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Browns, Texans playoff game is a battle of unexpectedly great quarterbacks

Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco runs off the field at half time of an NFL football game.
Sue Ogrocki
Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Flacco will lead the team in a wild-card playoff game against the Houston Texans Saturday, Jan. 13.

The Browns, who overcame injuries all season to earn an NFL wild-card playoff berth, will face the Houston Texans on Saturday. Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto says the game centers on the unlikely quarterback matchup of veteran Joe Flacco and rookie C.J. Stroud.

“When Joe Flacco was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, I believe C.J. Stroud was, like, 6 years old. And by the time Flacco last played in a playoff game, by the way it was 2014, so it's quite a while ago, C.J. Stroud was in junior high,” Pluto said.

Stroud, the 22-year-old former Ohio State quarterback, has been playing like a veteran, something no one expected, Pluto said. He’s thrown 23 touchdown passes, five interceptions, a 64% completions rate and a 9-6 record as a starter. Flacco, meanwhile, who turns 39 next week, has won his last four starts. In five games, he’s thrown 13 touchdown passes and is averaging 323 passing yards and 29 points per game.

“It's the first go around for Stroud and for most of the Houston players. Because the previous three years, before Stroud arrived, they won either three games or four games, they were just a dismal franchise. Browns fans know the Browns did go to the playoffs in 2020, but they don't go there very often, either,” Pluto said.

The game will be played in Houston’s NRG Stadium. “So, it's going to be in the dome on artificial turf, which is going to put a premium on speed. When the Browns played Houston a couple weeks ago on Christmas Eve, they (the Browns) just ran all over them. The big difference is C.J. Stroud was out with a concussion in that game, and Houston also did not have several other key defensive players,” Pluto said.

Pluto said even though the Browns (11-6) finished with a better record than Houston (10-7), the NFL awards home-field advantage to division winners. Houston won its AFC South division, while the Browns finished just behind Baltimore in the AFC North.

“All four teams (in the AFC North) had winning records. Three of the teams are in the playoffs. It is the toughest division to win. So that rule works against them,” Pluto said.

Pluto likes the Browns’ chances, especially if receiver Amari Cooper is healthy.

“My guess is Cooper will play. If you look at his career record, I think he's only missed, like, eight games his entire career. And it's, like, a nine-year career. In terms of Flacco, these first-round games, these wild-card games, when he was with Baltimore, Flacco played in five of them and won them all. Almost every game he's played since coming to Cleveland, it's been sort of like a playoff game, meaning that they needed to finish strong just to get in the playoffs. And you know, he delivered,” Pluto said.

The Browns play the Texas Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at NRG Stadium.

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