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Quick Hits: Cleveland Browns vs. Houston Texans Preview

Team Keenum takes on the Joe Flacco Browns.

Syndication: The Tennessean Denny Simmons / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

The big story with this game was Houston Texans’ phenom quarterback C.J. Stroud vs. the last rookie QB to make a splash in H-Town, Deshaun Watson. With both players injured, it’s Backup Bowl time at NRG this Sunday as Case Keenum will likely command the Texans offense and Joe Flacco is expected to quarterback the Cleveland Browns. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Texans as 3-point underdogs in this game.

While nothing will erase the shine of last weekend’s victory over the Tennessee Titans, Houston head coach DeMeco Ryans needs this squad focused on the 9-5 Browns, not the playoff eliminated BESFs.

Even without the disgraced Watson under center, the Browns are still deep in the playoff hunt and not a team to take lightly. And, Flacco is no stranger to the playoffs, although his glory days with the Atlanta Falcons are far off in the rearview mirror.

Unfortunately, the Texans aren’t as potent without Stroud either. And all signs currently point to Ryans making the smart move and protecting his young franchise player.


BROWNS lead NFL in total defense (261.1 yards allowed per game) and pass defense (158.9 pass yards allowed per game).

QB JOE FLACCO had season highs in completions (28), comp. pct. (63.6) and pass yards (374) & had two TD passes last week, 12th-career game with 350+ pass yards & first since 2018. Has 250+ pass yards & 2+ TD passes in each of three starts this season. Is 5-2 in seven career starts vs. Houston.

RB JEROME FORD has 50+ scrimmage yards in three of past four overall and in five of six road games this season. Needs 44 scrimmage yards for first-career 1,000-yard season.

RB KAREEM HUNT has rush TD in three of his five road games this season. Has 375 scrimmage yards (93.8 per game) in four career games vs. Houston.

WR AMARI COOPER had 109 receiving yards and TD catch last week, fourth 100-yard game this season. Aims for third in row with 75+ receiving yards. Needs 15 receiving yards for seventh-career 1,000-yard season.

WR CEDRIC TILLMAN (rookie) had 52 receiving yards in Week 15 & has 50+ receiving yards in two of past four.

TE DAVID NJOKU had career-high 10 catches for 104 yards & TD last week, first Cleveland TE with 10 catches in a game since Jordan Cameron on 9/29/13 (10). Aims for third in row with 6+ catches, 90+ receiving yards & receiving TD. Has 55+ receiving yards in five of past six.

DE MYLES GARRETT has TFL in eight of past nine. Has sack in two of three career games at Houston Is only player in NFL with 13+ sacks in each of past three seasons.

DE ALEX WRIGHT had sack & first-career FF in Week 15.

LB JEREMIAH OWUSU-KORAMOAH had two PD, two TFL, sack and first-career INT last week. Aims for third game in row with 2+ TFL.

CB MARTIN EMERSON aims for fourth game in row with PD.

S D’ANTHONY BELL had first-career INT in Week 15.

Conventional wisdom says this is going to be a low scoring, ground and pound sort of game, won in the trenches by the running game.

With Keenum and Flacco, neither currently regarded as major gun slingers, facing some of the best corners in the league, it doesn’t make sense for either team to try and win through the air.

With that, the Texans offense is averaging 100.3 ground yards per game, The Browns are gaining 123.7. Now, the Houston stats are slightly skewed by offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik leaning on Stroud’s big arm early and often this year. In fact, Slowik’s offense hasn’t really gotten the ground game going but a few times this season.

Another pending factor is turnover differential. The Texans are currently among the league’s best with a +8 takeaway number, while the Browns are near the bottom with -7.

Sackmasters Myles Garrett and Jonathan Greenard will also be a ‘game within a game’ to watch out for this weekend.


QB C.J. STROUD (rookie) has zero INTs in each of his past three games and 105+ rating in two of his past three. Has 17 TDs (16 pass, one rush) vs. INTs with 109 rating in seven home starts. Needs 171 pass yards to surpass Mac Jones (3,801 in 2021) for fifth-most pass yards by rookie in NFL history.

QB CASE KEENUM completed 23 of 36 atts. (63.9 pct.) for 229 yards & TD vs. INT last week in first start of season.

RB DEVIN SINGLETARY had career-high 170 scrimmage yards (121 rush, 49 receiving) last week, most by a Houston RB in a game since Lamar Miller on 10/16/16 (178). Has 65+ scrimmage yards in five of past six. Had 97 scrimmage yards (86 rush, 11 receiving) and rush TD in his last game vs. Cleveland (11/20/22 w/ Buffalo Bills).

RB DAMEON PIERCE had 95 scrimmage yards (73 rush, 22 receiving) in last meeting.

WR NICO COLLINS has 808 receiving yards (115.4 per game) and six receiving TDs in seven home games this season, with 100+ rec. yards and receiving TD in each of his past two at home. Had TD catch in last meeting.

WR NOAH BROWN had eight catches for 82 yards and TD last week.

TE DALTON SCHULTZ had 58 receiving yards in Week 15. Has TD catch in four of his past five at home. Had 72 receiving yards and TD catch in only career game vs. Cleveland (10/4/20 w/ Dallas).

DE JONATHAN GREENARD led team with 2.5 sacks and had first FF of season last week. Aims for fourth in row with sack & third in row with 2+ sacks. Has career-high 12.5 sacks this season.

DT MALIEK COLLINS had five tackles & 1.5 sacks in Week 15. Aims for third in row with sack.

CB DESMOND KING led team with career-high 11 tackles and had two TFL & first sack of season last week. Had five tackles and FR in last meeting.

CB STEVEN NELSON had two PD and fourth INT of season in Week 15.

Whether this one is a boring, low scoring, ground grinder of a game, or an unexpected shootout between two aging veteran quarterbacks, the playoff implications with this one are huge.

NFL Communications

CLEVELAND BROWNS (9-5) at Houston (8-6); Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Cleveland clinches playoff berth with:

CLE win + CIN loss + DEN loss or tie + BUF loss + MIA win or tie + IND loss or tie OR

CLE win + PIT loss or tie + BUF loss + MIA win or tie + DEN loss or tie OR

CLE win + PIT loss or tie + BUF loss + MIA win or tie + JAX loss + IND win OR

CLE win + PIT loss or tie + DEN loss or tie + JAX loss + IND win OR

CLE win + PIT loss or tie + BUF loss + KC win + IND win + JAX loss OR

CLE win + PIT loss or tie + DEN loss or tie + MIA win or tie + IND loss OR

CLE win + PIT loss or tie + DEN loss or tie + MIA win or tie + JAX loss OR

CLE win + CIN-PIT tie + BUF loss + IND win + JAX loss

BALTIMORE RAVENS (11-3) at San Francisco (11-3); Christmas (Monday), 8:15 p.m. ET, ABC

Baltimore clinches AFC North division title with:

BAL win + CLE loss or tie OR

BAL tie + CLE loss

And, obviously, the Texans need this win to keep their upstart playoff dreams alive.

Brought to you by DraftKings Sportsbook.