With only three games left in the regular season, the Browns stand at 9-5 and are currently the fifth seed in the AFC. This week, they take on the Texans, who are 8-6 and battling to get in the playoffs.
Here are three questions the Browns must answer on Sunday.
Will the defense stop the Texans pass offense?
If the Browns were playing at home, this wouldn't be such a burning question. However, this season, the defense hasn't performed up to their usual standards on the road.
In six road games this season, the Browns defense allows an average of 236.17 yards per game. While at Cleveland Browns Stadium, they hold teams to an average of 135.5 yards.
The defense will go against a Texans offense that averages 328.4 passing yards at home. Overall, this season, they have thrown 3,890 passing yards – the second-best in the league – and have the fewest interceptions with six.
This week, there's potential for QB Case Keenum to get the start, as QB C.J. Stroud is still in concussion protocol and was officially ruled out on Friday. Keenum is a veteran quarterback who can continue the success the Texans have this season in passing the ball. In Week 15, he completed 23 of 36 passes, throwing for 229 yards, a touchdown and an interception. This helped the Texans secure a victory against the Titans, winning 19-16 in overtime.
"A true vet that has seen everything," DC Jim Schwartz said. "Very accurate passer. He does it a little bit differently than C.J. Stroud but led him to a win last week. And when it's all said and done, head coaches and quarterbacks are judged on wins, and Case Keenum is a winner. So, we're going to have to play our very best against him."
Will the Browns throw an interception?
QB Joe Flacco threw three interceptions against the Bears in Week 15, and it took a great fourth quarter from both sides of the ball to win the game. In Week 16, the Browns will face a Texans defense that has picked off passes all season.
The Texans have forced 12 interceptions, and seven out of their eight wins came when they picked off a pass. In the five games where Houston didn't cause an interception, they lost four and won a close game against the Buccaneers in the other.
The Texans are also a team that capitalizes off turnovers. According to the NFL Football Database, the Texans are fourth in the league in turnover differential at plus eight.
Despite Flacco throwing four interceptions in the last two games, the Browns still managed to win on Sunday. Mistakes happen, and the Browns say they do not get worried as much since Flacco is a veteran.
"If that's a younger player, you start to get a little frazzled; but the older you get, the more interceptions you throw in your time," OC Alex Van Pelt said. "You just got to keep fighting. Go back to the guys like (Dan) Marino, you got to keep swinging."
Will there be opportunities to run the ball?
The Browns' run numbers have been down in the past two weeks due to facing defenses that are good at stopping the run. In Week 14 against the Jaguars, they averaged 2.9 yards per carry, and against the Bears in Week 15, the Browns rushed for a season-low 29 yards on 18 attempts.
At NRG Stadium, they will play a Texans defense ranked second in the league in holding opposing runners to 3.4 yards per carry. Houston's run defense is good, but they are currently missing two significant pieces in their operation. LB Blake Cashman and rookie DE Will Anderson Jr. missed Week 15 with injuries and did not practice this week. Both Anderson and Cashman were officially ruled out for Sunday's game, neither practiced throughout the week. Cashman leads the Texans in tackles with 85 in 12 games played. Anderson Jr. has 42 tackles and five sacks in 13 games.
If they can't go, the Browns shouldn't shy away from running the ball in a hostile environment. It will be beneficial to have some consistency in the run game on Sunday because the Texans have given up 16 rushing touchdowns, the sixth worst in the league.
"Stay balanced, man," RB Kareem Hunt said. "We need to run the ball when we have to. Just because those guys are out doesn't mean other guys off the bench won't be hungry to get some action. We need to run hard and keep the same mentality no matter who is out there. We should run the ball to keep them on their toes."