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2020 NFL Power Rankings: Wild Card Round

We’ve come to the end!

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We made it! We’ve crossed the finish line on this absolutely putrid Houston Texans football season. All 256 beautiful regular season football games have come and gone, all of which somehow being completed during a pandemic. The offseason drama got to play itself out on stage, some realizing their ends, others yet to conclude.

The Texans entered the season with a healthy amount of drama their own. A stunning trade, questionable offseason acquisitions, intriguing draft selections, and Super Bowl expectations to top it all off. It was an offseason of hype. Those optimistic of the 2020 season saw an offense primed to embrace the deep-ball and a defense with the potential to be...alright. Those less fond of our aspirations saw a regression from 2019 and some major retooling needed on the defensive side before any playoff run could occur. Those unsure of what to make of a team that had such a unique perspective on assembling a roster saw the lack of a first and second round pick in next year’s draft as evidence it was time to win now, and everything relied on the abilities of #4. Well, #4 did all he could, but that just wasn’t enough this time around.

The DeAndre Hopkins trade drama played out masterfully awful for all Texans fans as our former number one wideout transformed Kyler Murray while Watson toiled away with a revolving door of pass catchers. Watson still had an amazing season despite it all. The best of his career, in fact. Unfortunately, even he couldn’t save us from this defense. 4-12 felt like an impossibility in August, a frightening projection in early October, and a harsh reality in December.

To me, no individual game symbolized the entire season more than this finale against the Titans. It was the perfect 2020 Texans game. Houston played against a team that had a very clear gameplan on offense which would torch our defense nearly every possession. Deshaun Watson would be completely responsible for orchestrating a comeback every drive in order to keep the game in hand, which he would accomplish over and over and over again with otherworldly elegance. By some miracle, victory would be within reach in the fourth quarter, only to be snatched away in disgust of Houston’s determination. It was never meant to be. A game losing drive, a fumble, a grassy knoll, all the stops would be pulled to ensure the Texans would have a terrible record come January. At the end of it all, their epitaph reads:

2020 Houston Texans (4-12): The end of an era will not end in postseason fireworks, but heartbreak and suffering.

I still remain optimistic about next year. I think if Nick Caserio and the new head coach come in with a similar vision of building a team around Deshaun’s passing abilities, things will work out sooner rather than later. Trading or cutting several players on both sides to free up cap space (Cobb, Cooks, David Johnson, McKinney, Mercilus) will be hard to watch, but necessary for the future. Trading J.J. Watt will unfortunately also be part of this reset, marking an end of an era for possibly the greatest player to wear a Texans uniform. Regardless if the new regime wanted to keep him or not, Watt has made it clear he does not want to be part of a rebuild, meaning his days in Houston are almost certainly over.

After the trimming comes the draft. Because of the lack of a first or second round pick, expectations are low for Houston. However, this incoming draft class will have plenty of good wide receivers deep into the later rounds, starting caliber running backs can always be found in any round, and it also should have a healthy selection of linebackers and cornerbacks. I’m not getting my hopes up for an incoming front office finding several diamonds in the rough within months of getting hired, but Houston will certainly be able to find contributors on both sides of the ball, dulling the blow left by dropping so many starters after 2020. But this is speculation about the future, where were we last year?

At least this week we were doing the same thing we were last year, losing to the Titans in the season finale and getting destroyed by Derrick Henry. It was just, y’know, under completely different circumstances in 2019.

Here’s what Dan Hanzus of NFL.com had to say about us when we were getting ready for our wildcard game against the Bills:

Houston Texans (10-6)

Previous rank:*No. 8*

Bill O’Brien was given a chance to protect his top players in Week 17, and now a fully rested Houston squad will get an offensively-challenged Bills team at home on Saturday. The Buffalo defense is as excellent as its Josh Allen-led attack is erratic, so don’t expect the Texans to waltz to victory. A looming X-factor is J.J. Watt, who was designated to come back from injured reserve last week and will return to action Saturday. Houston has survived more than it has thrived without its three-time Defensive Player of the Year, struggling to stop the run or rush the quarterback since Watt tore his pec in late October. Will he be close to the same guy? Can he make it through the game? Stay tuned.

The last playoff victory for J. J. Watt under the battle red flag. It feels like that entire era was over far too soon, but life goes on...at a breakneck pace.

Here’s where everyone else ranks the Houston Texans now that their 4-12 season has been finalized:

NFL.COM:

28. Houston Texans (4-12)

Previous rank: No. 28

Deshaun Watson didn’t hold back when asked about what the Texans need from their next head coach. “We just need new energy. We just need discipline. We need structure. We need a leader so we can follow that leader as players. That’s what we need.” You can hear the urgency in Watson’s words. The quarterback is coming off a brilliant individual season — the fact that Houston still finished 4-12 tells you how much this organization has regressed in other areas. The Houston job is a tricky one to judge: On one hand, this is a team bereft of talent and without a GM or its first-round pick in the upcoming draft. But it does have Watson, a franchise cornerstone with Super Bowl MVP written all over him, if he ever gets surrounded with the right supporting cast. What coach could say no to that?

CBS SPORTS:

27. Houston Texans (4-12)

The defense was just too bad for them to win many games this year. The new coach has a lot of work to do, but not a lot of draft picks to fix it.

PRO FOOTBALL TALK:

27. Texans (No. 28; 4-12): The Texans have one year, maybe two, to start turning this around before Deshaun Watson starts wondering is the grass is less brown elsewhere.

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:

29. Houston Texans (4–12)

Points in poll: 33

Highest-place vote: 28 (5)

Lowest-place vote: 29 (2)

Last week: loss vs. Tennessee 41–38

Count the Houston Texans on the long, long list of those happy to see the year 2020 come to an end. But they have a million questions to answer this offseason.

YAHOO! SPORTS:

28. Houston Texans (4-12, LW: 29)

Deshaun Watson deserves better. From the top down. We overrate the quarterback’s importance for coaching candidates. There are many things to consider for a massive life choice other than who a team’s quarterback is at that moment. But realistically, what else do the Texans have to sell to any candidate?

It hurts to see us hanging around the Bengals and Jaguars when we have a quarterback like Deshaun Watson. Goes to show you how much work is needed literally everywhere else. While I don’t actually expect us to hire Marvin Lewis in an attempt to fix this mess, I believe the conservative thought process of hiring an experienced coach that’s a “good guy” will lead the Texans to hire someone just like him. It would be a big disappointment no matter how you slice it, and would never result in a Super Bowl caliber team, setting the team back another few years. If we want to actually win, we have to embrace our quarterback and find quality players deep into this year and next year’s draft.

Here’s my final power rankings for the 2020 season. For these final rankings, I decided to briefly recap each team’s season, and offer a few personal opinions on where they should go next.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (Last Week: 1)

By far the best team in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs have few weaknesses. Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the league and he leads an offense that can score at will. The defense isn’t perfect, but still more than capable of pinning a team down. Extremely likely not to win just this year’s Super Bowl, but several more in the coming years. Could use better linebackers and another cornerback, but that’s it, honestly.

2. Buffalo Bills (Last Week: 2)

Probably the only team in the AFC that might stand a chance against the Chiefs. Josh Allen and Buffalo’s offense have found their stride again after a slump in the middle of the season, and their defense has nearly gotten back to 2019 form. The Bills are playing their best football at the best time possible and can beat anyone. Add a better edge rusher and a better corner to line up opposite to Tre’Davious White, and Buffalo might actually be unstoppable next year.

3. Green Bay Packers (Last Week: 3)

A team that heard their doubters during the offseason and proved them all wrong. The Packers were seen as a team that got lucky last year, and would be fortunate if they could replicate 2019’s successes. Not only did they repeat their record and nail a first-round bye, they also have Rodgers as the soon-to-be MVP of the league and have an improved defense. Refusing to draft a receiver didn’t harm that Packers offense even in the slightest as Rodgers got plenty of production from Davante Adams, Robert Tonyan, and others. Aaron Jones continues to be nearly as good as Dalvin Cook, and the defense has cleaned up the issues that held them back last year. They’re the Chiefs of the NFC.

4. New Orleans Saints (Last Week: 4)

The Saints, like the Bills, are hitting their stride at the best time possible. Drew Brees has returned to Pro Bowl form and will have the aid of a top five defense to clean up any mistakes. Alvin Kamara is just as unstoppable as Aaron Jones, and Emmanuel Sanders is proving to be a valuable addition down the stretch.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last Week: 5)

The Buccaneers have figured themselves out and are now a Super Bowl contender. A defense loaded from front to back and an offense that has found its stride. Tom Brady is putting numbers almost identical to his 2017 MVP season, and with receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, and Rob Gronkowski, it’s hard not to. Even if Evans is out for the wildcard, Tampa Bay shouldn’t have much trouble putting up 30+ a game until they’re outscored or have won the Super Bowl. Even rookies Tristan Wirfs and Antione Winfield Jr. rank near the top of their league at their respective positions.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Week: 6)

After a terrifying skid, the Steelers appear to have found their mojo again after a massive win against the Colts. Even with half the team resting, the Steelers nearly knocked the Browns out of their first postseason berth since 2002. Now they get to clash again this Sunday, but this time with their full cabinet of weapons. However, their running game is nonexistent and Ben Roethlisberger is clearly not what he used to be. They need the defense to play well and need the wide receivers to do everything on offense. Even the offensive line is mediocre. If they want to make any sort of legitimate run to the Super Bowl, it will be on the backs of T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Joe Haden, and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

7. Seattle Seahawks (Last Week: 8)

The Seahawks are an excellent team, but the Wildcard Round presents one of the few teams that have consistently beaten them over the years: the Rams. Wilson put up another Wilson-like year, and the defense seems to get better by the week. However, losses to the Giants, Bills, and Rams a few weeks ago revealed their weaknesses. The Seahawks are a good team, but are doomed to lose in the Divisional Round every year. This year, they’ll be lucky if they make it that far.

8. Cleveland Browns (Last Week: 9)

Cleveland has climbed the summit and found themselves in the postseason for the first time since 2002. Despite endless injuries on both sides of the ball, Cleveland has willed themselves to an 11-5 record, and have a chance to seek revenge on an old rival on Sunday. In many ways, the Browns have been the antithesis of the Steelers in the 21st century. This game can be an opportunity to flip the script. Unfortunately, the football gods continue to throw challenges Cleveland’s way as their head coach Kevin Stefaniski, guard Joel Bitonio, and receiver KhaDarel Hodge all tested positive for COVID last Tuesday. All terrible losses, and another chance for the Browns to prove everyone wrong for the twelfth time this season.

9. Los Angeles Rams (Last Week: 10)

The Rams finished the 2020 season as the best defense in the NFL, a remarkable feat. The Rams’ defense has been decent the past few years, but I would have never expected an improvement like this anytime soon. If it plays like it has all season, L.A. will have a chance to beat Seattle again in the wildcard round regardless of who their quarterback is.

10. Baltimore Ravens (Last Week: 11)

The Ravens looked down and out in the middle of year, but got right back into the playoffs thanks to having the easiest remaining schedule in the league. Lamar Jackson is back in his groove, J.K. Dobbins looks great, and the defense is still great. Who knows if they can upset the Titans, but one thing is certain: it will be a dramatic wildcard game.

11. Tennessee Titans (Last Week: 12)

Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry are fantastic players, and can win games regardless of how the defense is playing. If they repeat what they did against Baltimore in the Divisional Round last season, they’ll be in position to beat them again.

12. Miami Dolphins (Last Week: 7)

Poor Miami had to be the ten win team to miss the playoffs, even though I think they’re better than Indianapolis. The defense, despite some holes, played fantastic nearly all season, just couldn’t win the most important game.

13. Indianapolis Colts (Last Week: 13)

The Colts rode their defense and a resurgent Philip Rivers to the playoffs, but will have to score an upset against Buffalo if they want to get any farther. Good luck.

14. Chicago Bears (Last Week: 14)

Chicago goes 5-1, then loses six in a row during the Nick Foles extravaganza, then goes 3-1 with the return of The Biscuit. Their defense stayed relatively strong throughout this entire rollercoaster (except for the passing defense, which was extremely hit or miss), but will need Trubisky to have the best game of his career if they want to upset New Orleans in the wildcard round. I would have given them a chance against Seattle, but certainly not New Orleans. Regardless, they’ve made it to the dance, and everything is different here.

15. Arizona Cardinals (Last Week: 15)

What a hot start. What a disappointing finish. Despite Kyler Murray’s magic, Deandre Hopkins’ dominance, and a great defense, the Cardinals couldn’t help themselves and simply lost too many important games. The Rams embarrassed them in both meetings, and that was the difference.

16. Los Angeles Chargers (Last Week: 17)

The season was lost in the first six games of the season, and so was Anthony Lynn’s job. The Chargers’ vehement refusal to win close games is absolutely breathtaking. One can only dream of what this team could have been if they could’ve made a few plays against the Saints, Broncos, and Raiders. Justin Herbert is already nearly as good as Deshaun Watson, meaning the Chargers are in win-now mode with such a player under a rookie deal.

17. Las Vegas Raiders (Last Week: 16)

The Raiders started the season well and finished horribly. Derek Carr had another great year, but had a few bad games and couldn’t save them from that defense.

18. Washington Football Team (Last Week: 19)

Washington is in the playoffs, but at what cost? They’re loaded on defense, but are in desperate need of a quarterback and more receivers. A higher draft pick could have meant the next franchise passer, but who knows if they’ll get the chance now that they’ve won the division.

19. Minnesota Vikings (Last Week: 18)

Like the Chargers, Minnesota saw their season end in the first few games. A field goal in the Titans game and a failed fourth and inches conversion against Seattle ended the season. Kirk Cousins drives me crazy with his slow starts and hot finishes, and his mistakes at the beginning ruined the year for the Vikings.

20. New England Patriots (Last Week: 22)

The Patriots need some major retooling on offense and their defensive line. Both should be major targets in the offseason.

21. Dallas Cowboys (Last Week: 20)

The Cowboys are loaded on offense and need to pay Dak Prescott if they want that to stay true.

22. Atlanta Falcons (Last Week: 21)

Atlanta is one of the least attractive coaching/managing spots in the NFL. An aging quarterback that is playing well enough but not fantastic, a need at running back, and an awful defense.

23. Philadelphia Eagles (Last Week: 23)

2020 was an extremely dramatic season for Philadelphia. Pretty much everything possible went wrong for them this season, but the revelation of Jalen Hurts has spun a positive note on an otherwise catastrophic year.

24. New York Giants (Last Week: 24)

The Giants appear to have found their coach and have succeeded in turning the defense around in just one year. A very impressive turnaround on that side of the ball, but plenty of work to be done on offense. Daniel Jones is not the answer, and the offensive line is terrible.

25. San Francisco 49ers (Last Week: 25)

San Francisco had another season ruined by injury, but still managed six wins in a loaded NFC West. The defense is incredibly well coached and has plenty of good young talent, and the offense is loaded everywhere except quarterback and wide receiver (and even that position is pretty solid).

26. Houston Texans (Last Week: 29)

Back to Houston. I’ve already gone into detail about what went wrong and how it can be fixed, but to recap: the defense was already bad entering this season and they did little to improve it, trading away a star receiver was a terrible decision, and several one-possession losses spelled the destruction of this season.

Houston needs help everywhere on defense in order to improve. J.J. Watt will be traded, and whatever pick they get for him should be used on edge rusher or linebacker. Other picks should be used on guard, cornerback, wide receiver, and safety. Once cutting David Johnson, Whitney Mercilus, Brandin Cooks, and Randall Cobb, pick up a cheap free agent running back (or go the Jacksonville route and see if you find a good undrafted one). To see any substantial turnaround next season, Houston will need to do all of this, nail every single pick, and find at least one cheap free agent that returns on investment. I think we’ll find a few good players, but not enough to be a good team. Who knows, though? Maybe we’ll find the next Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay and win games regardless of what’s on the field.

27. Denver Broncos (Last Week: 28)

John Elway did everything right as a general manager, except find a quarterback. That was all that was needed for many to call for his job, and what led to him stepping aside as their general manager. The Broncos have depth pretty much everywhere on defense, an embarrassment of riches at receiver, a good tight end, two (maybe even three) good running backs, a solid offensive line, but no quarterback. I picked them to make the playoffs this year since I thought Drew Lock just had to be adequate in order to win. He didn’t even have to be good, just adequate. Turns out he’s not even that.

28. Carolina Panthers (Last Week: 26)

Strange year for Carolina. Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t bad, but not as good as expected, which sums up the entire team. Plenty of promising young players, plenty of injuries that prevented them from realizing their full potential, and plenty of hard losses. But, if his college career is any example, Matt Rhule will be leading this team to the Super Bowl in 2021.

29. Detroit Lions (Last Week: 31)

Detroit let the Patriots’ assistants get their tentacles all over their franchise, and now they have been pulled into the abyss.

30. Cincinnati Bengals (Last Week: 27)

The Bengals are bad, but it appears they found their quarterback. This year was a mess, but they got plenty of production out of Tyler Boyd and rookie receiver Tee Higgins. Getting some good defensive players in free agency last year didn’t pay off nearly as well as some might’ve been hoping, but I think it’s too early to say that group needs a full refresh.

31. New York Jets (Last Week: 30)

The Jets were so bad this year they even goofed up their chance at the first overall pick. Joe Douglas is a good manager though, and he’ll find the right coach and make it work out.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (Last Week: 32)

Jacksonville won their first game in an upset over the Colts, and then never won again. They are absolutely the worst team in football, and need to rebuild everywhere if they want to start winning anytime soon. This is a story all too common for Jaguars fans: rebuild with a new front office and coach, nothing works out as expected, blow it all up and rebuild again. Eventually, one of these rebuilds has to lead to consistent success, even if by accident. Maybe the golden locks of Trevor Lawrence will offer a yellow brick road to the valley of dreams. The Browns were able to escape their suffering by taking a quarterback first overall, maybe the Jaguars can, too.

It’s been legitimately exciting to write these power rankings every week. Watching every NFL game and trying to mold the power rankings around every dramatic turn of events was one of the best parts of the 2020 season, and kept me writing even during stretches where I was lost on what to do next. Just a few years ago I would spend my lunch break scrolling through all the power rankings I could find and just seeing what everyone’s quick thoughts were on each team. Never did I expect myself to be on the other end of those short articles I looked forward to reading every week, but here I am. Thank you to everyone who read these weekly rankings and stuck around to see my thoughts on the Texans and every other team in the league. Let me know if you like this format of power rankings, or if I should try something else out next season. I’ll see you all when it’s time for the first 2021 NFL Power Rankings!

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