The Houston Texans look set for the playoffs thanks to eight wins on the spin, but will anyone fear them given the weak schedule they've had? Mark Kirwan previews their week 13 game...
"Watson and his primary receiver DeAndre Hopkins are the great hopes on offence, but it's the defence that has to come through for them to keep grinding out wins. It's worked for the last eight weeks. Will they make it nine?"
Cleveland Browns @ Houston Texans
Live on Sky Sports Action
What to make of the Texans?
They lost their first three games, it looked like Deshaun Watson's ACL injury was lingering (or maybe it was just that his offensive line stunk), and the defence wasn't showing up despite Watt, Clowney and Mercilus rushing the passer and a bolstered secondary. Coach Bill O'Brien was a real candidate for canning before Monday.
And that was before you looked at the division they're in.
Jacksonville were a whistle away from a trip to the Super Bowl last season. Their rampaging defence was supposed to get better and the AFC South would be a stroll.
But we love this game because it doesn't always go to plan.
If anyone saw Houston's eight game winning streak coming, then ask them for lottery numbers - or just their picks for this week, because they know football better than I do.
Looking at the strength of their schedule, you could make the case that Houston should be about where they are. Besides the Patriots in week two, the frisky Colts and an occasionlly testing Titans, I'm not sure how many good-to-middling teams they've played.
Dolphins, Bills, Jags, Redskins, these are teams that, from week-to-week, you couldn't trust. And the Texans have caught each of the during this run they've put together.
Watson and his primary receiver DeAndre Hopkins are the great hopes on offence, but it's Watt's defence that has to come through for them to keep grinding out wins. It's worked the last eight weeks. Will they make it nine?
Talking of surprises, who saw Gregg Williams getting near a head-coaching gig again?
It's over 15 years since he crashed out of Buffalo's top job. That decade-and-a-half span was split in the middle by a central role in one of the biggest scandals the league's ever seen, and has been peppered with moves from team to team to coach defensive personnel, but the man's name had become a byword for bullish bluster and boneheaded bravado in a league incrementally moving towards brainier coaching choices.
And now he's the acting head coach of the Browns.
Weirder still, he's in the running for it permanently because they're winning so many games,
Well, two games, but given what went before...
The sheer, blessed relief of getting rid of Hue Jackson must account for some of this improvement. They gave him a lesson last week, with him having landed the Bengals' DC job as soon as he'd cleared his office in Cleveland.
It's Baker Mayfield who looks the most relieved to have Jackson gone. He's 50 points better in QB rating since the change, and the Browns' future looks great if he stays healthy. Fellow rookie Nick Chubb is also a great addition at running back and has been a part of their improvement, and their defence is stacked with good, young picks.
They just need to make sure they get the coaching hire right in the offseason. It 's not Williams.
I'd have preferred to get +7 on the handicap, with the shorter line looking like a reaction to the Browns slashing the Bengals last week. Still, I don't believe in the Texans despite their recent wins, they've been very fortunate in this run and plenty of those games could've gone either way.
Their defensive talent gives them a chance in any game, but the Cleveland unit can be a threatening too. Some will talk abut owner Bob McNair's recent passing and how this will motivate the home team, but I don't buy that - for one thing, McNair was one of the most clueless contributors to the Kaepernick controversy and aftermath among the owners, and that's a very competitive field.
The Browns offence is much more exciting now with OC Freddie Kitchens in place of Todd Haley. He's letting Nick Chubb loose and dialling up more experimental looks for their QB. The Texans aren't a great team and their run has to end soon, just as the Brownies halted their 25 road game losing streak in week 12. I'd take the Browns +6 for sure. I'd consider a moneyline play on the road dog too at [3.15].
For a touchdown scorer interest, Antonio Callaway is another rookie on the Browns capable of producing plays. He had some big drop problems early in the season, but is building rapport with Mayfield, and, at 17/1 for the first TD and 11/4 any time, he's worth a small investment.
1pt on Cleveland +6 on the Handicap market @ 1.99 on the Exchange
.5pt on Cleveland on the Moneyline market @ 3.15 on the Exchange
.1pt on Antonio Callaway on the First Touchdown Scorer market @ 17/1 on the Sportsbook
.5pt on Antonio Callaway on the Any Time Touchdown Scorer market @ 11/4 on the Sportsbook