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Head Coach DeMeco Ryans has the Houston Texans playing their best football at the best possible time

We all knew it, now the world does too.

NFL: JAN 13 AFC Wild Card - Browns at Texans Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns have the best defense in the NFL this year.

Well, had.

Now, they have the off-season to enjoy as they prepare for 2024.

The Houston Texans are one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Well, were.

Now, they’re one of the AFC’s Final Four, with only pne game between them and the young franchise’s first ever conference championship game.

If you somehow missed Saturday’s Wild Card matchup, do yourself a huge favor and find a way to watch it.

If you saw it on a screen, TV, computer, tablet, smart phone, you experienced history in the making.

If you were at NRG for the game - you had an afternoon you will never forget.

Peter King

HOUSTON—The Texans are going to be a problem in the divisional round. A big problem. They put up 31 offensive points on the game’s best defense Saturday, the coordinator consistently found ways to get his receivers waaaay clear of Cleveland’s noted DBs, C.J. Stroud is playing quarterback like Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello, the line held the almighty Myles Garrett to zero sacks and two pressures, and did I tell you the Texans have C.J. Stroud on their team?

If the Bills win this afternoon in the tundra of western New York, it’s Texans at Ravens this weekend. A Pittsburgh win would send Houston to Kansas City. Stroud at Lamar Jackson or Stroud at Patrick Mahomes—winner advancing to the AFC title game—would be a show I’d pay to see. That’d be no walkover for either of the AFC’s top seeds, not the way Stroud is playing. Check him out over his last three games, since returning from a concussion:

Accuracy: 75.9 percent (the record for a full season is 74.4).

TD-to-Interception: 6-0

Passer rating: 130.3 (which is insane).

Yards per attempt: 9.5 (a virtual first down every time he throws).

Remember the storylines when he was drafted? The S2 test storylines, when Stroud scored low on the exam purported to measure how players process information under real-time pressure? That Stroud was a poor “processor?” On Saturday, in the biggest game of his pro career, eight of his passes came against Cleveland pressure. He completed seven, for 118 yards, per Next Gen Stats and he did it while getting rid of the ball in 2.64 seconds, his second-fastest average time to throw in a game this year.

Let me extrapolate. Stroud’s a superb processor; he proved that against a great defensive coordinator, Cleveland’s Jim Schwartz, knowing exactly when to cut his losses and check down (not often) and when to turn it loose downfield. He’s playing faster and more efficient against pressure, and he’s in harmony with his play-caller, offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik. Truly, anyone who watched Stroud put up 348 yards, four TDs and 41 points against Georgia’s stifling defense in his last pre-NFL game and thought he’d have trouble making quick decisions as a pro is certifiable. But that narrative hasn’t worn on him.

In Houston’s stunning 45-14 rout, Stroud was so dominant against the league’s best defense that the Texans were able to call off the dogs early in the fourth quarter; he got yanked with 10 minutes left. By halftime Houston led 24-14, and Stroud had already thrown for more yards (236) and touchdowns (three) than Cleveland had allowed in any half all season. His play under pressure was a season-best, per the seven-of-eight Next Gen metrics. And playing so fast. You have to remind yourself the guy’s six years younger than Patrick Mahomes and he’s already in his league in how sees the field and makes decisions.

This turnaround in Houston—from 7-26-1 over the previous two years to 11-7 in the rookie years of Stroud and coach DeMeco Ryans—is a classic example of a quarterback meaning so much to a football franchise. From the moment he stepped into the huddle in training camp, exuding confidence, Stroud, just 22, won over his teammates. “I wish you guys could be in the huddle and just be around him,” tight end Brevin Jordan told reporters after the game. Named a captain before he ever played a regular-season game, Stroud’s attitude won over players, almost all of whom are older than he is. “I don’t think leadership has an age,” he told me earlier this season. “It’s something that’s in you. I didn’t come in demanding respect. I came in wanting to earn it.”

There’s a guy who gets it. At 22.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day from all of us at Battle Red Blog!