In this week’s power rankings, I can happily report the Houston Texans are back in the win column!!! Wooo!!!
And it wasn’t against any opponent - it was against the resurgent Denver Broncos! Both Houston and Denver are engaged in a highly contested race for a wildcard spot in the NFL Playoffs, with Denver coming into NRG Stadium on a five-game winning streak. This win streak didn’t come from a cupcake schedule, either. They beat The Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills, and the Cleveland Browns en route to this pivotal contest in the AFC. Houston has been one of the hottest teams in the NFL, but Denver fans had earned their newfound pride.
In fact, Houston fans had plenty reason to be nervous about this game. Despite a fantastic showing against the rival Jacksonville Jaguars, the Texans came up just short of forcing overtime and lost 24-21. That loss put Houston squarely in the middle of the race for the final three wildcard spots, behind the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Indianapolis Colts, and tied with the Buffalo Bills and the incoming Denver Broncos for fourth place. The victor of this matchup was clearly going to have a significant leg over the other as the regular season draws to an end, as conference record and head-to-head matchups start to matter more and more.
But, I don’t think either fanbase could have expected the result of Sunday’s game. C.J. Stroud had another impressive showing, but he was certainly not the spotlight that we’ve come to expect. That honor goes to the defense, highlighted by cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and rookie Will Anderson Jr. Indeed, it was an invigorating showing from the two juniors of the team - both back-to-back third overall picks by the Texans.
Stingley finished with two pivotal interceptions in the second half - one coming deep in Denver territory and leading to the sole C.J. Stroud touchdown of the day and the other leading to an eight-play, 33 yard drive by the Texans’ offense that, while largely unimpressive, burned 4:57 off the clock late in the fourth quarter.
Up front on defense, Will Anderson had arguably his best game as a pro. On 42 snaps, he had five tackles, four quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, and two sacks. What a game! I mean, he had a statistically similar game to Los Angeles Chargers star edge rusher Khalil Mack! He even blocked a punt!
The Texans really got Will Anderson and CJ Stroud in the same draft pic.twitter.com/P7BvrVPSJi— PFF (@PFF) December 4, 2023
Will Anderson's first career punt block.— Jeremy Branham (@JeremyBranham) December 5, 2023
I have no idea what kind of protection that is by Denver and #32. pic.twitter.com/9JKXmXzjqT
Very good edge contain by Anderson to make Perine choose the cut back, there was a lot of room on the perimeter. Third down stop. pic.twitter.com/OwF5YJ5jQJ— TexansCap (@TexansCap) December 6, 2023
A banner game for Anderson, and a performance from Stingley that lives up to his third overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Houston’s defense was able to hold Denver to just 17 points, and still had to answer the bell on the final possession with a game-winning interception in the end zone. Thank goodness for a healthy Jimmie Ward!
On the other side of the ball, Houston was still able to chew up 353 yards of offense, their fifth in a row of gaining 350+ yards. 274 of these yards came from C.J. Stroud, who still looked impressive despite this being one of his more modest performances.
Despite the statistics, no turnovers, especially against a defense like the Broncos’ is pretty impressive on its own. The offense even lost a major key to its success, rookie wide receiver Tank Dell, to a season-ending ankle injury during the performance. This is a crushing blow to the entire offense, as Dell was a favorite target of Stroud’s since training camp.
Fighting through such adversity as victors should earn them a bump in the rankings, right? Well, let’s see:
9. Houston Texans (7-5) (Last Week: 11)
They were bracing for the worst, having suffered their past three losses in heartbreaking fashion, and the Texans’ luck already felt gone after losing Tank Dell to what would be a season-ending injury. But Jimmie Ward’s game-clinching, final-minute, end-zone interception — one of Houston’s three critical picks Sunday — clinched yet another dramatic victory, which is also something the Texans have come to know. The past five wins all came down to the wire in one-score games, so they’ve pulled out more close ones than they’ve not. We’ve touted other possibilities in this space, but DeMeco Ryans has to be among the favorites for Coach of the Year, right? We know he’d love to do better offensively than 4-for-16 on third down and settling for three short field goals with a backup kicker. But the young Texans moved another step closer to the postseason, which seemed unimaginable even two months ago.
- Eric Edholm
10. Houston Texans (7-5)
Week 13 ranking: 12
Pleasant surprise: WR Nico Collins
The emergence of Collins has been as much of a pleasant surprise as the play of rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. Collins has been Stroud’s No. 1 receiver with 85 targets and 59 receptions, and he ranks ninth in the NFL in receiving yards (991). Before the season, Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said their receiving core would surprise some people, and Collins has answered that call. In Week 13, Collins had 191 yards against the Denver Broncos, the fifth most in a single game this season.
- DJ Bien-Aime
9. Houston Texans (7-5) (Last Week: 12)
Last week: win vs. Denver, 22–17
Next week: at New York Jets
Full thoughts on the Texans here. I am beginning to think that, because of Houston’s cornerstone players (corner, EDGE and QB) all on affordable rookie contracts and a significant amount of salary cap space next year, the Texans will be a trendy Super Bowl pick or a deep conference title game pick. I’m not saying they’ll make it there, but it is wild to think of how far this team has come in a matter of a few months.
- Conor Orr
9. Houston Texans (7-5)
Last Week: 10
Week 13 Result: Won vs. Denver 22-17
For most of the 2023 season, quarterback C.J. Stroud has been the star of Houston’s surprising season. Sunday against the Denver Broncos, one of the pass-catchers stole the spotlight.
Now, Stroud had himself another day—274 passing yards and a touchdown. But with rookie sensation Nathaniel Dell out with a season-ending leg injury, Nico Collins was the main beneficiary to the tune of a career-high 191 yards and a touchdown on nine catches.
While talking to reporters after the victory, Stroud talked up the young wide receiver.
“I’m just proud to see his work pay off,” Stroud said. “Blessed to be able to be in a position to feed him like that and he’s definitely stepped up when we needed him to.”
“The Texans aren’t just winning because of Stroud,” Davenport said. “Rookie edge-rusher Will Anderson logged two sacks against Denver. Veteran safety Jimmie Ward snagged the end-zone interception that sealed the game. Collins stepped up in a huge way after Dell was lost to injury. Different players stepping up and guiding the team to a win is a hallmark of a legitimate playoff contender. And while no one saw it coming before the season, the Texans appear to be just that.”
- Gary Davenport, Maurice Moton, Brent Sobleski
Average Ranking: 9.25 (Last Week Average: 11.25)
Now, that’s what I call a confluence of thought! The Texans successfully navigated the dreaded November schedule virtually unscathed, kicked off their December slate with an advantageous conference win, and the rankings have reflected their success. A team like this deserves to be in the top 10, giving us a weekly demonstration on how to separate your team from the also-rans and into the company of playoff competition. You won’t always be able to count on the quarterback, the turnover margin (which Houston somehow won), or the run-game. Sometimes, you just need a remarkably resilient defense that can bend until you’re on the verge of cardiac arrest, but will never break.
Next week, the Houston Texans travel to New York City to play the New York Jets. The Jets have infamously had a putrid offense, predictably unable to recover after quarterback Aaron Rodgers tore his ACL four snaps into his career in New York. Despite this, their defense has been phenomenal for nearly the entire season, and few quarterbacks can claim to have had much success against them. The Broncos may have proven a challenge to C.J. Stroud, but the Jets will be a real test.
What do you think, though? Will next week’s game be really that difficult against a mediocre Jets team? Should the Texans be ranked higher? Are we a little too high on our own supply? Let us know in the comments below!