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Quick Hits: Cleveland Browns vs Houston Texans Wildcard Game Preview

The AFC South Champions enter the playoffs.

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns just faced each other on Christmas Eve, a few short weeks ago. In that matchup, minus soon-to-be Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud, the Texans fell to the Browns 36 to 22.

Heading into this Saturday’s matchup, Stroud is back - and on fire. Last weekend, in front of the entire world, Stroud torched the Indianapolis Colts defense on the very first play of the game, then led the team on a last minute game winning drive at the end.

Can Joe Flacco do that with his Baltimore Cleveland Browns?

Let’s set the record straight, Flacco was a good quarterback and has done some great things this season, in the twilight of his career. But, he was never C.J. Stroud.

And, even though Flacco and the Browns are currently favored by three, both teams have equal odds at winning it all.

Now, the Browns are nothing to sneeze at this season - they’ve done some good things for a city that needs to forget they gave a life-changing fortune to [NAME REDACTED II] after trading him away from the Texans.

But, the Browns are lacking the X-Factor that Houston has in spades.



• BROWNS clinched postseason for second time in past 20 years (2020). Led NFL in total defense (270.2 yards allowed/game) in 2023, fewest yards per game allowed in a season since Seattle in 2014 (267.1).

• KEVIN STEFANSKI can become first Cleveland HC to win multiple playoff games since Marty Schottenheimer (playoff wins in 1986-87).

• QB JOE FLACCO is first player in NFL history with 250+ pass yards & 2+ TD passes in each of first five games with a team & second player ever with 300+ pass yards in four of first five games with a team. Since becoming Cleveland starter in Week 13, ranks second in NFL with 1,616 pass yards & tied for second with 13 TD passes. Is 10-5 in 15 career playoff starts, with 2+ TD passes in each of his past eight playoff starts. Has seven career road playoff wins, tied with Tom Brady for most in NFL history by starting QB.

• RB JEROME FORD set career highs with 1,132 scrimmage yards & nine TDs (five rec., four rush) in 2023. Finished season with TD in two of past three, incl. rush TD in Week 16 meeting.

• RB KAREEM HUNT led team with career-best nine rush TDs in 2023. Had rush TD in Week 16 meeting. Can become fourth player ever with rush TD in each of first four career playoff games.

• WR AMARI COOPER made fifth-career Pro Bowl in 2023 after leading team with 1,250 rec. yards in 2023 & had five rec. TDs, becoming fourth player ever with 5+ rec. TDs in each of first nine seasons. Had 11 catches for career-high 265 yards & two TDs in Week 16 meeting. Had TD catch in each of his past two playoff games.

• TE DAVID NJOKU made first-career Pro Bowl in 2023 after setting career highs in catches (81), rec. yards (882) & rec. TDs (six). Finished season with TD catch in three of past four.

• G JOEL BITONIO made sixth-career Pro Bowl this season.

• DE MYLES GARRETT made fifth-career Pro Bowl in 2023 after third-straight season with 14+ sacks (14). Has TFL in five of six career games vs. Houston, including two in Week 16 meeting.

• LB JEREMIAH OWUSU-KORAMOAH led team with career-high 98 tackles & ranked fourth in NFL with career-high 20 TFL this season. Had two PD & INT in Week 16 meeting. Owusu-Koramoah & Garrett (17) only pair of teammates each with 15+ TFL in 2023.

• CB DENZEL WARD made third-career Pro Bowl with 11 PD in 2023 & is one of two in NFL (James Bradberry) with 10+ PD in each of past six seasons.

One stat that jumps out and is often a HUGE factor in the postseason? Turnovers.

Houston head coach DeMeco Ryans has his squad sitting at the end of the season with a +10 turnover differential. That’s tied for third best in the league.

Cleveland? Well, let’s just say -9 isn’t tied for best at all... in fact, it makes them fifth worst.

In their last matchup, both teams gave away two interceptions, but lost no fumbles. Say what you will about Case Keenum, but he doesn’t have the ball security skills that Stroud possesses.

NFL Communications

After being selected with the second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Houston quarterback C.J. STROUD recorded 4,108 passing yards and 23 touchdown passes with a 100.8 rating in his rookie season, the third-most passing yards and third-highest passer rating among qualified rookie quarterbacks in NFL history.

With 229 passing yards on Saturday against Cleveland (4:30 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, Telemundo), Stroud will surpass JUSTIN HERBERT (4,336 passing yards in 2020) for the second-most passing yards ever by a rookie, including postseason. Only ANDREW LUCK (4,662 in 2012) has more.

Stroud tied for the league lead with 300 passing yards in six games this season, tied for the second-most 300-yard games ever by a rookie. With 300 passing yards on Saturday, Stroud can become the fifth rookie quarterback ever to record 300 passing yards in a postseason game, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer SAMMY BAUGH, DAK PRESCOTT, BROCK PURDY and RUSSELL WILSON.

With a win against Cleveland this weekend, Stroud can become the fourth rookie quarterback that was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft to win a postseason game in the common-draft era, joining JOE FLACCO (2008), BEN ROETHLISBERGER (2004) and MARK SANCHEZ (2009).


• TEXANS won first division title since 2019. Became first team in Super Bowl era to win division with rookie HC & rookie QB.

• DEMECO RYANS is first Houston HC to make playoffs in first season.

• QB C.J. STROUD totaled 4,108 pass yards & 23 TD passes this season, third-most pass yards by rookie in NFL history. Became fourth qualifying rookie QB ever with 100+ passer rating (100.8). Had six games with 300+ pass yards in 2023, tied-most in NFL & tied for second-most ever by rookie. Had 18 TDs (17 pass, one rush) vs. four INTs with 108.3 rating in eight home starts this season.

• RB DEVIN SINGLETARY totaled 1,091 scrimmage yards (career- high 898 rush, 193 rec.) in first season with Houston & is one of six RBs with 950+ scrimmage yards in each of past five seasons. Has three rush TDs in his past four playoff games.

• WR NICO COLLINS became third Houston player ever (DeAndre Hopkins & Andre Johnson) with 1,200+ receiving yards (1,297) in a season. Had nine catches for career-high 195 yards & TD last week. Had TD catch in Week 16 meeting. Had 906 rec. yards (100.7 per game) & seven rec. TDs in nine home games this season.

• WR NOAH BROWN had career-best 567 rec. yards in 2023.

• WR ROBERT WOODS has 38 catches (6.3 per game) in six career playoff games, with 5+ catches in five of six games.

• TE DALTON SCHULTZ is one of three TEs (Travis Kelce & George Kittle) with 50+ catches, 500+ rec. yards & 5+ rec. TDs in each of past three seasons. Had eight catches for 61 yards in Week 16 meeting. Has TD catch in each of his past two playoff games.

• T LAREMY TUNSIL was named to fourth-career Pro Bowl this season.

• DE JONATHAN GREENARD led team with career-high 12.5 sacks in 2023 & finished season with sack in three of his last four.

• DE WILL ANDERSON (rookie) has six sacks in his past five games at home, with two sacks in each of his past two at home.

• LB BLAKE CASHMAN led team with career-high 104 tackles this season & had career-best nine TFL. Aims for his seventh in row at home with 6+ tackles.

• LB CHRISTIAN HARRIS had career-high 100 tackles & seven TFL in 2023. Has 5+ tackles in each of past 10 & a TFL in three of past four.

• CB DEREK STINGLEY led team with career-best 13 PD & five INTs this season. Has PD in three of past four, including two in Week 16 meeting.

NFL Communications

NEW YORK ­— Jan. 9, 2024 — No one scripts and spawns hope like the National Football League.

Two of the best examples of that hope will kick off the 2023 NFL Playoffs when the CLEVELAND BROWNS (11-6) meet the HOUSTON TEXANS (10-7) at NRG Stadium on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, Telemundo).

The Texans completed a worst-to-first turnaround by winning the AFC South the year after finishing in last place. In 19 of the past 21 seasons (2003-23), at least one NFL team has won its division the year after finishing last or tied for last. Houston became the first team with a rookie head coach (DEMECO RYANS) and rookie starting quarterback (C.J. STROUD) to win its division in the Super Bowl era (1966-present).


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