Houston Texans vs. Cleveland Browns Pick & Prediction JANUARY 13th 2024

When the Houston Texans hired DeMeco Ryans as their coach last January and drafted quarterback C.J. Stroud with the second overall pick three months later, they were hoping that duo would someday lead the franchise to success.

Little did Houston know that “someday” would arrive much sooner than expected.

After securing a playoff berth for the first time since 2019, the Texans will look to keep exceeding expectations on Saturday when they face the visiting Cleveland Browns in an AFC wild-card game.

Houston (10-7) beat the Indianapolis Colts 23-19 last Saturday to punch its ticket to the postseason, then secured the AFC South crown when the Tennessee Titans downed the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

While Ryans is proud of how far the Texans have come, he doesn’t think his team’s ceiling is a division title.

“Everybody’s excited about it, happy about the division,” Ryans said. “Congrats, now we have to move on, we have to continue to play football and go win games in the playoffs. That’s what it’s about.”

Stroud had a remarkable freshman campaign, throwing for the third-most yards ever by a rookie (4,108) while tossing 23 touchdown passes against just five interceptions. He realizes he’s just one piece of the puzzle, though.

“To be (in) my first season and make the playoffs, man, it’s just been a heck of a year,” Stroud said. “Words can’t explain how proud I am of my teammates, and without them, there’s no meaning or no winning.

“It’s just a blessing just to be able to be part of something special.”

As Ryans and Stroud eagerly await the beginning of what they hope is a run of dominance for years to come, Cleveland quarterback Joe Flacco is preparing for what could very well be his last dance.

Flacco turns 39 next week, but he looks just as fresh as the 28-year-old version of himself that was named MVP of Super Bowl XLVII, where he led the Baltimore Ravens to a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

In five starts this season with the Browns (11-6), Flacco has gone 4-1 with 1,616 yards passing, 13 TDs and eight picks.

But most importantly, Flacco has given new life to a Cleveland team that lost two of its top playmakers — quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Nick Chubb — to season-ending injuries in the first 10 weeks of the season.

The Browns had rattled off four straight victories before falling 31-14 to the Cincinnati Bengals while resting starters in the regular-season finale last weekend.

Flacco said he believes the adversity Cleveland has faced will be beneficial come Saturday.

“It always helps to go through tough times and truly be tested,” Flacco said. “Whether that’s injuries or close games, finding your identity, things like that — they all help.”

Saturday marks Flacco’s 16th career playoff start, and he hasn’t been shy when it comes to sharing his postseason approach.

“I’ve said it to some of the guys — there’s not this daunting task of getting ready to prepare for 20 games. You’re preparing for one game. And that’s it,” Flacco said. “One game. Prepare as hard as you can for one week.”

Coach Kevin Stafanski said Thursday that safety Grant Delpit, who is battling a groin injury, has been ruled out. The Browns designated him to return from injured reserve on Thursday.

Also out against Houston are wide receiver Cedric Tillman (concussion) and kicker Dustin Hopkins (hamstring).

Cleveland defensive back Denzel Ward (knee), cornerback Mike Ford Jr. (calf), running back Pierre Strong Jr. (back) and safety Juan Thornhill (calf) are questionable.

Houston defensive ends Will Anderson Jr., Jonathan Greenard and Jerry Hughes all missed Tuesday’s practice due to ankle injuries. Defensive tackles Maliek Collins (hip) and Sheldon Rankins (shoulder) were also out, as was receiver Robert Woods (hip).

–Field Level Media

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