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The Houston Texans and the NFL Power Rankings Recap

How did the Texans fare in this year’s power rankings index?

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Kirby Lee/Getty Images

Welcome to the final Power Rankings of the 2023 season! This has been a remarkable season for the Houston Texans, who accomplished more than nearly everyone could have ever expected. So, in honor of such a historical season, I thought it’d be fitting to cap off the weekly Power Rankings post with a final, celebratory recap of the 2023 season. But first, a little backstory:

In nearly every Power Rankings article this season, I’ve highlighted four specific power rankings: Eric Edholm’s of NFL.com, DJ Bien-Aime’s of ESPN, Conor Orr’s of Sports Illustrated, and Gary Davenport, Maurice Moton, and Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report. I believe these four rankings provided a breadth of opinion surrounding the Houston Texans, providing nuanced views of the team as they navigated one of the most unlikely seasons in recent NFL history. Then, towards the middle of this season - maybe around the Carolina Panthers or Tampa Bay Buccaneers game - I started to realize a large range of where the Texans might show up on the power rankings for each website. Sometimes, one website would have the Texans ranked a full five positions higher/lower than the other!

So, around that time, I decided to start taking the average ranking of the Texans between the four websites, which I continued to use for this recap. For example:

After Week 13 of the 2023 NFL Season, the Houston Texans finished with a final average ranking of 11.25 out of 32. This average is based off of the power rankings of NFL.com (#11), ESPN (#12), Sports Illustrated (#12), and Bleacher Report (#10).

These four websites have chewed out blurbs, stats, and opinions on the Texans that have been plenty fun to react to every week of the regular season. This post will highlight the best of this season, from the deep lows of the Carolina Panthers loss to highest highs of the Buccaneers win and the Pittsburgh Steelers win and everything in between. We’ll go from a summary of the season, to Houston’s biggest leaps and falls throughout the year, and, of course, we’ll finish with a bang!

Here’s the recap of the power rankings for the 2023 NFL Season:


WHERE THEY STARTED VS. WHERE THEY ENDED:

  • Week 1 Average: 30.25
  • Week 19 (Wildcard Weekend) Average: 10.7
  • Difference: +19.55

It becomes a more impressive season for the Houston Texans the more you look back on it. They were quickly written off at the beginning of the 2023 season, ranked below the Chicago Bears, the Washington Commanders, and even the Carolina Panthers on several lists. Houston was widely seen as still deep in their rebuilding phase, a long way from challenging for a playoff spot. There were expectations for improvement, but little beyond some more close games. What would the Texans be like in the 2023 season? Nobody really had a guess, but most thought they would still be pretty bad.

C.J. Stroud quickly put these theories to bed. Starting the season with two straight losses kept Houston in the bottom of the barrel for a little while. But after the Jacksonville and Pittsburgh victories, things were looking up in a hurry! And they were looking more than up; they were looking towards the playoffs.

Here’s what Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated had to say after the regular season had concluded:

12. Houston Texans (10–7) (Last Week: 14)

Last week: win at Indianapolis, 23–19

Next week: vs. Cleveland

There is nothing like watching the pure joy of the Texans celebrating the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2019. This team completely remade itself, and has its quarterback of the future and present. Now, Houston is a year away from being truly dangerous. Although we said that about the Jaguars last year, the Texans feel like they have a bit more staying power.

Even though Orr had been ranking the Texans a bit lower than his counterparts, he’s right about Houston’s potential staying power. Unlike the Jacksonville Jaguars’ quarterback, Houston’s C.J. Stroud has been nothing but fantastic since he stepped onto the gridiron. Stroud’s performance as a rookie has made me believe that he is the best quarterback in the AFC South until proven otherwise, a significant advantage Houston will be able to exploit for hopefully quite awhile.


BIGGEST ONE-WEEK JUMP:

It’s hard to overestimate how important Houston’s victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was back in Week 4. Entering that game, Houston was 1-2 and had only just started to show consistent performance in 2023, and it was against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Don’t get me wrong, the Jaguars were no slouch, but Houston has been on the favorable end of a lopsided division rivalry for a few years now, and a victory there wouldn’t be enough to excavate them out of the bottom six NFL teams.

That big, 30-6 domination of the Steelers was certainly enough, though! Arguably one of Houston’s most complete games of the season, that game against the Steelers would end up becoming a showcase of what this Texans team was capable of on their best days. Pundits took notice, and sent them up a whopping eight positions on average up the power rankings - leapfrogging literally a quarter of the league.

The second-highest jump Houston experienced this season would come just a few weeks later, after the Week 6 victory against the New Orleans Saints. After that performance, which showed Houston’s ability to win on defense, the Texans leapt 5 positions, from 21.5 to 16.5.

Eric Edholm of NFL.com had plenty of praise for Stroud after this game:

15. Houston Texans (2-2) (Last Week: 23)

Just like that, football fever is back in Houston, with two stunningly impressive wins following a pair of double-digit losses. DeMeco Ryans appears to have his team believing after the Texans’ first home victory since 2021. And why not? Rookie CB C.J. Stroud looks poised — making 151 straight throws without a pick to start his career — and dangerous, despite multiple starters on the offensive line (most notably Laremy Tunsil) being out. Houston controlled the clock with a stout run game and zero turnovers, freshening the defense to turn in its best performance of Ryans’ early tenure. You’d like to see the Texans avoid getting bogged down so much offensively in and near the red zone, but it’s hard to nitpick much after they beat Pittsburgh the way they did.

This was one of the few early games this season where Houston had a “balanced offense.” The run game was a weak spot for the majority of the season, partially because of an injured offensive line, and partly because of a sophomore slump from Dameon Pierce. Devin Singletary was able to get the ground game back to respectability, but that element of the offense - especially considering Singletary will soon be a free agent - still remains a question mark in 2024.


BIGGEST ONE-WEEK DROP:

Not really a big surprise with either of these. The first big drop, coming the week after that huge, eight-spot jump following the Steelers victory, was a sort of reactionary correction made by the list-makers after Houston lost to the Atlanta Falcons the following week. Houston would quickly redeem themselves with a victory against New Orleans the week after, but then would again experience a drop of a little over threepositions on average following their Week 14 loss to the New York Jets.

That loss, an exact flip of the box score of the Texans vs. Steelers game, was the worst loss of the season. Even in those bad losses to the Baltimore Ravens, the Texans were competitive for an extended period of the game. Even in the ugly regular season loss to the Cleveland Browns, Houston had the excuse of not having quarterback C.J. Stroud due to a concussion. Against the Jets, Houston couldn’t do anything right, were completely inept in the second half, incapable of coping with the wet conditions, and got their star players injured during the game.

Here’s what Gary Davenport, Maurice Moton, and Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report had to say after that big loss:

12. Houston Texans (7-6)

Last Week: 9

Week 14 Result: Lost at New York Jets 30-6

The Houston Texans have been one of the surprise success stories of the 2023 season. But if the Texans wind up coming up short of the playoffs, they will likely look back to this Week 14 blowout as the game where things got away from them.

The Texans didn’t just lose to a bad Jets team Sunday—they were pounded. Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud had arguably his worst game as a pro, completing fewer than half his passes for just 91 yards. Injury was added to insult as well—Stroud was placed in the league’s concussion protocol in the fourth quarter after taking a shot from defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.

While talking to reporters after the loss, tight end Brevin Jordan admitted that losing Stroud would be a major blow to Houston’s postseason aspirations.

“He’s really like the light of our team,” Jordan said. “He’s a guy who came in here and brought a lot of moxie, a lot of swag. To see him go down is tough, but it’s football. The next man got to be up and ready to go.”

Houston had just 135 yards of offense, converted just one of 12 third downs and allowed a 300-yard passing game to Zach Wilson.

It was an ugly day all around.

Yeah, that might’ve been the ugliest day of the season for the Houston Texans. But, it wasn’t their lowest point:


LOWEST POINT IN 2023:

I have to say, after all that we’ve been through collectively as a fan base of the Houston Texans, it’s pretty sweet going back and seeing this as the low point of the season. After their first loss against the Ravens, all four websites put Houston in the same exact spot, certain that they would continue to occupy the lowest tier of NFL teams.

Here’s Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated summing it up:

31. Houston Texans (0-1)

Last week: loss at Baltimore, 25–9

Next week: vs. Indianapolis

God bless C.J. Stroud, who took a batted pass swatted into his arms and tried to carry it forward against a surging Baltimore defense. He’s tough enough for the job, that’s for sure. The rookie got put in some bad spots and was exposed a few times against all-out blitzes. What we saw on Sunday was what we spotted in the preseason a bit: Stroud isn’t letting it rip soon enough. While his snap-to-throw time was top 10 for the week, it was when the ball wasn’t immediately designed out of his hands that trouble arose.

Stroud actually continues to hold the ball if his first read isn’t there, but he’s now become much more in sync with his offensive line. Now, if Stroud isn’t getting the ball away within three seconds, he’s making a fantastic throw while evading pressure. On top of that, Stroud’s throwing motion is so incredibly fast, he can almost make up for holding the ball a little bit longer here and there. All power rankers would have to eat their words in a hurry this season, as we’ll see in Houston’s zenith of the 2023 season:


HIGHEST POINT IN 2023 (Regular Season):

This high came after the crucial 22-17 victory over the Denver Broncos, which would end up becoming one of the most important victories of the season. Denver was coming to Houston on a five-game winning streak and with a resurgent defense, tallying up turnovers like they were field goals. In this game, C.J. Stroud and the offense proved they could win a slow, grinding game (albeit with the help of a big game from Nico Collins). But, the star of this game was the Texans’ defense, which forced three turnovers and came up big to stop Denver on the final possession with an interception in the end zone by safety Jimmie Ward.

In my view, this was one of the games that Houston really proved they were a playoff team. To me, playoff teams still have clear strengths and weaknesses like any other NFL team, but are capable of winning in a variety of ways. Playoff teams are more capable of recovering from a disappointing performance by one of their star players or a whole section of their team, whereas non-playoff teams are prone to losing when they start “losing control” of the game. Here, Houston was able to play their style of football for nearly the entire game since they had been holding onto a lead they gained early on, yet still needed their defense to bail them out multiple times at the end of the game. Denver ended their final three possessions of that game with an interception, and still only lost by five points. Under normal circumstances, you would expect the C.J. Stroud offense to be more reliable, but this game proved that the Texans were already prepared to overcome a slow day from the offense.

Eric Edholm put this dramatic victory in the context of Houston’s other last-second victories:

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.

This was certainly a high point for the Houston Texans this season, but was it the highest point? Well, I can think of one other week that may rival it:


BIGGEST GAME OF THE YEAR:

  • Week 10 - vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Rank: #16.25

This may be the game of the season for the Houston Texans. You can argue the Browns wildcard game was the most important, or that the Steelers game was more complete, or that the Bengals game established Houston as a legitimate threat. But, this Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, it was just pure fantasy. It launched Houston into the forefront of national conversation, where they still remain to this day. It galvanized the fan base, who have now fully embraced C.J. Stroud as the franchise. It proved to everyone that Houston was far ahead of their rebuild than anyone expected, and gave them the momentum to go into the November slate of games as one of the hottest teams in the league. This game defined the 2023 Houston Texans season, and may have changed everything forever.

Here’s what Eric Edholm of NFL.com had to say after the game:

15. Houston Texans (4-4) (Last Week: 16)

I regret not having the foresight to have claimed Bucs-Texans for our ”What We Learned” assignments, so I missed it live. Watching the TV replay put me all in my feelings. Sunday had to be surreal for Texans fans, seeing C.J. Stroud shatter rookie passing marks, while the beloved Dare Ogunbowale earned his own unique place in history as a kicker. Sure, the Texans tripped over the garden hose at Carolina in Week 8, but this season already has been a massive, revitalizing success. Houston can make a legitimate stab at the postseason, with most remaining games looking like true toss-ups. Whether they get in or not, the Texans are big winners, because they have Stroud, Will Anderson Jr., Tank Dell and other members of a young, emerging nucleus of talent. To think, many thought losing the No. 1 pick in Week 18 last season was disastrous. The Texans are doing just fine for themselves, thank you very much.

What a game.


AFC Divisional Playoffs - Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

What do you think, though? What was your favorite moment, or favorite week, of the season? What are we in store for next year? Where would you have put the Texans in your end-of-season power rankings? I know where I would’ve: #1. Okay, maybe they’re not they best team in football, but they are the coolest!

Here’s to another year of the unbeatable powerfulness of rankings!

GO TEXANS!!!