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Battle Red Blog Power Rankings: Wild Card Weekend

Where do the Texans land on my final power rankings of the season?

NFL: Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts Jenna Watson-USA TODAY Sports

We made it! 17 games, three stupid victories and a tie later, the Houston Texans are now in possession of the second overall pick thanks to a mini-Hail Mary from the hands of Davis Mills:

What a stupid season. What an absolutely ridiculous season, with an ending just as fitting. 2022 was supposed to be a year at least modestly better than the last, as one can expect during a rebuild, but instead the season was once again capped off with the head coach getting fired after just a single season. General Manager Nick Caserio embraced the Davis Mills experience, doubled down on his 2021 free agency philosophy of short-term contracts for milquetoast veterans (which, admittedly, worked out with Jerry Hughes and Steven Nelson), and bet on the rookies to turn a scarcely improved roster into something to rally behind.

Thanks to Dameon Pierce, Jalen Pitre, and Christian Harris, there’s more reason to believe in a real foundation is manifesting. But, 2021 draft picks Davis Mills, Brevin Jordan, and Nico Collins failure to amount to much pushes this rebuild further behind schedule.

This game played out remarkably similar to Mills’ tie against the Colts at the opening of the season, where in which Mills started hot, coughed up the football, and then did little productive on offense for the majority of the second half. This time around, however, thanks to a beautiful fourth and 13 pass to Brandin Cooks (likely his last catch as a Texan) and the fourth and 20 Hail Mary, Mills’ was able to turn the best loss of his career into a potentially franchise destabilizing victory. Good for Lovie Smith, who gets to stick it to an organization that quickly made it obvious their disinterest in giving him an actual chance.

The biggest issues for Houston entering the 2022 offseason were figuring out how to stop the run and how to score more often, and neither of these were improved in Nick Caserio’s second year and Lovie Smith’s first. Caserio’s paper-thin investment in filling the interior line and linebacking corps with better players matches their improvement against the run in 2022, but he and Lovie Smith can at least attest to modest improvement against passing offenses, great red-zone passing defense, more defensive turnovers, and great special teams play. It was a tall order for Smith to take the roster he was given and improve it all across the board with the help of a few more backup defensive ends and some rookie defensive backs, but he was able to at least improve some elements of it.

Additionally, Smith would have needed a miracle for Davis Mills to transform into a quarterback that can consistently put his team in scoring position. When it was clear that miracle would never materialize, rookie running back Dameon Pierce became crucial to the Texans’ ability to hang in games into the second half. Once he was gone, it was all on Davis Mills, who wasn’t exactly aided by Caserio’s moves, either, but continued his trend of streaky passing performances.

Davis Mills, however, turned into a turnover machine in first full season starting, giving up 18 of the team’s 28 total turnovers, with a league-leading seven interceptions in the 4th quarter. For a team scoring as infrequently as the Texans, these turnovers were especially deadly. Lovie Smith can be blamed for a lot of things this season, but he can’t be blamed for failing to improve the record of a team as prone to disaster as that. It would have been interesting to see a Lovie Smith-led Texans team with better players on the defensive line and fewer turnovers at the quarterback position, but because of Houston’s haste to embarrass itself, we’ll only get to speculate.

If you are looking for a more in depth review of Houston’s ugly and anticlimactic 2022 season, I’ve written more in detail in my NFL Power Rankings Index post here. This post will function more of a brief review of every teams record, their position in my final power rankings of the year, and as a place for me to prognosticate the NFL Playoffs! Happy new year, the Texans have finally limped their way to the finish line, and now that they’ve fired Lovie Smith, are capable of pretty much anything this offseason. It’s bound to be at least an exciting few months of speculation for Texans fans, but for now, here’s my 2023 NFL Playoffs predictions

Note: I will not be including a final score for each playoff game, but rather just the victor of each game

Wildcard Weekend:

Seahawks vs. 49ers: 49ers

Chargers vs. Jaguars: Chargers

Dolphins vs. Bills: Bills

Giants vs. Vikings: Vikings

Ravens vs. Bengals: Bengals

Cowboys vs. Buccaneers: Cowboys

Divisional Round:

Chargers vs. Chiefs: Chiefs

Bengals vs. Bills : Bills

Cowboys vs. Eagles: Eagles

Vikings vs. 49ers: 49ers

Conference Championships:

Bills vs. Chiefs: Bills

49ers vs. Eagles: Eagles

Super Bowl:

Bills vs. Eagles: Bills

In my opinion, the Bills have the best roster in football, just barely better than the Eagles, and will be able to ride Josh Allen to their first Super Bowl championship in franchise history.

Here’s my final power rankings entering the offseason:

  1. Buffalo Bills (13-3) (Last Week: 1) - Even though they got a bit of a scare from New England, this is what I believe to still be the best team in the NFL. With Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, Dawson Knox, Gabriel Davis, Devin Singletary, and James Cook highlighting the offense, 30+ points are an expectation in every playoff game. To beat the Bills, their opponent must score on takeaways and score a lot.
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (14-3) (Last Week: 4) - With the #1 seed wrapped up and Mahomes still playing like Mahomes, it’s very hard justifying the Chiefs as the second best team in the NFL rather than the first. They have plenty of issues on defense, but Mahomes is simply the ultimate weapon. To beat them, the opposing team will have to play a perfect game, force multiple turnovers, and score over 35.
  3. San Francisco 49ers (13-4) (Last Week: 2) - I’ve seen enough to believe in Brock Purdy, now. He’s not a superstar, but he’s certainly a decent quarterback on a team with a fantastic ground-game and defense. Beating the 49ers will require a multi-headed attack on the ground and through the air, and keeping pace with them will require players like George Kittle or Deebo Samuel to be defended against perfectly.
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) (Last Week: 3) - Just like last year, Cincinnati is playing their best offensive football entering the playoffs. This time around, their defense may be even better than before, giving Joe Burrow more opportunity to run up the score in the second half. Beating Cincinnati is all about keeping a cap on Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins when the second half approaches. If that can be done, a low-scoring affair can be won against them.
  5. Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) (Last Week: 5) - With Jalen Hurts back in the picture, the Eagles can resume their regularly scheduled offense. The defense can and will give up some points in the playoffs, but victory against Philadelphia can only be assured in Jalen Hurts can be contained. Their bootleg/triple action with Hurts, Sanders, and Goedert is deadly, but fantastic linebacker and defensive line play can keep him from chewing up yards.
  6. Minnesota Vikings (13-4) (Last Week: 8) - A great game from Kirk Cousins might not mean much against the Bears, but it reminds us that getting the ball to Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborne is the bread and butter to this offense. Beating them won’t be easy since they’ve made a habit of winning games in the final seconds, but putting pressure on Cousins and scoring early - as many teams have this season - is a good recipe to keep them down. Just keep scoring on them until the game is actually over.
  7. Dallas Cowboys (12-5) (Last Week: 6) - It’s a nasty loss to the Commanders that ends the Cowboys’ regular season, and it reminds everyone of their weaknesses. Dallas has been turning the ball over plenty, but their defense and big plays on offense make them a deadly team, anyways. Like Cousins, getting frequent pressure on Prescott is key to success, and scoring off of his inevitable turnovers can put the game away sooner rather than later.
  8. Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) (Last Week: 7) It’s not the most ideal way to end the season, but at least Justin Herbert looked great! This defense has to become more consistent if they plan to actually make a playoff run, but Justin Herbert’s brilliance can be relied upon in times of crisis. The goal for the Chargers will be to get Herbert and Mike Williams as many touches as possible, and the goal for the opposition will be to run them over to put the game away early.
  9. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8) (Last Week: 9) - Trevor Lawrence didn’t exactly win the game and earn a playoff spot for Jacksonville fans in the finale, but his defense sure did! Trevor Lawrence has been fantastic for most of the latter half of the 2022 season, but he’ll need to continue that hot streak if Jacksonville is aiming on out-gunning the Chargers next week. Expect a lot of scoring, but with both of these teams, hot and cold streaks are expected.
  10. Detroit Lions (9-8) (Last Week; 10) - Yeah, I know they didn’t make the playoffs, but you know they could beat a lot of these playoff teams if they had made it in! That loss to the Seahawks ended up dooming their season, but the Lions’ surge to a winning record after starting 1-6 is nothing short of remarkable. With a few more playmakers on defense, they’ll be a Super Bowl team.
  11. New York Giants (9-7-1) (Last Week: 12) - It doesn’t make much sense boosting the Giants up a spot after resting most of their starters and losing to the Eagles, but their recent improved play on the ground and with Daniel Jones should give Giants fans optimism against the Vikings’ putrid defense. Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley will need to have another great game, but at least they’ve already proven they can do so against this exact opponent!
  12. Baltimore Ravens (10-7) (Last Week: 11) - Limping into the playoffs without Lamar Jackson is quite the curse for Ravens fans that just want to see the former MVP turn this mediocre roster into a contender, again. And to start the playoffs with another visit to Cincinnati? The Ravens can win this game if they have a fantastic rushing attack and force plenty of turnovers, but Joe Burrow has had his way with the Ravens for awhile, now.
  13. Seattle Seahawks (9-8) (Last Week: 14) - Somehow, someway, Geno Smith has led the Seattle Seahawks to the playoffs. One of the unlikeliest outcomes of the 2022 season was in danger of being lost after a close game with the Rams and a near miss with the Packers, but it was all for not as Geno Smith and Kenneth Walker squeeze into the playoffs.
  14. Miami Dolphins (9-8) (Last Week: 15) - Similar to the Ravens, the Dolphins have limped into the playoffs after an ugly showing against the eliminated Jets. If Tua can return, this team can make some noise, but if not, little can be done to stop the Bills.
  15. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-8) (Last Week: 17) - Now THIS is the team that should’ve made the playoffs! The Steelers have been sloppy all year on offense, but rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett has proven to have a knack for creating big plays at the most crucial moments in the game, and their defense has been excellent for the past several weeks. The Steelers might just be a few free agent signings, another receiver, and a cornerback away from becoming another dynasty.
  16. Green Bay Packers (8-9) (Last Week: 13) - A wild comeback into playoff contention ends with a big dud at the hands of the rival Lions, and now both teams are stuck on the coach in January. Regardless if this was Aaron Rodgers’ last year in Green Bay or not, these past several weeks have shown plenty of promise from Christian Watson and Jaire Alexander. If Jordan Love’s extended time of the bench can prove fruitful, he can be an excellent complement to a great rushing attack and a strong defense. This year was certainly a disappointment for Packers fans, but the youth on the roster kept them in contention till the very end.
  17. New England Patriots (8-9) (Last Week: 16) - It was a valiant final push for the Patriots, who have been through plenty of ebbs and flows just this season (remember Bailey Zappe) just to come up a game short of making the playoffs. This defense has been great all season and has only been improving, but now the controversy of the Mac Jones, new-look offense must be addressed through the draft.
  18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9) (Last Week: 20) - It’s been a weird season for the Brady-neers, but even after numerous hard losses, injuries, a milquetoast surge to playoff contention, and now a division crown with a losing record, they’re still dangerous enough to give any opponent some pause. Brady has hit his stride along with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but scoring 30+ won’t be easy in the playoffs.
  19. Carolina Panthers (7-10) (Last Week: 21) - This was the NFC South team that should’ve made the playoffs! A defense and rushing attack like this could have been kryptonite for the Cowboys, but instead, we’ll get to see if Brady has enough left in the tank to beat Dak Prescott. Carolina will likely be aggressive in the offseason looking for a coach and quarterback to plug into their near playoffs-worthy roster. But, due to the Colts’ spectacular flameout attempting to do the same thing with Matt Ryan, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of passer Carolina targets for 2023.
  20. Washington Commanders (8-8-1) (Last Week: 24) - A victory in a meaningless finale doesn’t make up for previous game in Cleveland, but at least gives Commanders fans a reminder of how good this defense can be. Sam Howell FINALLY got an opportunity to play, but his overall lackluster performance didn’t give me any confidence in his chances of vying for the starting job in 2023. Regardless of the good that came out of this game, Washington enters the offseason with possibly the most up in the air. Infamous owner Daniel Snyder has explored selling the team, and Ron Rivera’s future likely won’t be decided until a new owner is found. Similar to the Panthers, the Commanders are a quarterback away from being a great team, making them a potential landing spot for Derek Carr.
  21. New Orleans Saints (7-10) (Last Week: 19) - New Orleans’ goal of getting a good look at Jameis Winston in 2022 went up in smoke remarkably quickly, and collapsed mid season despite Andy Dalton’s best efforts. Despite that, however, a top 10 defense and a 3-1 finish that included a victory against the Eagles seems to have given Dennis Allen the security of a second season as head coach. Andy Dalton’s renaissance in gold fell a few games short of a playoff berth, but Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry’s injuries didn’t help his case. Rookie wide receiver Chris Olave was phenomenal all season, Rashid Shaheed looked great towards the end of the season, and tight end Juwan Johnson improved all through it. This run defense is BAD, but there’s plenty of pieces on both sides to encourage Saints fans that this dip below .500 shouldn’t last very long.
  22. Las Vegas Raiders (6-11) (Last Week: 18) - There was no return to contention in November/December for the Raiders this year, and now with Derek Carr’s future in serious question, this team enters unknown territory in 2023. Anything can happen this offseason, but regardless of what does, it probably won’t yield many short-term victories.
  23. Atlanta Falcons (7-10) (Last Week: 25) - Desmond Ridder finally had a great game! Plenty of questions surround this Falcons team, which got more production out of unlikely rookies than even they could have expected, but still have plenty of work to be done on defense. It’s a big offseason for Arthur Smith, so expect some big transactions.
  24. New York Jets (7-10) (Last Week: 22) - The Jets were at one point the talk of the town this season, but Zach Wilson’s lack of progression and then Mike White injury put the high-flying Jets into a death spiral as the final month of the regular season approached. It was a wildly disappointing finish for a Jets team loaded on defense, but, similar to the Panthers, could be just a quarterback away from serious contention.
  25. Cleveland Browns (7-10) (Last Week: 23) - Deshaun Watson’s first year at Cleveland didn’t amount to much besides putting doubt within the minds of all who anticipated his return to action after serving his 11-game suspensions due to numerous sexual misconduct allegations. Watson was slow, sloppy, and inconsistent for the majority of his 5 games with the Browns, but improved modestly down the stretch. Regardless, Cleveland has some fires power on offense despite Watson, but needs a full makeover on the defensive coaching staff if they want to be back in contention soon.
  26. Los Angeles Rams (5-12) (Last Week: 27) - This was one of the most surprising results of the 2022 season. The current defending Super Bowl champions completely cratered this year, lost their quarterback, went through death spirals on both sides of the ball, and enter the offseason potentially looking for a new head coach. They gambled it all away in 2021 in search of a championship, and now they are reaping the results.
  27. Houston Texans (3-13-1) (Last Week: 32) - Here we are! It’s certainly not easy writing power rankings every week when the team you cover has bounced around the bottom 5 slots basically the whole season, but Houston showed enough improvement these past few weeks that boosting them up from the very bottom seemed earned. Even though they’re hitting the reset button…again…entering the offseason, Dameon Pierce, Jalen Pitre, and Christian Harris have finally given Houston some form of a foundation to build upon entering year 3 of the rebuild. They’re way behind schedule, but at least they’re doing something.
  28. Tennessee Titans (7-10) (last Week: 26) - What an ugly end to the season. Tennessee, another team that fixed themselves as a Super Bowl contender in 2022, fell down and fell HARD as November approached. Now, with very few key players on offense and defense to look forwards to next year, they’re a real contender to either trade up a take a quarterback in the upcoming draft, or go full rebuild.
  29. Denver Broncos (5-12) (Last Week: 29) - Many of the teams down this far were not bad teams staying bad, but teams that flopped after an offseason of hype. The Broncos, one of the most hyped teams of the 2022 offseason, splattered themselves in embarrassing fashion nearly every week of the season. If there’s a open position at head coach that’s even less attractive than Houston’s, it might be Denver’s.
  30. Arizona Cardinals (4-13) (Last Week: 30) - Since that amazing comeback versus the Raiders in week 2, there were few positives for the Cardinals this entire season. An aging roster, a terrible offensive line, few good receivers, a defense that found their way too late, and an offense that couldn’t complement them to save their lives defined a season where Super Bowl aspirations were wiped away before the first month was over. Kyler Murray is still here, and the defense is worth something, so maybe they’re closer to returning to contention than others.
  31. Indianapolis Colts (4-12-1) (Last Week: 31) - The Colts became the big clown show this year, which makes Houston’s victory over them to finish the season a little bit easier to swallow. Who you crappin’?
  32. Chicago Bears (3-14) (Last Week; 28) - The Bears have plenty of reasons to fancy themselves a playoff contender next year, but as of right now, thanks to the Texans doing their thing, the Bears are in possession of the 1st overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. With Justin Fields using this season to launch himself to stardom, the Bears are unlikely to take a quarterback with their pick. But, with such value, they will certainly be listening to plenty of teams trying to leapfrog Houston who are in search of the coveted franchise passer. Houston got themselves into this problem, now only fate can drag them out.
NFL: JAN 08 Texans at Colts Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

That’s it! The 2022 regular season is now over, and for 18 teams, the long offseason now begins. Houston, now practically a blank slate of a franchise, will be in the mix of every major development of the offseason as they try to put together a good roster by September. Trades, big free agent signings, drama about the 1st overall pick, and the ever-important second and third round picks will define what is likely to be one of the most engaging offseason in recent Texans history.