Wild Card Weekend: Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans

Wild Card Weekend: Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans

Let the NFL Wild Card Weekend BEGIN!! First up on Saturday afternoon is the Cleveland Browns at the Houston Texans! First, I just want to say that there are so many great match-ups with great storylines and I’m hoping to cover each one of them. This Saturday is no exception. With the first game of the 2023-24 post season, we get two guys who are up for Coach of the Year; DeMeco Ryans with the Texans and Kevin Stefanski with the Browns. Both coaches have done such an amazing job this season. The Texans finished dead last in the entire AFC last year at 3-13-1, and had the second worst record in the NFL. This year they won their division, they (obviously) make the playoffs, and their hosting a playoff game! The Browns finished last in the AFC North last year at 7-10. This year they finish the regular season at 11-6 while losing their first two quarterbacks (Deshaun Watson and Dorian Thompson-Robinson) to season-ending injuries, benching their third string QB, and then signing Joe Flacco. ALSO, they lost their starting running back (Nick Chubb) and a handful of defensive players. Let’s take a downfield read to see who gets it done this weekend and moves on to the Divisional Round.

Cleveland Browns (11-6)

I still can’t believe that we’re talking about Joe Flacco in a Cleveland Browns jersey. Flacco played his first game with the Browns on December 3rd against the LA Rams, and lost that game 36-19. Then he went on a tear beating Jacksonville, Chicago, Houston, and the New York Jets while throwing 11 touchdowns in the process. In just five games Joe has the 33rd most passing yards and is tied at 23rd for passing TDs with Joshua Dobbs, who literally played in eight more games than Flacco. He’s 19th in Passer Rating (90.2) and 22nd in QBR (48.4). Not bad for a 38-year-old who was watching tv with his kids in November.

As I mentioned before, starting running back, Nick Chubb was lost in Week 2 and the Browns had to piece together a running game with Jerome Ford, Pierre Strong Jr, and Kareem Hunt. Ford has taken the bulk of the work rushing for 813 yards (23rd), averaging four yards per carry, 48 yards per game, and four TDs. Since Flacco’s arrival, the passing attack has taken a more prevalent role. Wide Receiver, Amari Cooper has 72 receptions for 1,250 yards (10th), averaging 17.4 yards per catch and five touchdowns in 15 games played. Tight End, David Njoku is the second hottest target as he has reeled in 81 passes (20th overall and fifth among TEs) for 882 yards (38th overall and 5th among TEs), six TD’s (tied for second among TEs), and 600 yards after the catch (8th overall and first for TEs).

Looking at the Browns offense as a whole, it’s hard to say that they aren’t better than average because they haven’t had consistent QB play until Flacco showed up. In the five games that Flacco has been behind center, Cleveland has put up 143 points; almost 29 points per game. If you look at the entire season, the Browns are putting up only 23.3 points per game. That’s almost a touchdown (without the extra point) difference. Defensively, Cleveland has been lights out. They are first in total yards allowed per game (270) and passing yards allowed per game (164), 11th in rushing yards allowed per game (106), and 13th in points allowed per game (21.3).

Defensive End Myles Garrett leads the Browns with 14 sacks (7), and is second on the team with 17 tackles for a loss (T7). Linebacker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, leads the team with 20 TFL (4th) and also has 3.5 sacks and two interceptions. DE, Ogbo Okoronkwo adds another 4.5 sacks and 12 TFL (T29th), and linebacker, Za’Darius Smith chimes in with another 5.5 sacks. Cornerbacks Greg Newsome II and Martin Emerson Jr, each have 14 passes defended, and Emerson leads the team with four interceptions. Only the New Orleans Saints have a CB duo better than these two at defending against the pass. As a team the Browns are 6th overall in sacks with 49 and tied for fourth with 18 interceptions.

Houston Texans (10-7)

While Cleveland might have the Comeback Player of the Year in Joe Flacco, the Texans should have the Offensive Rookie of the Year in C.J. Stroud. I said from day one (you can go back and check) that Stroud SHOULD have been selected #1 and IS a better QB than Bryce Young. Stroud has 4,108 passing yards (8th), 23 touchdowns (tied for thirteenth with Jalen Hurts), with a Passer Rating of 100.8 (6th), and a QBR of 57.4 (15). Oh, and he’s only thrown five interceptions. As a rookie. Unbelievable. The Texans have a very similar running game as the Browns. Running Back, Devin Singletary leads Houston with 898 rushing yards (21), 4.2 yards per carry, with four touchdowns, and 52.8 yards per game. Overall, the Texans are 23rd in rushing yards per game (97), and seventh in passing yards per game (245.5).

Wide Receiver, Nico Collins has quietly put together a great season. He has 80 receptions (23) for 1,297 yards (8), eight touchdowns (T8), and 549 yards after the catch (9). The problem becomes who Stroud throws to after that. WR, Noah Brown has only played in ten games this year and is listed as Questionable vs the Browns. WR, Robert Woods has played in 13 games and is also listed as Questionable. WR Tank Dell went down with a season-ending injury about six weeks ago. SO that leaves former Dallas Cowboys Tight End Dalton Schultz, who has 59 receptions for 635 yards and five TDs.

Houston’s defense has been about as average as you can get this year. While they are sixth in rushing yards allowed per game (96.5), they are also 23rd in passing yards allowed per game (234). Defensive End, Jonathan Greenard (listed as questionable) leads the team with 12.5 sacks (T10) and 15 tackles for a loss (T13). Rookie DE, Will Anderson Jr. (also questionable) has seven sacks and ten tackles for a loss, and Defensive Tackle, Sheldon Rankins (ALSO listed as questionable) adds six more sacks and nine tackles for a loss. The Texans have a pair of solid Cornerbacks as well; Derek Stingley Jr has five interceptions (T4) and 13 passes defended, and Steven Nelson has four INTs (T7) with 12 passes defended. Neither of these two is listed as questionable either, so that helps.

The one thing that the DeMeco Ryans’ Texans do well, is play clean football as it pertains to turnovers. They have a league best ONLY 14 giveaways, but have 24 takeaways (14 picks and ten fumble recoveries). Quick math! That’s a +10. On the other side of the field, the Browns are tied for fifth in take aways with 18 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries (28 total takeaways). HOWEVER…the Browns are at a -9 turnover differential because they give up the ball more than anyone else; a league worst 23 interceptions, and 14 lost fumbles. Overall, the Browns have 37 total turnovers, which is the worst in the NFL.


This is a tough one because I’m torn with the “story” behind the teams, and how each of them got here. How can you cheer against a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback that brought a team from the second worst in football to a division champ and playoff team? How can you not cheer for a franchise that pulls a rival quarterback literally off the sofa to lead them into the playoffs and POTENTIALLY against that QBs former team?! Honestly, BOTH teams deserve the W, but this is real life! We need to have a winner and a loser.

I’m a firm believer in that “Defense Wins Championships”, and in this case it means the Browns over the Texans. This could be Flacco’s last year in the league (unless Atlanta, or Minnesota or Seattle…). Ryans and company have a decade to get back to this point, and I’m sure they will in the soft AFC South again. Right now though, the Texans are young, and they’re banged up. I think Flacco probably throws an INT…and possibly gets strip-sacked. Even if the Browns give up two turnovers, their defense is good enough to get them out of a jam. Be prepared for a high scoring game. The Browns won the first match-up, and they will win this one as well: 31-24.

David Njoku and Joe Flacco


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