Baker Mayfield is on a roll. John Grieshop/Getty Images
The Texans are the owners of the NFL's longest win streak and the Browns pose a legitimate threat to end it. What a weird sentence to say one year ago.
1. The Texans have their hands full with the hottest rushing attack in football. Nick Chubb has the second most yards rushing the past four weeks and he's only played three games in that time. He has five total touchdowns. He's a monster. He's 15th in the league in rushing despite 16 total carries in his first 6 games. It's incredible the flashes he's shown early. Baker Mayfield knows what he brings to the table.
"You talk about the run game being able to open up our throwing lanes and play action," Mayfield said. "He's been a huge help to that because teams have to swarm to the ball when he has it. He's not going to go down by just one guy tackling him. He's gonna break tackles. He's gonna have extra yardage after that first contact."
If they're going to slow down Chubb it will be incumbent on Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney and linebacker and Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt not overplaying some of the rushing downs.
2. Baker Mayfield has been remarkably efficient in the Browns past two wins. He completed 85 percent and 73.1 percent of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns. With the rushing attack, Mayfield hasn't had to put up big yardage numbers. He hasn't thrown an interception since trying to lead a huge comeback against the Chiefs. Efficient quarterbacks can hurt the Texans a lot so there is some concern Mayfield could get going and never look back.
3. The Browns haven't allowed a sack in 125 snaps which is the longest current streak in the NFL. The Texans are sixth in sacks with 34 as a team. J.J. Watt has got hot and stayed hot with at least a sack in four straight games. Jadeveon Clowney has gotten to the quarterback in three straight. With Whitney Mercilus and Christian Covington getting going against the Titans the Browns sack streak should come to an end on Sunday.
4. The Steelers and the Chargers are the Sunday Night Football game. This means J.J. Watt's brothers Derek Watt, a Chargers fullback, and T.J. Watt, a Steelers linebacker, will face off. It will be the first time in Watt family history Derek has played against a brother. They, of course, can make contact with each other playing on opposite sides of the ball.
"I haven't figured out yet what I'm cheering for or supposed to be looking for," J.J. Watt said. "Now they're on both sides. They're going against each other. I hope T.J. gets a couple sacks. I hope Derek gets a touchdown or a carry has some great blocks. I hope the game, I dunno, ends in a tie, I guess that's the best thing for everybody. It's probably good for us too."
He said he would be "talking a lot of (trash)" in the group text with his brothers. Watt isn't wrong about rooting for a tie either. A tie is as good as a loss for catching the Steelers in the AFC, but it doesn't help a ton in pushing the Chargers down the AFC standings.
5. The Cowboys pulled off one of the most impressive wins of the season last night against the Saints. Their defense was on fire led by stud linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Professional football in Texas is LOADED at linebacker with the Cowboys crew and the Texans having Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham, and Dylan Cole (hopefully fully healthy soon). Dallas slowed the Saints offense as nobody else has come close to doing this season. Nothing seemed to work for New Orleans and the Dallas offense did just enough. If they ever started clicking on offense they'd be a viable Super Bowl contender in the NFC.
6. Patrick Mahomes can retake the lead as potential NFL MVP on Sunday. Mahomes was the darling early but Drew Brees caught up as the Saints got hot. With their cooling off last night, it is a huge opportunity for Mahomes to earn back some favor with the voters. He just so happens to be facing the lowly Raiders in Oakland. Kansas City is at least a 14 point favorite or more. With Oakland struggling, and the Chiefs coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Rams, it seems like a terrible matchup for the Raiders and a good chance for "Showtime" to show his MVP stuff.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.