CLEVELAND, Ohio — Was it foreshadowing for the Browns-Texans game Sunday when the Saints had their 10-game winning streak snapped by the Cowboys?
Browns interim coach Gregg Williams used that big upset by the then 6-5 Cowboys as motivation for his 4-6-1 team, who will face an 8-3 Texans team that’s on an eight-game winning streak.
“It’s what GW said, if you watched the game (Thursday) night – the Cowboys and New Orleans – anything can happen,’’ said defensive end Chris Smith.
The Texans are the first team in NFL history to win eight straight after losing their first three. But they’re coming off a short week, having beaten the Titans 34-17 on Monday night.
The Browns will either catch them a little tired, or on such a roll that the short week won’t matter. The Texans are also in the midst of a three-game homestand, and will be out to sweep those games in a heated playoff race.
The biggest test for the Browns will be their resurgent offense — 9 TDs and 1 interception for Baker Mayfield in his last three games — against the Texans’ stout defense, led by former Browns coach Romeo Crennel. They’re No. 8 in total yards, including seventh against the run (96.8 yards) and 11th against the pass (236.8 yards). They’re also fifth with 20.2 points allowed.
Browns and Texans: 5 things to watch
The Browns will have their hands full with premier defensive end J.J. Watt, who’s tied for second in the NFL with 11.5 sacks, and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who’s second on the team with seven. Watt has been limited all week with a knee injury and is listed as questionable, but if he plays, he’ll be a threat on every play.
“J.J. is just a beast,’’ Watson said on a conference call. “He’s a different animal. The way he goes about his business, the way that he works, the way he competes, the way he eats, works out and sleeps – everything is just top notch, best in the world.’’
Watson is 11th in the NFL with a 101.0 QB rating and receiver DeAndre Hopkins is tied for ninth in the league with 73 catches and seventh with 1,024 yards, but the Texans are only 14th with 24.8 points per game and 27th in red zone scoring. Myles Garrett, tied for seventh in the NFL with 10 sacks, is looking for a big game, and he could have one against a team that’s surrendered 37 sacks — fourth most in the NFL.
The bigger threat for the Texans is their No. 4 rushing attack, with 136.5 yards per game. Last week against the Titans, they rushed for a franchise-record 281 yards, including 162 by Lamar Miller, who broke free for a 97-yard TD. The Browns are 28th against the run with 131.8 yards allowed per game.
“He still has his elite speed and showed that we got to wrap him up because he broke two or three tackles on that run and then continued to accelerate and finish,’’ said Jabrill Peppers. “That’s something that we haven’t seen out of a running back this year. We’ve played against great running backs, but they didn’t have the speed that Lamar has.’’
The Texans are ripe for an upset, but Watt, Clowney and linebacker Whitney Merciless will make it tough.
My prediction: Texans 24, Browns 20.