This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Houston Texans in Week 16. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, and general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
Late-Season Injury Factor
- Both teams are dealing with significant injuries at this stage of the season, starting with the quarterback position. The curveball factor is that after four quarterbacks, the Browns have been able to flip their situation to an advantage, with Joe Flacco thriving through the air. Not only that, this marks the third week in a row that Flacco is facing a defense that has a terrible pass defense, which gives him a great chance to lead the offense and get further to a playoff berth.
- The Texans, meanwhile, have Case Keenum under center. Keenum has been known to manage a game in relief and do enough to lead a victory. It happened last week against the Titans. However, take into factor the type of offensive production the Texans will get with him at quarterback. They settled for three field goals through three quarters, then got their first touchdown with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. They won it with a 54-yard field goal as the clock in overtime expired.
- Keenum manages the offense pretty well, has a little bit of mobility, and keeps the offense relatively calm. Against this aggressive Browns defense, that continues to be a formula that I think plays into our hands. We saw the Browns' secondary thrive last week as they got close to full strength at cornerback, so scoring points could be hard to come by for the Texans.
- It's about time that the Browns get some positive news on the injury front, where players are actually coming back. This week, center Ethan Pocic should return, and there's a chance that Joel Bitonio will be back at left guard too. The Texans' run defense, much like the Bears last week, has been good, but it should help the Browns a lot in pass protection.
Shaking the Road Woes
- One factor that maybe we haven't taken seriously enough is the Browns' road efforts. They are 2-4, but even when you think about those wins, they required heroics in high-scoring affairs against the Colts and Ravens. They've lost to the Steelers, Seahawks, Broncos, and Rams on the road. How can Cleveland flip the switch to put together a definitive victory on the road? Curtiss Brown went into more detail about that here.
- When I think back to the two most recent road losses, I think of two things: the opposition got off to fast starts, thanks to Denzel Ward being out. That isn't an issue this week, in my opinion. Second, offensive turnovers have set up other teams with way too good of field position. Even last week against the Bears, their points basically came from Cleveland turnovers. I think it was good for Flacco to see how much Chicago thrived last week by playing those underneath/short routes, because it allowed him to push the ball down the field more. Opposing teams are going to be more prepared for that now, which opens everything up, and Houston has had a lot of mental lapses with their pass defense.
- The Browns are 2-4 on the road, and the Texans are 5-2 at home.
- Marquise Goodwin was targeted once on a 50+ yard bomb last week in his return, and Flacco connected with him. While other quarterbacks missed him this year, Flacco was on the money, and you can bet that Cleveland will look for him to get one or two deep attempts per game.
- A reminder of what Flacco has done to the team's ability to believe:
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 3 point favorites against the Texans.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I'm expecting the Browns to click on all cylinders this week, with their defensive aggression leading to three-and-outs, and the offense moving the ball well through the air and controlling field position.” Browns 27, Texans 13
Thomas Moore: “Somehow, someway, the Browns have been finding a way to win this season. If the offense can figure out a way to stop turning the ball over life would be a lot simpler, albeit less entertainingly heart-stopping for fans. That should be the case on Sunday as Cleveland’s offense finally plays a clean game, the defense does its thing against old friend Case Keenum and the Browns send everyone off to a Merry Christmas.” Browns 20, Texans 10
Barry Shuck: “I believe either team can win this one, and both need the win badly. For the Browns, I am skeptical about the O-Line and think this unit could be Cleveland’s undoing. Four backups? And both tackles are playing badly. The defense and kicking game is what is keeping the Browns in games. Hope for the best." Browns 27, Texans 20
Jared Mueller: “As Christmas weekend/week arrives, the Cleveland Browns have been giving out presents at home and coal on the road to their fans. With the Houston Texans likely rolling without CJ Stroud, Will Anderson Jr. and Blake Cashman, the Browns are finally matching up with another team that has had the injury bug hit them hard.
At this point, the only thing I trust is the over (currently set at 40) because Cleveland’s defense struggles greatly on the road and Joe Flacco has started to put things together for the offense.” Browns 24, Texans 23
Curtiss Brown: “It’s such a shame that both Deshaun Watson and C.J. Stroud aren’t playing in this game. Definitely felt this game would’ve had flex potential but Joe Flacco and Case Keenum will do. After watching the Texans, I’ve realized two things. Their offense is one dimensional (their running game is not existent) and their pass defense (mainly their cornerback room outside of Derek Stingley) isn’t great. The Texans and the Browns are cool stories considering the amount of adversity both teams have been through and both coaches in Kevin Stefanski and DeMeco Ryans have strong cases to win Coach of the Year. Offense needs to not turn the ball over and the defense needs to carry what they did at home on the road, because if this team were to make the playoffs they would have to play a road playoff game.
Must win game for playoff positioning. Take care of business and prepare for the home finale on Thursday (I will be in attendance).” Browns 20, Texans 17
Matt Wood: “Browns have been different on the road. Defense has been torched, especially lately, away from Dawg Pound. But I think this matchup can go well for the Browns especially against an offense starting Case Keenum. Browns can focus on slowing down the ground game.
As for the offense keep feeding Njoku. He has quietly climbed into the top 3 of the AFC TE ranks and has been a major weapon all around on an offense starved for playmakers.
I think Flacco does enough, defense forced a few turnovers (a game where we win the turnover battle?!) and the good guys take another step to the playoffs.” Browns 20, Texans 15
Ezweav: “Really unfortunate for CJ Stroud, looks like his concussion is a pretty bad one and so hope he’s able to recover fully and continue his progress from what was a fine rookie season for the former Buckeye.
That said this now puts the game squarely in Cleveland’s favor, as oddsmakers demonstrated almost immediately. It’s the same story every week for the good guys: just don’t turn the ball over and the defense will carry the day. Unfortunately Joe Flacco has been a turnover machine so far but has also made all kinds of huge plays. So what we have is the opposite of a game manager situation but that might actually work out better in the long run.
Defense has been inconsistent on the road this year but this one looks ripe for them to eat. Laremy Tunsil might slow down Myles a little bit but Keenum probably doesn’t have the talent to take any kind of advantage since we have studs everywhere that can make up anything with speed and skill.
Unbelievable to say this after what this season has been so far but the Browns are going to make three in a row and move to 10 wins, and with the Ravens in ‘Frisco this week, the division might be in play at the end of it.
(Season-long shouting out to NTN continues)” Browns 11, Texans 5
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.