Football is back!
And winning Texans football is back! After months and months of waiting, watching our Super Bowl window slam shut, and the entire Texans organization mutate into something morbidly new, what better way to start off our “0-17” season with a dominant victory over the Jaguars?
Pretty much every part of the Texans outperformed expectations on Sunday. The defense, while clearly lacking pressure up front, did its job in the backfield by forcing rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence into three interceptions and plenty more dangerous throws. Mistakes continuing to abound for the Jaguars, public scrutiny began searching for the face that was responsible for this, to which Urban Meyer was found. David Culley could just sit back and grin for the majority of the second half as his team had taken a 27-7 lead. All eyes had shifted onto a thoroughly flustered Meyer.
Tyrod Taylor looks good when he isn't benched for a random rookie QB every year.pic.twitter.com/bQoWNSplpO— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 12, 2021
What if Tyrod Taylor actually became Deshaun Watson pic.twitter.com/hpYwnPlo7N— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) September 12, 2021
And how about that mysterious David Culley offense? A harsh rushing attack led by solid offensive line play, and a Tyrod Taylor performance that reminds you have his Pro Bowl days in Buffalo; this offense was fully prepared to take advantage of an excessively green Jaguars roster. Personally, I’ve been waiting for years to celebrate some vintage Tyrod Taylor. I fully understand he is not a superstar, but that doesn’t stop my heart from racing every time he makes a big play. He’s simply one of my favorite players in the NFL, and his enthralling return to the starting job in Houston after a few years on the bench is the kind of storybook narrative that makes NFL football so exciting.
The season may not carry on like this for much longer (especially when the sense of dread sets in when you realize the Texans are journeying to Cleveland next week), but it’s no stretch to say a lot of us are intrigued by both the impressive victories and competent coaching Texans football has given us in the past month. Better than last year, at least!
We’ve come a long way from the opening night game against Kansas City in 2020, haven’t we? Since my first game covering the Texans for Battle Red Blog, we’ve gone through the full spectrum of emotions an NFL fan can feel towards their franchise. It still feels weird to look at highlights from last season, like entering a haunted house that never had the time to reconcile with itself. How does this team compare to the squad Bill O’Brien brought with him to Arrowhead on opening night in 2020? Here’s what Dan Hanzus of NFL.com had to say about us after that foreboding loss:
15. Houston Texans (0-1)
Previous Rank: No. 16
Deshaun Watson can’t do it by himself . Too often, that’s how it feels when watching the Texans on offense. A play breaks down, and the quarterback does his dancing magician act behind the line, eyes always upfield in search of the big play. The genius of Watson is that sometimes, this works ... but not on Thursday night. Will Fuller did most of his damage after the game was decided, and Randall Cobb was virtually invisible in his Texans debut. Houston’s defense deserves credit for not allowing Patrick Mahomes to go wild, and new running back David Johnson moved like a veteran with something to prove, but these two teams exist in different worlds. Just like January.
Feels like a million years ago when we were worrying about Will Fuller and Randall Cobb. But, if I had to pick an opening weekend, the one that gave David Culley and surprise victory in his coaching debut is much more enjoyable in the moment than what was the beginning of the end of the Texans’ most successful era in football. Regardless of how you spin it, a victory is always better than a loss.
Now, all that being said, most analysts do not hold the same wild fervor that I am currently parading around. We’re still seen as a team more likely than not to be picking in the top five of the 2022 NFL Draft. So, enter these compiled rankings with the perspective of an outsider who’s yet to climb onto the David Culley bandwagon:
29. Houston Texans (1-0)
Preseason ranking: 32
Top rookie: WR Nico Collins
The Texans have five rookies on their roster and two — TE Brevin Jordan(inactive) and QB Davis Mills (backup) — did not play in Houston’s 37-21 victory over Jacksonville. The best rookie performance came from Collins, a third-round pick. Collins played 55% of Houston’s offensive snaps and had one catch for seven yards. Head coach David Culley said Collins “did a nice job in the run game,” and that they’ll need the physical Collins to continue to make plays down the line. — Sarah Barshop
29. Houston Texans (1-0)
Previous rank: No. 32
The Texans were viewed, almost universally, as the worst team in football on Sunday morning. They certainly didn’t play like that in an impressive 37-21 winover a Jaguars team that looked overmatched and unprepared by comparison. Houston was led by Tyrod Taylor, who finished with 331 total yards, two touchdowns and zero turnovers. It was a great start to the season and a welcome change of conversation after a summer of Deshaun Watson uneasiness. Said Taylor of the performance: “It means everything to me and I know it means a lot to the guys in the locker room.”
PRO FOOTBALL TALK:
28. Texans (1-0, No. 32): Tyrod Taylor, when healthy, is a much better quarterback than widely believed.
27. Houston Texans (1-0)
31. Houston Texans (1–0)
Last week: Win vs. Jacksonville 37–21
Next week: at Cleveland
The Texans feel a little like last year’s Jaguars, a team that won in somewhat stunning fashion during the season opener and coasted into the abyss from there. And while we can hope this isn’t true for the sake of Tyrod Taylor, a brilliant quarterback who has had some of the most horrific fortune in the NFL, this is also a chaotically run franchise full of expendable pieces that will look completely different after the trade deadline.
28. Houston Texans (1-0)
Give coach David Culley credit. Through all the offseason adversity, he got his team to play hard and they blew out the Jaguars. They are in first place. Can you believe it?
27. Houston Texans (1-0)
Last Week: 32
Week 1 Result: Won vs. Jacksonville 37-21
For most of the offseason, the Houston Texans have been regarded by many (including the analysts here at B/R) as the worst team in the league.
For one week at least, that was not the case.
The Texans didn’t just open the season with a win over their AFC South rivals from Jacksonville. They blasted the Jags in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. Tyrod Taylor was efficient in his first start for the team, throwing for 291 yards and two scores. Houston piled up 160 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. And the defense forced three interceptions and held the Jags to just three of 11 third down conversions.
“This game probably says more about how bad the Jaguars are than how good Houston is,” Davenport said. “And an argument can be made that all wins accomplish for the Texans is costing the team draft position. But due credit to Taylor and the Texans players for going out in Week 1 and playing like professionals.”
“Houston deserves a little credit after being shredded by every pundit all offseason,” Sobleski added. “New head coach David Culley had his team ready to play, albeit against the toothless Jacksonville Jaguars. Still, the Texans were the odds-on favorite to be the league’s worst team this fall. They still could be. But for one week, Houston stepped onto the field and proved itself as clearly the better squad. Also, kudos to Taylor for finally getting an opportunity and playing well after being a consummate pro as a bridge quarterback/backup at his previous two stops.”
29. Houston Texans, 1-0
It was a nice little win for Tyrod Taylor and the Texans against the Jaguars, but now the schedule really starts with a trip to Cleveland.
This victory did less to encourage analysts about the Texans than it did engender cynical emotions towards the new circus in Jacksonville. The Texans looked good, but the Jaguars sure did look awful, as well. But, hey, that’s what they were saying about us last week, so lets keep the chip on our soldier for a few more weeks.
Maybe as an elegy to the changing season, this September surprise at NRG heralded a full slate of wild NFL games on opening weekend. Kick started by the intense back-and-forth offensive showcase between the Dallas Cowboys and the inevitable Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this weekend held its choice pickings of thrilling shootouts. Cleveland nearly slayed Goliath (Kansas City) on their own turf, potentially a preview for the AFC Championship Game. Tennessee got its doors blown off by a Cardinals team filled to the gills (…or…plumage) with veterans and belief that they will NOT be the fourth best team in the NFC West. The Steelers, Bengals, and Saints all pull huge upsets that give the losing teams more questions than answers, and the Dolphins squeak by the Patriots who have finally recreated Tom Brady in their secret lab up north.
Sunday night football felt like an adequate conclusion to the opening weekend narrative, with Stafford leading his all-star cast of Los Angeles athletes to victory over another Bears team in transition. But it didn’t exactly have the heart-stopping theatrics that the afternoon had set us up for. That’s why you save the trip to Las Vegas for the very end.
For Allegiant stadium’s opening night game with fans, the Raiders put on a show-stopping performance to defeat the always deadly Baltimore Ravens in front of one of the loudest crowds I’ve ever heard. This was the ending to the first act we were promised, a perfect fireworks show to kick off the season and my very first power rankings for 2021!
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0): Still the best team in the league, the Bucs made plenty of mistakes against the Cowboys and still emerged victorious thanks to Tom Brady. The defense gave up yards, but rookie pass rusher Joe Tryon-Soyinka already looks like a starter, and Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown look far better than they did last year. I think the Buccaneers will win ~13 games this season.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (1-0): It doesn’t matter how big the lead is, the Chiefs are always in the game. Although I do think they’re a bit more flimsy on defense this year than last (the lack of linebackers and cornerback depth is going to hurt them the entire season), the offense is clearly picking right up where it left off in 2020. Good luck outscoring them. The Chiefs will win ~12 games.
3. Los Angeles Rams (1-0): In their first home opener with fans at SoFi stadium, Matthew Stafford and the Rams demonstrated the ability to live up to the massive offseason hype. This really might be the most complete team in the NFC besides the Buccaneers, and they have the firepower to win it all. Stafford’s best year in the NFL at ~14 wins.
4. Cleveland Browns (0-1): Nearly defeating the Chiefs at Arrowhead in the first sold out stadium since the AFC Championship game is no small feat. The Browns showed their rushing attack is still just as deadly as it was last year, coupled with stronger quarterback play from Baker Mayfield. The defense found ways to even stop Patrick Mahomes enough times to give their offense a chance to win it in the final minutes. If Baker plays like this every week along with the improved supporting cast, he’s an MVP candidate. Super Bowl contenders at ~14 wins.
5. Seattle Seahawks (1-0): Many believe this could be the beginning of the end of the Wilson/Carroll era in Seattle. Being in the same division as the Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals demands a big loser, and Seattle’s precarious relationship with their star quarterback has them set up to take the fall. Not today, though! With a blowout victory against the Colts in their pocket, the Seahawks have quickly assumed business as usual as one of the best teams in the NFL once again. Will that hold? I don’t think so, ~8 wins.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0): The Steelers play one fantastic half of football, and that’s usually enough to defeat their opponent. This time, against the Buffalo Bills, the Steelers looked completely unprepared for the moment for the entire first half. All those predictions of a collapse in Ben Roethlisberger’s final year looked ready to come true. But, once the third quarter started, Big Ben and his endless pile of Pro Bowl caliber receivers just couldn’t stop scoring. Against the Super Bowl hopeful Bills, the Steelers proved they still have plenty of gas left in the tank. I’m a bit more pessimistic, ~9 wins.
7. Buffalo Bills (0-1): They started off hot, but Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick made sure that potent Buffalo offense never fully took off. The Josh Allen-to-Stefon Diggs connection was sloppy, and the offensive line was just plain bad. But, these Bills still showed improvement on the pass rush from last year, and with new weapons Emmanuel Sanders and Matt Breida on offense, they have what it takes to go all the way. ~13 wins.
8. Baltimore Ravens (1-0): Even with the heartbreaking loss to the Raiders in overtime, the Ravens proved that they have the mettle to still be contenders even after losing basically their entire rushing attack to injury last week. Without Peters or a dominant edge rusher, the Ravens a little more leaky on that side of the ball. But Lamar Jackson is still Lamar Jackson, so they’ll have a chance to win every game. ~10 wins, will it be enough for the playoffs?
9. New Orleans Saints (1-0): Probably the strangest final score out of any of the games this week, the heavily favored Green Bay Packers got destroyed by a Jameis Winston led Saints team that was supposed to be in transition this year. Winston looked like a Pro Bowler, the defense somehow completely shut down reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, and the Saints get a huge win in Jacksonville. Maybe the Saints aren’t so bad, after all. I’m sticking to my guns, though, ~8 wins.
10. Los Angeles Chargers (1-0): The team I expect to take the biggest leap this year, the Chargers relied on their prodigy quarterback Justin Herbert to deliver them from Ron Rivera’s ensnaring defense, and he delivered yet again. With Derwin James back and a Super Bowl caliber linebacking corps flying under the radar, the Chargers more than have what it takes to win it all in 2021. A very nice ~12 wins on the season.
11. San Francisco 49ers (1-0): Well on their way to a blowout victory in Detroit, San Francisco completely let off the gas and nearly let a historic comeback steal that week one victory away. In other bad news, cornerback Jason Verrett left the game with a season-ending ACL injury. It already looks like the injury bug is trying to sabotage the 49ers’ season again. Can they survive it this time, and in this division? I think so, ~11 wins.
12. Miami Dolphins (1-0): Tua showed some improvement, rookie wideout Jaylen Waddle made some big plays, and the Miami defense did exactly what was needed in order to leave Foxborough with a victory. Star cornerback Xavien Howard forced a game sealing fumble when he punched the ball out of Patriots running back Damien Harris in the fourth quarter. The defense is still great, can Tua take the next step in order to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Miami? I think ~11 wins, so just maybe!
13. Green Bay Packers (0-1): While, yes, it was a very ugly loss, you can’t expect the NFC Champion Packers to have completely fallen off a cliff since January. There was absolutely nothing that went right against New Orleans for either side of the ball that game, and, as such, will likely be an exception rather than the rule for the 2021 Packers. How far they go is very much in question now, however. Until then, I think they’re going to win ~12 games.
14. Arizona Cardinals (1-0): Even though I liked the idea of putting the Cardinals over the Packers to kick off the season, I couldn’t bring myself to go that far. That being said, the Cardinals absolutely looked like the better team on Sunday, completely ruining the Super Bowl contending Titans on the road. Kyler Murray was the MVP of week one, with Chandler Jones probably right behind him. This brings back memories of the September/October Cardinals of 2020, will they be able to keep the bandwagon rolling into winter this year? Better than the Seahawks with ~10 wins.
15. New England Patriots (0-1): The game-ending turnovers suffered against the Dolphins will certainly be a learning experience for a very young Patriots offense. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones continues to surpass expectations, and all those free agents signings seem to already be paying off. On week one, the Patriots showed their a few mistakes away from being a playoff team, this season will be about how long it takes them to get past them. I’ll play it safe and go right down the middle, ~9 wins.
16. Las Vegas Raiders (1-0): A huge win in their home opener, the Raiders did just enough to give them the edge they might need to get in the playoffs over the Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately, they might just be in the hardest division in the league. The NFL changes much faster than anyone expects it to, and the Raiders are at the proverbial fork in the road this season. Will they rise to the impossible odds of somehow working their way through the AFC gauntlet into the playoffs, or will they fall apart yet again? Only time will tell. I, unfortunately, predict a collapse with only ~7 wins by season’s end. Someone has to be the loser in this division, and the Raiders are clearly worse than everyone else.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0): I know I said earlier that Kyler Murray was the MVP of week one, but in my heart it’s Jalen Hurts. Jalen Hurts is one of my favorite (if not my favorite) young quarterbacks in the league, and on Sunday he used the Atlanta Falcons defense as his first canvas of the 2021 season. Perfect passes, pocket awareness, the speed and agility to both extend the play and run for first downs on his own, Jalen Hurts is another name in the next generation of dual-threat quarterbacks who are so deadly on the ground, it accents their otherworldly arm talent at the same time. Can the Eagles ride his quarterbacking skills to another NFC East crown, or is this still a team trying to tank? I think they’ll still be bad, just not nearly as bad as people expect, ~7 wins.
18. Denver Broncos (1-0): Besides quarterback, the Broncos might have the best roster in the NFL. They looked as such against the Giants on Sunday, making the 27-13 effort look easy. Teddy Bridgwater getting another opportunity to start (this time on a playoff team) is always exciting, and with the weapons he has around him, he might return to Pro Bowl form. ~10 wins, enough to get into the playoffs if some of those victories are in-conference.
19. Washington Football Team (0-1): Even with a loss both on the scorecard and in the quarterback room, I’m betting on the WFT to get back on track sooner rather than later. The defense is simply too good to keep them in the NFC East cellar, even if Taylor Heinicke has to start several games. Cam Newton is available and could certainly be the quarterback to lead Washington to another NFC East championship, but who knows if they’ll take the chance. Either way, I’ll happily hop on team Heinicke or team Kyle Allen. ~9 wins.
20. Dallas Cowboys (0-1) The offense looked great and the defense forced some huge turnovers, but it never seems to be enough for Dallas. Dak Prescott can crank out 400+ yard performance one after another, but there’s always something that holds them back from claiming victory. This year, I believe the defense will make strides, but turnovers will once again be the difference between winning and losing too many games. ~8 wins, here we come!
21. Tennessee Titans (0-1): Big loss for the rivals on opening day, the Titans looked awful on both sides of the ball. Derrick Henry was eliminated, not in fireworks and grandeur, but in quieting, demoralizing fashion. As with the Packers, you have to ask: Is this game the exception, or the rule? In a division as sloppy as the AFC South, I’ll say it’s the exception. ~11 wins.
22. Indianapolis Colts (0-1): The Seahawks vs. Colts game was one of the most intriguing games this weekend because of the amount of questions we have unanswered for both teams. Is the Seahawks defense any good? Is the Colts offensive line good enough for both Wentz and their rushing attack? Is Wentz any good? Will Russ cook? While many of these questions will remain unanswered for at least a few more weeks, we can certainly say now that the Colts have plenty of work to do if they’re fixing for the playoffs this year. Lets say they do just enough to get a winning record in their division but not enough to be considered a success, ~9 wins.
23. Carolina Panthers (1-0): While it got close towards the end, the Carolina Panthers got a statement win out of the Jets on Sunday. The Matt Rhule defense is starting to flash as a true powerhouse in 2021, and as long as Sam Darnold plays like he did on Sunday, they’ll be in every game. I think momentum is on their side, ~10 wins.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (1-0): One of the first big wins for Zac Taylor’s Bengals in his third year coaching there, the Bengals trip over themselves across the finish line to beat the even more sloppy Vikings team. Joe Burrow looked great, Ja’Marr Chase reminding him of the offensive potency they can create, and enough defense to make me think they have a chance to make some noise in the AFC. Not too much, though, ~6 wins coming not from a bad team, but an harsh division.
25. Houston Texans (1-0): The air is thin up here at 25! While I very much want to put the Texans even higher, I can’t justify putting them over a Bengals team that is that talented on offense. Tyrod is great, but I still fear his lack of great receiving options will end up killing the season more than anything else. Who knows, though, Nico Collins may end up being the answer to all of our questions. Right now, though, I think the Texans will win ~6 games this year. More wins than most are giving us, and I think most games will come down to one possession.
26. Minnesota Vikings (0-1): The Vikings enter this season as Super Bowl contenders whether they like it or not. There’s too much money tied up on both offense and defense, too many great young players, too well coached to justify anything other than an honest Super Bowl push in 2021. That makes this loss to the Bengals particularly hard to swallow. While I still think they will win ~11 games, this loss is going to hurt them in the future.
27. Chicago Bears (0-1): Even though the Bears are not a bad team, they are so aggressively mediocre that I cannot expect them to win much given the schedule they have and the injuries they’ve sustained. With meetings against the NFC West and AFC North, their decent roster will crumble without better quarterback and offensive line play. ~7 wins, but if either of those variables improve significantly, could carry them to ~10 wins.
28. New York Giants (0-1): Well, all that money spent on the offense still has go through the murky lens of Daniel Jones before it can be considered worthwhile. He’s just not good enough to be a starting NFL quarterback, and he’s now had more than enough time to get there. Pending a Josh Allen like leap forward, he is the only thing standing between the Giants and a playoff berth. ~7 wins.
29. New York Jets (0-1): The Jets came into this season with the knowledge that they have enough talent on the roster to be an okay team, but exited week one with so many injuries they’ll be happy to win five games this season. Zach Wilson, who I believe could be the best quarterback of the 2021 draft class, showed toughness and ability to carry a team to victory in his very first NFL game, but that offensive line is simply not good enough to favor them in any contest. If they get healthy and get production out of unlikely players, the season can be turned around, until then, ~5 wins.
30. Detroit Lions (0-1): The comeback can almost fool you into thinking they’re not actually tanking. Don’t worry, they are. ~4 wins.
31. Atlanta Falcons (0-1): There’s a lot of reasons to believe the Falcons won’t actually be this bad. They still have Matt Ryan, they got Kyle Pitts, the offensive line is okay, and they still have some okay players on defense. Well, if you’ve seen Secret Base’s recently released docu-series on the Atlanta Falcons, you know they live to lose. They will always lose in the most miraculous ways possible, it’s why they’re here. ~4 wins.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1): Yeah, they’re bad. They’re really bad. Even with the influx of talent since last year, they’re probably even worse. Urban Meyer is just not an NFL coach, and it’s showing right now. The sooner they move on from him and bring in a staff that can actually build a young roster together, they’re aimless. ~3 wins.
The floodlights flashed on this weekend, and the vibrating wall of noise erupting from every stadium across the country pulled every spectator into the adrenaline-laden gridiron fantasies we all had been yearning for since 2019. For a brief moment, it seduces you into thinking things have actually gone back to normal, but, just as with the Texans, there’s still plenty of climbing left to be done.
Football is back, and it’s great to be writing the power rankings again. Feel free to give your record predictions in the comments below. See you next week!
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