Everyone had this one penciled at the beginning of the season. Everyone in Houston wanted to see how C.J. Stroud would measure up with Deshaun Watson. Sadly, the football gods had other things in mind and decided that neither should play in this game. Yet, both teams are fighting for their playoff lives and would see their odds of making the postseason spike with a win.
Chris Pokorny is as surprised as anyone as to how the Brown’s season has turned out. Four different quarterbacks have started and won games for them this season. Joe Flacco is just the latest and that is where our conversation began in advance of Sunday’s game.
Battle Red Blog: Joe Flacco has been one of the biggest surprise stories in the league this season. What have you seen from him the last few weeks that you didn’t see from the other quarterbacks? How does the Cleveland Browns’ offense generally operate with him at the helm? Secondarily, are the Browns and their fans rethinking the Watson deal at this point, or do they see this season as just an unfortunate lost season due to injury?
Chris Pokorny: I’ll start with the question about Deshaun Watson. At this point, I think most fans are done debating/discussing Watson’s contract with the Browns. It is what it is — he was paid a ridiculous amount, and the team coughed up three first-round picks, and he’s hardly seen any action in the first two years of that deal. It sucks. With that said, Watson still provides a unique threat on offense, one that he finally showed in a win over the Ravens earlier this year...and then it was learned that he’d need shoulder surgery. Of course. I think the mentality now is that we know Watson is the unquestioned starter for the next few years, so why continue beating the dead horse of talking about his contract.
Regarding Joe Flacco, he has blown me away. Obviously, I saw him face the Browns many times as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, but he is performing just as good as he did in his prime in my opinion with respect to his capabilities. The arm strength is still there, his accuracy and touch have been spot on, and his deep ball has been on point. He has even surprised me with some of his mobility and navigation of the pocket. The main thing I see from Flacco compared to the other quarterbacks is that Flacco generally has very good ball placement. He’ll put it right on the receiver so they can catch the ball in stride and continue running.
BRB: Myles Garrett has been the talk of the league on defense for most of the season. Do you still see him as a good defensive player of the year candidate? Who do you see as his primary competition for that spot?
CP: Myles Garrett should definitely be in consideration for defensive player of the year. I don’t know if him not having a sack for the past four weeks will hurt his odds of getting it, but the combination of the Browns’ defense being highly-ranked in general, and the fact that he is always double- and triple-teamed yet still generates 90+ grades from PFF each week, is a testament to the impact he has and how he helps make the talent around him better. As far as other contenders for defensive player of the year, I think it’s always hard for voters to decide on one player; whether it’s Watt, Parsons, etc., I’m not one to fight about who deserves it more, because they’re all elite.
BRB: Who are some of the unsung players on offense and defense that we haven’t heard about, but should make a huge impact on Sunday?
CP: On offense, most of the Browns’ impactful players are known (i.e. Amari Cooper and David Njoku), so I will go with rookie receiver Cedric Tillman. He’s not doing anything special per se, but Joe Flacco is allowing the entire offense to shine, and that means Tillman is getting four to five catches for 50 yards per week.
On defense, there are far more names to go with, but I’ll single out linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and rookie safety Ronnie Hickman. Hickman has been playing due to injuries at the safety position, but he has blown everyone away with his instincts and pursuit of the ball, looking like an energetic veteran out there. JOK has really been stepping things up with his pursuit of running backs and making stops in the backfield; he could develop into a future Pro Bowler.
BRB: The AFC North is routinely the toughest division in professional sports. Since the Browns have so many rivalries going back years with those teams, who does the fanbase enjoy beating the most? If the Ravens take the division, who do you see winding up in second place between the Browns and Bengals?
CP: I think it differs with the age of fans, but from my perspective, there is never any “hatred” of a rivalry with the Bengals. The Steelers are viewed as “the main rivalry” on paper, but because we were so bad for so long, I think the rivalry lost luster for a 20-year span, even though it was still thrilling to beat them. When it comes to Baltimore, I think there is more legitimate hatred, since they were a franchise started when the team in Cleveland originally moved, and then Baltimore has had constant success since then. I feel like Browns fans would still label the Steelers as their biggest rival, but deep down, just freaking hate the Ravens more with a passion, if that makes sense. And I easily see the Browns winding up in first or second place in the division.
5) The Houston Texans (+3) opened as slight favorites, but DraftKings dramatically shifted those odds when it was reported that C.J. Stroud is unavailable again. Now, the Browns (-3) are favored to win the game. How do you see the game turning out and are there any prop bets you feel comfortable recommending?
CP: With C.J. Stroud’s concussion, we’ve seen the line now shift to the Browns being favored by three points. The Texans’ pass defense isn’t their strength, and Joe Flacco has thrived throwing the ball for the past few weeks. Meanwhile, we’re familiar with Case Keenum’s game manager style at quarterback, and that’s exactly the type of quarterback style that allows the Browns’ defense to tee off this season. I’m expecting Cleveland to pull off the win, but for a prop bet, I’ll take Flacco having under 244.5 passing yards. Although he’ll have success through the air, I don’t think Cleveland will be needing to come from behind a lot, so it won’t need to be the 370+ yard effort he had last week.
It’s the Christmas season and everyone gets Christmas a little early as these two teams battle for playoff positioning. Certainly, they have taken two different paths to get here, but both have been improbable in their own way. We want to thank Chris for taking the time to answer our questions and we want to wish him and Dawgs By Nature the best of luck for the remainder of the season. We of course hope that luck starts on Christmas Day.