in his sights all day looking to add to his 7.0 sacks and 31 tackles. Then of course there is JJ Watt.
J.J. Watt has been reborn in 2018. The former Badger has 11.5 sacks and 45 tackles in eleven games. He is questionable with a knee injury for Sunday, but Houston must be encouraged to see him return to health and excellence after missing most of the last two seasons with various injuries. Talk of fantastic defensive ends inevitably leads one to think of Myles Garrett. If the Browns’ second year stud wants to reach the upper echelon of his position then Watt has set the bar high with four Pro Bowls, four All-Pro lists, and 87.5 career sacks (10.9 per season). On a smaller scale, their career numbers through twenty-two games bode well for Garrett.
Here and now there is no doubt that a healthy JJ Watt operates more as a force of nature than man, but Garrett’s skill and ability has demonstrated that he could reach the same level as Watt before too long.
Ok fine we’ll talk about playoffs even though it’s super premature. The road to the postseason is long, arduous, and full of potholes. If the Browns win out, which they would need to, they would be 9-6-1 (9.5 wins and 6.5 losses). The Titans (5-6), Broncos (5-6), Bengals (5-6), Dolphins (5-6), and Colts (6-5) are all chasing the six-seeded Ravens (6-5). The good news is the Browns can control their own destiny against the Bengals and Broncos. They would need the Titans and Dolphins to lose at least once and the Colts to lose at least twice. Baltimore would need to lose once in the next four weeks before the Browns and Ravens clash in Week 17. It’s not impossible, but Five Thirty Eight currently gives Cleveland a 1% chance of playing in January. Of course, three more wins and that figure jumps to 21%.
Playoffs aside, the Browns are playing with confidence and for good reason. Baker “Danger is my Middle Name” Mayfield looks like the real deal, Nick Chubb is running with purpose, and the takeaway parade has continued through November. Houston will not be giving hosts, but if the Browns want to be taken seriously in this league they need to start winning games they aren’t supposed to. That’d feel pretty great.