clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2021 NFL Power Rankings: Wild Card Weekend

Where do the Texans land at the end of the regular season?

NFL: JAN 09 Titans at Texans Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We made it to the end! Every weekend since August, there has been a smorgasbord of football games, seasoned with stroylines to carry us through the ebbs and flows of one of the strangest seasons in recent Texans history. A new head coach and general manager that weren’t at the top of anyone’s lists back in February, a lukewarm investment into rebuilding underscored by the signings of Rex Burkhead and Danny Amendola, TyGOD, Mark Ingram’s brief career as a Houston Texan, the fall of TyGOD and the rise of the Davis Mills legion, Justin Reid, the shadow of Jack Easterby’s eminence, and whole lot of losses in between.

In many ways, a football season like this is a wasteland. Houston was seen as one of the worst teams in football entering the season, and at several moments in time, they were. Houston’s offensive line was a complete disaster for nearly the entire season, and with pressure bearing down on Tyrod Taylor to make something out of nothing every play and for Davis Mills to develop on the fly, there were moments where the Texans looked more at home being stuck in mud than doing anything productive. This was the season where they were supposed to be bad, where they would get swallowed by the desert, never to be seen until they had become something completely different.

But, even in this great emptiness, there are pebbles of something special. Lovie Smith’s frisky pass defense, Jonathan Greenard’s pro-bowl snub, Brevin Jordan and Nico Collins working themsevles into the starting lineup, and...Davis Mills transforming into one of the surprise rookie playmakers of the 2021 NFL season! Week after week, we saw Davis Mills and the Texans slowly forming into a legitmately challenging NFL opponent, more than capable of forcing a few turnovers so that our surging quarterback can steal the game away with some sideline rainbows to Brandin Cooks and Chris Moore.

In their final game, at home against the rival Tennessee Titans, the Texans had one more chance to show much how they had improved. In effect, this final game where the Texans could play big time spoilers to their rival served as a microcosm of the entire season. In the first half, the Texans offense was swallowed by quicksand, completely incapable of getting anything going against a frankly middling Tennessee defense. Houston’s defense did what it could, but Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown had come to win, and they played as such.

At halftime, down 21-0, Houston had to climb out of the quicksand they had so often found themselves drowning in, and Davis Mills had to prove he could perform under this weight if he wants to keep his starting job come next season. Against one of the best teams in the AFC, it wouldn’t be easy, but the quality of opponent didn’t seem to matter for the Texans in December. They were going to score either way.

In the second half, the Texans showed what they were capable of. A quick strike offense that can score almost at will to compliment a constricting, intercepting pass-defense was exactly what the Texans needed to get back into this game, and it’s how they had been playing for the better part of the latter half of the season. It was their ceiling for this year, but unfortunately for them, their ceiling was still not good enough.

In the end, the Texans still lost, sinking to 4-13 on the season, nullifying their amazing comeback. A great comeback, highlighted by plays being made by a young core of rookies, deflated by the L on the scorecard. How can I sing their praises with such gusto when they still lost? Rooting for a team that has lost so much isn’t easy, but it shines a light on grains of good news that lie nascent, under the headlines. To us, the pebbles are not just pebbles, they are an oasis.

Here’s where everyone is rankings the Texans at the end of the regular season:

NFL.COM:

27. Houston Texans (4-13)

Previous rank: No. 27

These Texans were fighters. This wasn’t the most talented roster — it was probably in the bottom five by that metric — but the team fought hard for first-year coach David Culley and became increasingly competitive as the season went on. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that Culley could be one-and-done, which would essentially prove our summertime theory that Culley was only given the big chair to preside over a grim transition year for the franchise. He delivered a performance that deserves a second season on the sideline, but it’s possible that was never the plan in Houston.

PRO FOOTBALL TALK:

28. Texans (4-13, No. 28): Whether David Culley is or isn’t staying, it would be nice for someone to let the guy know.

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:

30. Houston Texans (4–13)

Points in poll: 20

Highest-place vote: 29 (2 votes)

Lowest-place vote: 30 (4 votes)

Season result: Third place in AFC South

The Texans were expected to be the worst team in the NFL, but they fought hard for David Culley and competed (in a bunch of games, at least) with Davis Mills.

CBS SPORTS:

28. Houston Texans (4-13)

They have to be thrilled with the progress of Davis Mills. He can be their long-term answer. Now it’s time to trade Deshaun Watson.

YAHOO! SPORTS:

28. Houston Texans (4-13, LW: 29)

The Texans were apparently still figuring out on Monday if David Culley would stay on as coach. Which speaks to an organization that lacks leadership and clarity, but it’s also odd because it’s impossible to blame Culley for not getting more out of the roster. He did a pretty good job. If Houston has a behind-the-scenes deal with a coach they like a lot more that’s fine, but it would be a strange one-and-done situation.

As the final month of games were played, the Texans climbed out of the quicksand that had been chasing them all season and proved to everyone that they were more than what their record indicated. At one point, it appeared inevitable that the Texans would be considered the worst team in football, even if we ended up with more wins than the Jaguars and Lions. Now, it’s clear that the Houston Texans are more than the sum of their parts and on the upswing entering 2022.

Here’s my personal power rankings to end the 2021 regular season:

  1. Green Bay Packers (13-4) (Last Week: 1)
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) (Last Week: 3)
  3. Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) (Last Week: 5)
  4. Buffalo Bills (11-6) (Last Week: 6)
  5. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) (Last Week: 4)
  6. Los Angeles Rams (12-5) (Last Week: 2)
  7. Tennessee Titans (12-5) (Last Week: 8)
  8. Dallas Cowboys (12-5) (Last Week: 10)
  9. San Francisco 49ers (10-7) (Last Week: 12)
  10. Arizona Cardinals (11-6) (Last Week: 7)
  11. New England Patriots (10-7) (Last Week: 9)
  12. Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) (Last Week: 15)
  13. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) (Last Week: 14)
  14. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) (Last Week: 16)
  15. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8) (Last Week: 13)
  16. Indianapolis Colts (9-8) (Last Week: 11)
  17. Miami Dolphins (9-8) (Last Week: 19)
  18. New Orleans Saints (9-8) (Last Week: 18)
  19. Baltimore Ravens (8-9) (Last Week: 17)
  20. Cleveland Browns (8-9) (Last Week: 21)
  21. Atlanta Falcons (7-10) (Last Week: 20)
  22. Minnesota Vikings (8-9) (Last Week: 22)
  23. Denver Broncos (7-10) (Last Week: 24)
  24. Seattle Seahawks (7-10) (Last Week: 27)
  25. Chicago Bears (6-11) (Last Week: 23)
  26. Washington Football Team (7-10) (Last Week: 25)
  27. Houston Texans (4-13) (Last Week: 28)
  28. New York Jets (4-13) (Last Week: 26)
  29. Detroit Lions (3-13-1) (Last Week: 30)
  30. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14) (Last Week: 32)
  31. Carolina Panthers (5-12) (Last Week: 29)
  32. New York Giants (4-13) (Last Week: 31)

The Houston Texans finish 27th in my rankings! Not bad considering all the turmoil they went through during this season.

The final week of the regular season this year was filled to the brim with classic nail biters between playoff and playoff-hopeful teams. Justin Herbert cemented himself as a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback as he led another Chargers comeback that ultimatley fell short to the resurgent Raiders. I didn’t believe in the Raiders until this game, and now that they are in the playoffs and on a four-game winning streak, they’re capable of anything. But first, they have to get through the Cincinnati Bengals, who trounced them in their regular season meeting. When the Bengals are hot, they’re a Super Bowl team, and if their victory agianst the Chiefs is any indiciation, they’re hot at the right time.

The Patriots lost in their final regular season game to the Dolphins, who complete their season sweep of the Belichickians. The congratulate their head coach, the Dolphins fired Brian Flores the next day. A very questionable decision considering how much Flores had done for the Dolphins in the past two years, and a decision that I believe will come back to bite them sooner rather than later. The Patriots, on the other hand, get to face the surging Bills for the third time this season. The Bills have had a rollercoaster of a season, but Josh Allen and that defense appear to have ended on a high note. Who knows what version of the Bills we’re going to get on Saturday night when the Patriots come to Highmark Stadium, but I believe in Allen to secure to victory if it comes down to the wire.

On Sunday, we get to see the Philadelphia throw everything and the kitchen sink at Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in order to cause an upset, and it might just end up working if Jalen Hurts has the game of his career. The Buccaneers have been sloppy throughout the final eight games of the season, and if the weaker version of this Philadelphia team was able to keep it close against the defending champions back in October, they are more than capable of stealing this one if they can keep a cap on the Bucs’ passing offense.

After that, the San Francisco 49ers will travel to Dallas to take on Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. Both the 49ers and Cowboys finished the season strong, and both have defenses that have already won a few games on their own. It’ll be a game of trench-battling and turnovers, and since I believe the Cowboys hold the edge on both of those fronts, I see them escaping to the next round with a close victory.

To finish Sunday’s slate of games, the Pittsburgh Steelers will get to celebrate making the playoffs by taking on the Kansas City Chiefs, the same team that blew their doors off just a few weeks ago. The Steelers are fortunate to even be in this situation, but, like the Eagles, there are avenues to victory against the Chiefs. The Broncos showed as much on Saturday, provided your defense stays strong and the offense doesn’t make mistakes. Ultimately, if the Broncos can nearly beat the Chiefs, so can the Steelers. Either way, I don’t believe Patrick Mahomes is going to lose to this Steelers team, so the Chiefs will live to see the next round.

On Monday, in the finale of Wild Card Weekend, we will get one last NFC West division game when the Cardinals travel to Los Angeles to take on the division champion Rams. The Cardinals chose the wrong time of the year to play their best football, and are sorely missing DeAndre Hopkins. If the return of Rondale Moore can provide a shock of life to a regressing Arizona squad, they can come out of this game looking like the Super Bowl contenders they appeared to be back in September. But, if Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Van Jefferson get going early, the Rams may just run away with it. I’m betting on Stafford to come in clutch to secure his first playoff win of his career.

The regular season is over, and the Houston Texans are not in a preferable position. But with the improved play in all facets of the game to finish off the year, especially from Davis Mills, they have to be feeling pretty good about their odds in 2022. While I still believe the Texans should draft a quarterback with the third overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, something tells me it will be Davis Mills throwing dimes this time next year as the Texans attempt to lock up a playoff spot in the final weeks of the 2022 regular season. See you then!

Follow me on Twitter: @FizzyJoe