'Sky's the limit': Five reasons not to mess with the Houston Texans in 2024

BALTIMORE – When it comes to high-water marks in the NFL, no franchise has a lower one than the Houston Texans. Yet despite a 34-10 loss to the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens in Saturday’s playoff divisional round, they matched it anew.

But don’t be surprised if they’re scaling new heights a year from now.

“Proud of them for getting to this moment. This is not a moral victory of just being here – this is not what we set out to do. But this team accomplished a lot this year,” said head coach DeMeco Ryans, who led the Texans to the AFC South title in his first year on the job.

“I’m proud of them, for just the entire year. This wasn’t our moment right now, this wasn’t our time right now.”

But 2024 might be.

Preseason expectations were next to nil for an organization that hadn’t reached postseason since 2019, had won 11 games total over the previous three seasons and was still, in many ways, picking up the pieces from the franchise-rocking fiasco created by former quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) drops back to pass against the Baltimore Ravens.
Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) drops back to pass against the Baltimore Ravens.

But with Ryans, a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Texans when he was a player, setting the tone, and rookie C.J. Stroud filling the void Watson left, Houston managed to win its division and a playoff round before falling short of its first berth in the AFC championship game. The Texans, now 0-5 in divisional games, will also remain one of four teams that have never played in the Super Bowl.

For now.

“Any time you’ve got a quarterback and a head coach who set the culture, I think the sky’s the limit,” veteran safety DeAndre Houston-Carson told USA TODAY Sports.

However several limitations were present Saturday. Houston managed only 213 yards of offense and was especially inept on the ground (38 yards). The Texans' only touchdown came on a 67-yard punt return from Steven Sims. They committed 11 penalties, many of the pre-snap variety, for 70 yards. Deadeye kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn had a rare misfire on a 47-yard field-goal attempt before halftime. And while the defense limited the damage done by Ravens All-Pro quarterback Lamar Jackson in a 10-10 first half, he ran for two touchdowns and passed for another after intermission.

“It’s tough to get embarrassed like that,” said Stroud.

“I’m upset right now, but I’m really just blessed looking back on this year, this opportunity we had today to play in front of millions of people.”

And just about everyone in his locker room believes there will be many more chances.

“I think DeMeco set a high, high level of expectations,” Stroud continued. “All in all, we won a lot of games. So I think that set a great foundation.

“I’m gonna continue to work my tail off next year to make the city of Houston proud.”

Added Ryans: “Great job this year with the guys for getting to the divisional round. And now let’s see how we can build off of that and be better next year.”

Here are five reasons why NFL teams should be wary of messing with the Texans in 2024:

C.J. Stroud

The second overall pick of the 2023 draft, he and Ryans formed the first rookie quarterback-coach duo to win a division championship. Stroud showed off sublime ability to throw the ball, leading the NFL with 273.9 passing yards per game and likely would have set several rookie records had he not missed two games with a concussion. And given how he helped revive a flailing organization and elevated what previously projected as an ordinary group of receivers, this offense should only get better with experience and more talent infusion.

DeMeco Ryans

Houston’s fifth head coach since the start of the 2020 season, expect him to be here a while. Savvy and seemingly unflappable, Ryans seemed to imbue those qualities into this team as it won three of four to close the regular season and snatch the division crown from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Continuity can go a long way in the NFL, and the program Ryans is forging appears built to last – and likely to attract other quality players to Houston.

Salary cap

Per OverTheCap, Houston is projected to have $71.4 million to sign free agents this year. That could mean keeping pending free agents like tight end Dalton Schultz and running back Devin Singletary. The Texans could look to upgrade at safety, offensive line and maybe obtain another receiver alongside emergent Nico Collins.

Roster core

Beyond Stroud and Collins, rookie pass rusher Will Anderson Jr., defensive end Jonathan Greenard, cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., middle linebacker Blake Cashman and left tackle Laremy Tunsil comprise a promising foundation tied through all of the key spots. Now, Ryans and GM Nick Caserio can continue fleshing out the lineup and building depth without necessarily having to chase need at premium spots.

AFC South

It looks like a tougher division than it did five months ago given the Indianapolis Colts (without rookie QB Anthony Richardson) and Jags barely missed postseason. Yet it might still be the weakest in the AFC, especially with the Tennessee Titans apparently set for a bona fide rebuild. No cakewalk by any stretch, but at least the Texans don’t have to deal with Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs, Josh Allen’s Buffalo Bills or the AFC North murderers’ row on a regular basis.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on X, formerly Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Houston Texans' future looks bright for 2024