If there was ever a time you would want to root for the Cleveland Browns, it would be today, as the AFC North bottom-dwellers could do the Pittsburgh Steelers a favor by knocking off the Houston Texans. Houston has won eight consecutive games, which is now the longest active winning streak in the NFL, after losing their first three.
With the Steelers losing last week to the Denver Broncos and falling to 7-3-1, the Texans’ win later in the week gave them a better record than Pittsburgh, which resulted in them moving up in the standings. If the Steelers want to get a bye week, then the only result they would absolutely need that they cannot produce themselves is another loss by the Texans.
There are currently three division leaders (and four teams overall) with a better record than Pittsburgh. They already lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, and would need them to lose not one but two games, in addition to winning out, to surpass them for the top seed.
The New England Patriots are the other division leader with a better record at 8-3, but because the Steelers still have a game against them later on in the season, they have the ability to control whether or not they are seeded higher than them.
Fortunately the Browns have been playing some of the best football they have played in…well, a long time, and have even shown glimpses of being actually good. Baker Mayfield has shown the ability to make some legitimately impressive throws and Nick Chubb is quickly becoming a very solid runner, while the defense has a lot of talent, including Myles Garrett, who has 10 sacks on the season.
But going into Houston and trying to beat the Texans is a huge ask and certainly would be more impressive than anything else they have accomplished to date during their current regime. To start with, they will have to find a way to contain DeShaun Watson, and I don’t think Denzel Ward is ready to shadow DeAndre Hopkins.
Moreover, they don’t have the bookend pass protection to neutralize the Texans’ pass rush led by J.J. Watt and supplemented by Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney. The Browns have done better in protecting Mayfield in recent weeks, but this is another level of talent.
Either way, if the Browns can find a way to put an end to the longest active winning streak in the NFL, it would be doing the Steelers a huge favor. Considering it took them 64 games to win back-to-back for the first time, expecting three wins in a row is a lot, but stranger things have happened.