clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Houston Texans and the NFL Power Rankings: Week 18

Where do the Texans land after their victory against the Titans?

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Another week closer to the clock striking midnight on the 2023 NFL regular season, and the Houston Texans are still winning! Despite injuries to the offensive line, the defensive line, the receiving corps, and the star quarterback returning from a concussion, the Texans dismantled the Tennessee Titans with style. Entering Week 17, the Texans had just two games left to show why they are a playoff team. Not why they should be a playoff team, but why they are a playoff team, with a record to prove it. Now going into Week 18, the Texans are just one step away from proving it, and they’re going to take that next step against the dreaded Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, just like they had exactly one year ago in the very same stadium.

So, why am I so confident in them? Why are they a playoff team?

They are a playoff team because their defense has earned the right to be there. Holding Tennessee to an absolutely abysmal 187 total yards, the Texans were able to garner 6 sacks, a forced fumble, and just three points. Mind you, this was without star edge rusher Jonathan Greenard, without defensive tackle Maliek Collins, and with rookie edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. only playing 12 snaps. Anderson had two sacks himself on those few snaps, bringing his season total up to seven and surpassing the Texans rookie record for sacks in a season.

Houston has been a good team all season, showing the capability of winning in a variety of ways this year, but an easy victory always seemed to be out of reach. It’s a nice thrill to be constantly winning close games, but my heart can’t take this anymore, and playoff teams are supposed to break the will of bad opponents. Houston hadn’t really cleaned someone’s clock since they got back to .500 in their Week 4 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when they won 30-6. Finally, with the stinky Titans coming to town with their fake Oilers’ jerseys jammed back into wardrobes, Houstonian hearts could take a rest halfway through a football game.

They are a playoff team because their offense has exploded into one of the AFC’s finest. To the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Chargers many looked for the next up-and-coming AFC scoring machine, seeking the talents of Trevor Lawrence and Justin Herbert to lead them to the next generation or aerial attacks. Little did they realize the revelatory experience of C.J. Stroud was just around the corner.

Virtually identical to his show-stopping form in college, Stroud was flashy, accurate, and deadly since his first NFL start. Week after week, Texans fans witnessed the next franchise quarterback materialize before their eyes, punishing defenses with shocking ferocity. Week 1 and 2 were very impressive for Stroud despite both being losses, but by Week 3 vs. Jacksonville, it was clear to all Texans fans who watched: A star was born.

After last Sunday’s game, that aforementioned star went on to rally the troops in a thrilling call to action:

“The time is now…It’s not next year. It’s not the year after that. It’s right now. We have the opportunity to control our own destiny so I’m excited to do that.” - C.J. Stroud

You hear this jargon from quarterbacks all the time, about how, “Every year is a chance to go to the Super Bowl” and, “Every year without a championship is a failure,” but in this case, C.J. Stroud is right. The time is now, the future is now, and if there were anyone on this team to get me to believe that, it would be him.

They are a playoff team because of their success despite injury. There’s been hundreds of NFL teams that got off to a hot start and surprised the viewing masses, but after a few waves of the inevitable injury bug known to latch onto locker rooms, these frisky teams suddenly lose their luster…well, except the Texans!

In Week 17, the Houston Texans had just two starting offensive lineman that were part of the original starting five. In fact, Houston was already missing two of their original starting five entering Week 1 of the regular season, losing starting center Scott Quessenberry during training camp and starting guard Kenyon Green during the preseason, both to season-ending injuries. During the season, they also lost their backup center for 10 games (Juice Scruggs), along with their starting right tackle (Tytus Howard), their backup guard (Kendrick Green), and third-string center (Jarrett Patterson) to season-ending injuries. None of the starting linemen have started all 16 games, and nearly all of them have played in multiple positions. There is no reason to believe that the Houston Texans would be able to survive with a rookie quarterback with this much turbulence in front of him. But, somehow, they’ve shirked this supposed weakness and have still become a top 10 offense, with a total of 1587 rush yards and 4314 pass yards.

To me, the evidence is overwhelming that Houston has earned their spot in the dance. They have turned the entire franchise around in one year, assembled one of strongest young rosters in the league, and already possess the mettle to control their own destiny entering the final week of the season.

The Texans are now officially, for all intents and purposes, back.


Here’s where they are ranked entering Week 18 of the 2023 season:

NFL.COM:

11. Houston Texans (9-7) (Last Week: 12)

C.J. Stroud returned to action Sunday, and all was right in the world. He’ll march into Lucas Oil Stadium this Saturday night, in his biggest game since he and Ohio State lost to Georgia in the Peach Bowl one year ago, with a chance to lead his Texans into the postseason (and possibly to an AFC South title) as a rookie. But it’s going to have to be more than just about Stroud. The last time the Texans faced the Colts, Stroud threw for 384 yards — and lost. A whole season has unfolded since then (Anthony Richardson started that game for Indy), as Houston was struggling with its offensive line and run game at the time. So Week 18 will feel like a completely different matchup, I suspect, especially if the Texans can get healthy. Will Anderson Jr. returned Sunday with a timely two-sack performance. Getting sack leader Jonathan Greenard and DT Maliek Collins back on the field would be big developments.

- Eric Edholm

ESPN:

11. Houston Texans (9-7)

Week 17 ranking: 13

Biggest offseason contract to watch: DE Jonathan Greenard

Greenard has played to a high level in a contract year, with 12.5 sacks. Defensive ends who can rush the passer and register over 10 sacks can usually earn over $15 million per year, especially when they’re only 26 years old. He leads the Texans in quarterback hits (22), tackles for loss (15) and sacks. Texans coach DeMeco Ryans’ defense is built around the defensive line, so it would behoove the organization to pay Greenard to pair him with Will Anderson Jr.

- DJ Bien-Aime

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED:

14. Houston Texans (9–7) (Last Week: 15)

Last week: win vs. Tennessee, 26–3

Next week: at Indianapolis

The potential for a more explosive running game working off C.J. Stroud exists, and we’ve certainly seen it in stretches during the season. Devin Singletary ripped one Sunday against the Tennessee Titans that was eye-opening, and showed just how much respect gets paid to Stroud. His return to this offense was a fruitful one, buoyed by a Sheldon Rankins touchdown of all things (Sheldon is an old friend of The MMQB).

- Conor Orr

BLEACHER REPORT:

12. Houston Texans (9-7)

Last Week: 14

Week 17 Result: Won vs. Tennessee 26-3

Expectations for the Houston Texans were modest in 2024. No one thought this team would enter Week 18 with a chance to win 10 games and make the playoffs. There have been multiple reasons the Texans have smashed expectations, but the biggest is easily the play of rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud.

The time Stroud missed with a concussion will likely prevent him from breaking Andrew Luck’s rookie passing record. But the former Ohio State star has been a revelation, and Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans was very happy to have him back on the field against the Titans in Week 17.

“He raises everyone’s level of confidence because everyone knows the type of player that he is,” Ryans told reporters. “He’s a big-time playmaker and he continues to show it week after week. We’re all excited to have C.J. back because he’s a really great player.”

Davenport wrote:

“The Texans still need to win in Week 18 over the Colts to make the postseason. But to even be discussing the Texans and the playoffs is wild. Ryans has his team playing sound football on both sides of the ball. Players like Stroud and edge-rusher Will Anderson Jr. have the look of foundational pieces. Even if the Texans don’t make the postseason, the 2023 campaign has to be considered a rousing success. The future is bright in Space City.”

- Gary Davenport, Maurice Moton, Brent Sobleski

Average Ranking: 12 (Last Week Average: 13.5)

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This has been a miracle of a season. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought the Houston Texans would be actually playing for a playoff spot entering the final week of the 2023 regular season. I was so, so very wrong about the Houston Texans, who are far more ahead of schedule and prepared for the moment than I could have ever expected. They’ve proven me wrong time and time again this year, and I’m now convinced they’re a playoff team.

And it all comes down to this final game. This final division contest between Houston and Indianapolis. Indy took the first matchup thanks to some big plays from their rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, who was soon after seriously injured and shut down for the rest of the season. Many thought the Colts’ chances of a competitive season died right there, but in Houston-like fashion, they remained resilient. Win after win after win, it became more and more clear Indianapolis wasn’t going anywhere, and backup quarterback Gardner Minshew was more than just a serviceable replacement. The Colts are scoring practically just as much as Houston, and without their supposed franchise quarterback, that’s very intimidating.

Isn’t this just as well, though? Hasn’t this been the same old story for the Houston Texans all season long? Doubted and ignored, predictably overmatched by their more established opponent. Hasn’t Houston beaten enough of these playoff contenders to show they belong with them? Well, regardless of how many are with them or against them, they have a chance to settle all scores on Saturday at 7:15PM CST at Lucas Oil Stadium. This is their chance to prove all doubters wrong, to steal a playoff spot from the also-rans, to cement their status as a resurgent franchise, and to knock a bitter rival out of the playoffs. This is a playoff game, and with how many Houston has been in this season already, I expect them to win it.

Last year, in Week 18 of the 2022 season, Lucas Oil Stadium was home to the famous (or infamous) “mini-hail mary” play that propelled Houston to victory in the season finale. One of the strangest, funniest, most thrilling plays in recent Texans history, the mini hail mary was originally despised by Houston fans since it meant giving up the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and falling to second. After that draft selection turned into C.J. Stroud, the play has ironically gained a much more positive connotation to Texans fans. Now, one year later, Houston can shut the door on the Indianapolis Colts to end the season yet again, making a poetic finish for maybe the most important year in Texans history. The moment is here, and they are ready for it. Let’s go Texans!