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2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week Eighteen

Where do the Texans land after their loss to the 49ers?

Houston Texans v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

After his best game of the season, Davis Mills and the Texans sought to keep the hype train rolling into the offseason with another victory against a playoff-caliber opponent in the San Francisco 49ers. Traveling back to California, not far from his alma mater, Mills got the opportunity to reflect on his life as a quarterback thus far. This game, after all, would mean the most out of his career thus far. A fantastic showing against the lowly Chargers defense in an upset victory is one thing, doing it again against the sticky 49ers pass defense is another. Was he up to the challenge? Unfortunately, the 49ers pass rush and defensive backfield proved too overwhelming for Mills, who finished 21/32 for 163 yards (5.1 yards per attempt), 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. The Texans defense kept a cap on fellow rookie quarterback Trey Lance for the better part of three quarters, but the Mills-led offense just couldn’t get rolling as they had so easily demonstrated against the Chargers the previous week. Conversation about Mills potentially being the best rookie quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft class quickly silenced after his pedestrian performance compared to Lance’s impressive 16/23 for 249 (10.8 per attempt), 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception (along with 8 rushes for 31 yards).

While Davis Mills didn’t perform nearly as well as last week, a performance like this makes a lot more sense for a rookie third-round quarterback facing a top ten defense. The complimentary rushing attack was quelled, the reliable offensive line play was demoshliehd by an aggresive 49ers front, and all of the sudden Mills was left to make plays on his own. No more big Rex Burkhead runs, no more time in the pocket, Mills was back to seeing the big bodies in front of him melt as a swarm of red jerseys descended upon him.

As this season winds down, and the Texans get to stare at their 4-12 record as they prepare to play spoiler for the Titans next week, we get to wonder if this record, no better or worse than it was last year, is a bearer of good tidings in the future, or a harbinger of more bad seasons. With the Texans performance this week contrasted against their victory last week, the truth of this season remains elusive. While Mills and fellow rookies Brevin Jordan and Nico Collins have steadily improved as the season went on, they still struggled mightily against stiff competition. Jonathan Greenard and Lovie Smith’s pass defense continued to play well, but not well enough to win. Are we a better team than we were last year? Well, while it is tempting to throw our hands up in apathy in a response to two very disappointing seasons, it would be harsh to say that the Texans haven’t looked the part of a better team recently.

But, we can’t draw too many conclusions yet, since there is still one game left to be played. This Texans team has shown more and more fight with each passing week, and it’s only right to let them finish their swan song before we start speculating on the future, lest we make the same mistake as Mills and stare into the setting California sun, so blinded by its radiance that we miss the beautiful yellow deepen to warm tangerine and then further into an orange-brown, settling into a warm purple. If we don’t see these transitions, how confidently can we say we saw the sunset?

Here’s where everyone is rankings the Texans after their loss to the 49ers:


28. Houston Texans (4-12)

Previous ranking: 28

New Year’s resolution: Trade Deshaun Watson

Both parties have made it clear that Watson’s future is not in Houston. While the Texans and Dolphins tried to get a deal done at the trade deadline, the lawsuits against Watson alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior prevented that from happening. Obviously there are still a lot of unknowns for how Watson’s legal situation plays out, but at some point the Texans will move on from the quarterback and be able to move on to the next chapter in the franchise. — Sarah Barshop


27. Houston Texans (4-12)

Previous rank: No. 27

Let’s give some love to the NFL’s most under-appreciated playmaker: Brandin Cooks. The veteran wideout had Houston’s lone touchdown in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers and has quietly put together yet another productive season in a career filled with them. True story: Cooks now has six 1,000-yard seasons in his eight years in the NFL. He’s also played with four teams in those eight years, which tells you this is a man who’s been fighting a Rodney Dangerfield level of disrespect from the jump. We got you, bud.


28. Texans (4-12, No. 28): Could Davis Mills be the best quarterback of the 2021 rookie class?


30. Texans (30): Tip of the cap to WR Brandin Cooks, who managed a career-best 87 receptions in 2021 despite suboptimal circumstances ... to say the least.


28. Houston Texans (4-12)


30. Houston Texans (4–12)

Last week: Loss at San Francisco, 23–7

Next week: vs. Tennessee

David Culley outcoached expectations this year to the point where it would be wholly unfair for the Texans to part ways with him after the season. While it’s difficult to say there is something special brewing in Houston, we can acknowledge that this patchwork Texans team played much better than we thought.


28. Houston Texans (4-12):

They played tough again at San Francisco, which could mean David Culley is coming back. Can they knock off the Titans this week?


30. Houston Texans (4-12)

Last Week: 28

Week 17 Result: Lost at San Francisco 23-7

The Houston Texans headed into Week 17 riding high after their biggest win of the 2021 season—a 41-29 victory over the Chargers.

There would be no win No. 5 Sunday in San Francisco.

The Texans were thoroughly outclassed by rookie quarterback Trey Lance and the 49ers. Offensively, the run game that helped the Texans knock off Los Angeles never got untracked, managing just 86 yards. Defensively, the Texans had no answer for San Francisco’s ground game, surrendering 4.7 yards per carry and 175 rushing yards total.

Frankly, head coach David Culley deserves credit for keeping one of the least talented teams in the league in as many games as he has. But the focus now needs to be on the future. If the season ended today, the Texans would pick third in April’s draft, and if Deshaun Watson’s legal situation is resolved and a trade partner can be found, Houston could find itself with as much draft capital as any team in the league.

That’s a good thing—because the Texans also have as many holes on the roster as any team in the league.


29. Houston Texans (4-12, LW: 30)

There was an report that David Culley seems to be in no danger of being fired, and why would he be? The Texans have been fairly competitive lately and Culley has gotten the most he can out of this roster. It’s impossible to blame him for the Texans’ poor record.

It looks like we’re going to settle in the 27-30 range. With a win against Tennessee, however, and we’ll be the life of the party.

Here’s my personal power rankings entering week eighteen:

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

Even as the playoff picture starts to finally settle into place, there’s still plenty of movement in the top fifteen as Sunday’s upsets took place. Cincinnati, with the help of some absolutely hilarious catches made by rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase, beat the inconquerable Chiefs to take the AFC North. The Raiders are having a very Eagles-like late season surge that has led to a 3-game winning streak and a win-and-in scenario against the Chargers in the final week of the regular season. For those two AFC West teams, the wild and winding road to the playoffs has ended a week early, and their final divison game will function as a defacto playoff game to satisfy the wild spirits that inhabit both franchises. Can Derek Carr put his team on his back one last time to get to his first playoff game, or will Justin Herbert prove that he has the clutch factor in him to take the Chargers to the playoffs in just his second year?

Of course, all of this can be moot if the Colts somehow manage to lose to the Jaguars, in which case the Raiders and Chargers can make history and join forces by kneeling the entire game to force a tie and both make the playoffs. A rare era of peacetime among NFL rivals could begin in week eighteen, and it only makes sense that it would be between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders.

The Eagles, however have clinched a playoff spot! After a 2-5 start, Jalen Hurts and the Eagles reinvested in the Miles Sanders-led rushing attack, leading to tremendous success in the latter half of the season. Unfortunately, Miles Sanders may miss their first playoff game under Hurts and Sirianni with a broken hand, but these Eagles have already proven they can adapt under pressure.

Next week, the Texans host the No. 1 seeded Titans for the season finale. Through all of their trials and tribulations, the Titans have somehow found themselves at the top of the heap in the AFC, but all can be for not if Davis Mills and the Texans can play one more banner game before a pivotal offseason begins. One more chance for Davis Mills and David Culley to remain unbeaten against the rival Titans, one more chance to be the monkey in the wrench. It would be a great way to kick off the new year.

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