The 5-seed Cleveland Browns finally found out their first playoff opponent on Sunday, as a little help from the Jacksonville Jaguars led to the Houston Texans securing the 4-seed in Week 18.
As division winners, the Texans have earned home-field advantage for this contest, which is actually a rematch after these squads previously faced off on Christmas Eve.
That meeting resulted in a Browns victory, and oddsmaker like their chances again.
FanDuel Sportsbook's opening odds for Cleveland vs. Houston project the Browns as 1.5-point favorites on the spread. They're also -120 on the moneyline, compared to underdog +102 odds for the Texans.
This shows clear respect for what the Kevin Stefanski and co. have accomplished this season by being favored to win in the playoffs, and on the road at that.
While the recent face-off between these foes provides some valuable background ahead of kickoff, the finale 36-22 score does lack some context. The Texans were without likely Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud in that game, instead leaning upon Case Keenum and then Davis Mills to take down an elite defense.
With Stroud back, that changes quite a bit in terms of Houston's offense. He's been absolutely electric in his first season as a pro, racking up 4,108 yards and 23 touchdowns through the air. Even more impressively, he's kept the rookie mistakes to a minimum, recording just five interceptions throughout the campaign.
Still, the Browns have all the pieces to prove the oddsmakers right. Their incredible defense presents a challenge Stroud hasn't faced during the season, which could lead to his year ending on a sour note.
Meanwhile, Cleveland had no troubles offensively against the Texans, either. In fact, wide receiver Amari Cooper set a franchise record with 265 receiving yards during that game, adding 11 receptions and 2 touchdowns as well. As a whole, the Browns' offense recorded five TDs, including a pair on the ground -- so they know the weak points to exploit here.
This upstart Houston group won't go down without a fight, but Cleveland's veteran talent should see Stefanski's squad prevail.
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