It happened!!! It happened!!!! The Houston Texans have won a playoff game!!!! Take that, Cleveland!
Week after week, the Power Rankings cognoscenti would place the Texans in between the 10 and 15 positions, clearly marking them as playoff hopefuls, then playoff also-rans. Even into wildcard weekend, Houston was still placed at #14 and #15 on some writer’s rankings, and virtually nobody had them ranked over the Cleveland Browns. To the casual football fan, Cleveland was the class of the AFC. Their defense was suffocating, their offense resurgent under veteran quarterback Joe Flacco. Everything seemed to be going their way into the postseason, and Houston was to be a stepping stone on their way to history.
Well…you know how that went!
C.J. Stroud had other plans in mind. DeMeco Ryans had other plans in mind. So did Nico Collins, and Steven Nelson, and Christian Harris, Jonathan Greenard, and basically everyone else on Houston’s sideline. Heck, even Joe Flacco had other plans in mind!
The Texans didn’t just beat the Cleveland Browns, they blew out the Cleveland Browns, 45-14. They kept pace with the Browns, outpaced the Browns, then slammed the door shut on them. The Houston Texans knocked them out of the postseason like last week’s cold. It’s absolutely phenomenal how complete Houston’s victory was against Cleveland. The only word I think does it justice is surreal. This is such a unlikely, fantastically positive result that it simply cannot be true. This just has to be a dream.
But it isn’t! The next morning, I woke up and the Texans were still one of what will be eight teams left on Tuesday. The next day, they became the only Texas NFL team left in the postseason following the Dallas Cowboys’ exquisite 48-32 loss to the Green Bay Packers. This is real! It’s really happening!
Finally, after so many weeks of underrating the Texans, the power rankings writers will be forced to put them at least in the top eight, validating them as a top-ten team. They have earned that right, and after dismantling the beloved Cleveland Browns, they deserve it. Houston is here right now, hot as any team left in the postseason and prepared to win it all right now.
Here’s where everyone has ranked Houston entering the Divisional Round of the 2023 NFL Playoffs:
6. Houston Texans (11-7) (Last Week: 9)
From coughing up the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to blowing out the Browns in a home playoff game, it has been a heck of a 53-week stretch for the Texans. When you explain to your non-football-fan friends why the sport is so great, this phenomenon could stand as reasoning high on the list. This was mostly a trainwreck team a year ago — now it’s one win away from the AFC Championship Game. And with C.J. Stroud at the trigger, are you saying they can’t do it? In Week 1 at Baltimore, Stroud was held out of the end zone and sacked five times, losing a fumble on one. It was the only game Stroud started and finished without accounting for a TD, but this is a different Texans team now. Last week against the Browns — and a defense that some argued was in the same tier as the Ravens’ unit — Stroud chewed up Cleveland in the first half, and the game was over by midway through the third quarter. The Texans will roll into M&T Bank Stadium as big underdogs, naturally, but their rookie star and a playmaking defense give them plenty of bite.
- Eric Edholm
[Ed. Note: USA Today’s power rankings are based on their odds of winning the Super Bowl.]
8. Houston Texans (+3000)
Previously: 10 (+4000)
Taking down one of the league’s top defenses in a commanding, 45-14 win over the Browns wasn’t enough to significantly boost the Texans’ Super Bowl odds. Perhaps that’s because they’ll face one of the NFL’s best, most well-rounded teams in the No. 1-seeded Ravens in the divisional round.
- Jack McKissey
4. Houston Texans (in AFC)
The Texans have a rookie quarterback (C.J. Stroud) and a rookie head coach (DeMeco Ryans), but they’re clearly ready to compete right now. They shredded an otherwise super-stingy Cleveland Browns defense on Saturday, scoring 45 points and nearly seeing Stroud post more touchdown passes (three) than incompletions (five). Houston will be a handful for anyone.
- Zack Buckley
8. Houston Texans (10)
The Texans have been a great turnaround story for the season with rookie leaders C.J. Stroud and DeMeco Ryans getting so much of the well-designed 49ers-like offense and defense. They face a tall order vs. the Ravens’ overall experience with Jackson and John Harbaugh away from the energetic Houston faithful. The Texans are the clear party-crashers in the round but it will be too difficult for them to upset the Ravens and then the Chiefs-Bills winner, both on the road.
- Vinnie Iyer
YES!!!! YES!!!! Finally, they have put the Texans up where they deserve! The Texans defense has been swarming for months and C.J. Stroud has been playing like an MVP since returning from injury, and finally they’re given the respect they deserve. It’s still disappointing to see them hanging towards the bottom of some list, seeing as they just beat the Browns. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see people putting Cleveland over Tampa Bay had they won on Saturday, but they ran into the buzzsaw that is Houston. Regardless, leaping into elite company is a huge accomplishment.
So much for Browns defensive end Myles Garrett making his stamp on the playoffs, he was virtually invisible for the majority of the game! So much for that #1 defense in the country, their man-coverage and aggression costing them dearly possession after possession. And so much for another big game from Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper, cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. following him around and matching his position for much of the game - something he’s rarely done to opposing star receivers up until this point. Stingley shut Cooper down, and despite early production from Flacco and Browns tight end David Njoku, there would no consistency in their passing offense.
Right when the Browns started getting some traction in the third quarter, Flacco threw an interception that would end up being an 82-yard pick six! Flacco was pressured, looked to be expecting his receiver cut to the sideline instead of downfield, and threw up a duck straight to Steven Nelson, who ran it all the way back as a roaring crowd showered him. The very next possession, Joe Flacco throws a bullet right in front of linebacker Christian Harris, who had a straight shot to another pick six and locking up Houston’s first playoff win since 2019.
Now, remarkably, since that ill-fated playoff run of 2019, the Houston Texans have come full circle. After the disastrous fallout with Deshaun Watson, the entire organization bottoming out in 2020, the hiring and then firing of Jack Easterby, multiple head coach firings, and so much more, the Houston Texans have climbed all the way back up the mountain in 2023. If anything, this miracle shows that a rebuilds, even in the most dire of circumstances, can be completed at breakneck pace. Every year, truly anything can happen.