How Texans' tactical edge over Browns could illuminate playoff blueprint

TEXANS ON TAP

The Houston Texans came away with a huge victory over the Titans on Sunday, and now set their sights on the Cleveland Browns, who come to Houston for an epic clash on Christmas Eve.

This game has massive playoff implications for both teams, as the Texans are on the bubble with the 8-seed (8-6), and the Browns currently hold a wild card spot as the 5 seed (9-5).

Both teams have been forced to play backup quarterbacks this season, and Joe Flacco has done a nice job, going 2-1 in his starts for Cleveland with Deshaun Watson out for the year. The Texans, on the other hand, hope to get rookie phenom CJ Stroud back this week, who's been in concussion protocol.

Speaking of Stroud, he will have his hands full dealing with the Browns' stout defense. Cleveland is first in yards against per game, as well as first in passing yards against. That's why getting receiver Nico Collins back from a calf injury could have a big impact on the outcome of the game. He appeared close to returning last week when he was working out before the game.

While the Browns are elite at stopping the pass, they're good against the run too. They're currently 11th in rushing yards against per game (102.21).

Texans running back Devin Singletary appears to have finally taken hold of the starting job, and his big catch and run in overtime helped secure the win for Houston on Sunday.

His use in the passing game appears to be increasing as well, he caught 4 passes for 49 yards against the Titans. This is an element of the offense that hasn't been utilized as much as we expected. Especially considering the Texans injuries at receiver. Checking passes down to the running back is a low risk way to pick up yards, and help a struggling running game (currently ranked 22nd).

What about the defense?

Jonathan Greenard has been a menace for opposing offensive linemen, he notched two more sacks last week and currently has 12.5 on the season. He'll have plenty of opportunities to add to that total this weekend with Joe Flacco flinging the ball all over the yard. He hasn't thrown less than 44 passes in all 3 of his starts.

What does Vegas think?

As of this writing, the Texans are 2.5 point home favorites and the point total is set at 42.5. We'll see if that changes once Stroud's status is revealed.

Don't miss the video above as we share our early preview of the matchup, predictions for the game, and much more!

Watch Texans on Tap (a Texans podcast) every Monday and Tuesday on our SportsMapTexans YouTube channel. Be sure to hit like and subscribe!

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Raners defeat the Astros, 4-2. Composite Getty Image.

Josh Smith homered twice with four RBIs to lead the Texas Rangers to a 4-2 win over the Houston Astros on Sunday.

Smith had a two-run shot in the first and added another one with two outs in the eighth to push the lead to 4-1. It’s the first multi-homer game of the 26-year-old’s career.

The Rangers won the last two games of the series after dropping Friday’s opener 6-3. They also got a 2-1 victory Saturday thanks to Nathaniel Lowe’s RBI single in the 10th inning.

Jake Meyers cut the lead to 1 with a solo home run in the third but the Astros went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position to fall to 50-46 entering the All-Star break.

Texas starter Max Scherzer allowed four hits and a run with six strikeouts in four-plus innings in his fifth start of the season.

Jon Singleton walked before a single by Jeremy Peña with no outs in the ninth. There was one out in the inning when Singleton scored on a groundout by Joey Loperfido to cut the lead to 4-2. Trey Cabbage grounded out to end it and give Kirby Yates his 16th save.

Ronel Blanco (9-4) permitted two hits and two runs with five strikeouts in six innings. He settled down after his tough first inning and retired the last 12 batters he faced.

Marcus Semien singled to start the game but was out at second when Corey Seager grounded into a foreceout. Smith gave the Rangers an early lead with his towering shot to the second deck to make it 2-0.

Meyers opened Houston’s third with a shot to the seats in left field to cut the lead to 2-1. Jose Altuve singled with two outs and stole second base but Scherzer struck out Alex Bregman for the third out.

The Astros had a shot to tie it or take the lead in the fifth. Peña and Meyers both singled before Loperfido walked to load the bases with no outs in the inning and chase Scherzer. Josh Sborz (2-0) took over and escaped the jam by striking out Mauricio Dubón before retiring Altuve on a pop up and Bregman on a groundout to end the inning.

Seager walked with two outs in the eighth before Smith connected again to give him 10 home runs this season.

Altuve reached on a fielding error by Smith with one out in the eighth before Bregman singled off José Leclerc. Jacob Latz took over and struck out Yordan Alvarez before Yainer Diaz grounded out to leave Houston emptyhanded again.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rangers: 3B Josh Jung (fractured right wrist) swung 15 times off a tee using a regular bat Sunday. Manager Bruce Bochy said he would continue increasing his activity during the break as he nears a rehabilitation assignment.

Astros: RHP Justin Verlander (neck discomfort) threw a bullpen session of 25 pitches Sunday. Manager Joe Espada said he looked “really good” and would throw another bullpen session during the break.

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