Texans vs. Browns Odds & Picks: Back Cleveland To Cover Sunday’s Spread
Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Baker Mayfield.
Texans vs. Browns Odds
With a 5-3 start to the season, the Browns are on pace for their first playoff berth since 2002. After a Week 9 bye and plenty of time to get healthy, they’ve been installed as favorites as they host the Texans, who are coming off a 27-25 victory over the divisional rival Jaguars.
Unfortunately for the Browns, the Texans have been their kryptonite — Houston has won five straight matchups in this series, including a 23-19 victory during Baker Mayfield’s rookie season in 2018.
Weather is sure to play a major factor in this matchup, as forecasts project an 80% chance of precipitation with sustained winds of 25 mph and wind gusts around 40. It’s no coincidence that we’ve seen movement on the total from the opener of 55.5 to the current line of 45.5 (compare real-time odds here).
Can the Browns finally get a win against the Texans, or will we see a repeat performance of their Week 8 weather-aided loss to the Raiders? I like Cleveland’s chances.
We’ve all heard the adage, “Good teams win, great teams cover.”
The Houston Texans are neither.
Halfway through their season, they sit at 2-6 with their only wins coming against the Jaguars. The Texans are also 1-7 against the spread — only the Cowboys are worse (1-8 ATS), and only by virtue of playing one more game this season.
With the damage Bill O’Brien has done to this team before being fired, you have to wonder how bad the Texans would be without Deshaun Watson.
Watson is fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, sixth in quarterback rating (108.7) and has thrown for 297 yards per game with 17 touchdowns. The Texans are fifth in passing success rate and fourth in explosive pass rate, as Watson has 30 passes for 20 or more yards, third-most among all NFL quarterbacks. His dual-threat ability is always difficult to defend, and Watson is coming off a game against the Jaguars in which he completed 19-of-32 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 10 times for 50 yards.
Even with Watson’s brilliance, the Texans are just 14th in offensive efficiency, as he’s been tasked with playing behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines — Houston’s unit is 32nd in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate and Watson has taken 24 sacks.
The offensive line isn’t doing much better at run blocking, either, as the Texans are 29th in adjusted line yards (3.86). Finally, they’re 28th in rushing success rate (46%) while averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, and are 31st with 87.6 yards per game on the ground.
In a game that’s likely to be impacted by rain and heavy winds, the ability to run the ball is paramount.
Making matters worse for the Texans is that they’ll be without starting running back David Johnson, who was ruled out with a concussion. Former Browns running back Duke Johnson will surely receive an increased workload after logging a career-high 16 rushes last week. He’s a clear downgrade from David — Duke has averaged 2.9 yards per carry and fumbled once against the Jaguars, who are average in rushing success rate and allow the eighth-most runs for 20 or more yards.
J.J. Watt — the team’s leader in sacks (4.0) and quarterback hits (8) as well as the face of the defense — is certainly playing his last season in Houston. That could be the least of the Texans’ worries, however, as their defense is giving up a league-worst 159.5 yards rushing per game on 5.1 yards per carry. They rank 28th in rushing defensive efficiency and explosive run rate, allowing 14% of rushes to go for 20 or more yards.
This will be problematic against a Browns rushing attack with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but it’s still just the tip of the iceberg for the struggles of this defensive unit.
The Texans haven’t been much better against the pass, either, ranking 26th in passing success rate. They just allowed Jaguars backup rookie quarterback Jake Luton to complete 26-of-38 passes for 304 yards to pair with one passing and one rushing touchdown.
With the Texans giving up 30.3 points per game (29th), it’s clear that even in inclement weather, they’ll have their work cut out for them.
The good news for the Browns is that they’ve gotten healthy during the bye, as they welcome the return of Chubb (MCL) and guard Wyatt Teller (calf).
Through the first four games with Chubb and Teller, the Browns had a rushing success rate of 57% and were first in rushing yards per game (205), yards per carry (5.0) and explosive run percentage, with 22% of their carries going for 20 or more yards. Their numbers have plummeted in Chubb’s and Wyatt’s absences, as the Browns have averaged just 95.5 yards per game (24th) and 3.9 yards per carry (24th) with a rushing success rate of just 43% (30th).
In a game with heavy rain and winds we can expect the Browns to lean on the ground game even more than usual.
A healthy combination of Chubb and Hunt with Teller blocking doesn’t bode well for a Texans defense that struggles against the run. Chubb also leads the league in explosive runs, with six or 20 or more yards despite not playing since Week 4.
The effect of Chubb and Wyatt in the lineup is cumulative, as Cleveland’s ability to take the pressure off Mayfield opens up play action, which is a staple of Kevin Stefanski’s offense. This helps to sustain drives and keep the defense off the field, giving the Browns more time to rest — something that didn’t happen in their Week 8 loss to the Raiders, who dominated time of possession (37:43 vs. 22:17).
Houston’s secondary also provides a favorable matchup for Mayfield as the Texans are giving up the highest rating to opposing quarterbacks (111.2) and the 11th-most yardage to the position (256.3.) Thus we could see a repeat of Mayfield’s Week 7 performance in Cincinnati, when he completed 22-of-28 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns, including the game-winner in the final seconds.
The Browns are eighth in early down success rate and fourth in the red zone, converting 76% of their trips inside of the 20-yard line into touchdowns, and nothing we’ve see from the Texans’ defense suggests that will change this week.
The Browns have gotten healthy on defense, as well. Myles Garrett leads the NFL in sacks (nine) and forced fumbles (four) and returned to practice this week after injuring his knee in Week 8.
Unlike the Raiders, the Texans won’t be able to push this Browns defensive line around — Houston has one of the worst offensive lines, ranking 32nd in pass protection with an adjusted sack rate of 8.8%.
The Browns secondary has left a lot to be desired, as they’re giving up 264.6 passing yards per game. However, they are limiting explosive plays and rank eighth among all NFL teams with just 7% of passing plays going for 20 or more yards.
If the Texans can’t run the ball efficiently and struggle to get explosive plays, Sunday could be a good day for the Browns defense.
The Browns have made a habit of beating inferior competition. Their five victories have come against teams that have a combined record of only 11-21-1 with a point differential of -93: The Bengals (twice), Washington, Cowboys and Colts. And of those five, only the Colts have a winning record (5-3) and positive point differential (+48).
With a 2-6 record, a point differential of -46 and their only two wins coming against the Jaguars, the Texans are right at home on this list of bad teams that the Browns have used as a springboard for what could turn out to be their first playoff appearance in 18 years.
Overall, this is the perfect get-right spot after a disappointing, weather-aided loss to the Raiders and a bye that allowed the Browns’ stars to get healthy. Unlike in their loss to the Raiders, the Browns will have the services of Chubb and Teller, so we should expect a better offensive output on Sunday.
The Browns are a playoff team, and proving that starts with winning games like this one. I’m laying the points up to -4.
PICK: Browns -4