CARDINALS CORNER

Texans heat index: Houston’s loss to Browns moves Cardinals’ 1st-rounder up

Dec 28, 2023, 2:09 PM

Houston Texans QB C.J. Stroud attempts a pass...

C.J. Stroud #7 of the Houston Texans warms up prior to the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on December 10, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

The 2024 NFL Draft is that much closer for the Arizona Cardinals following a Week 16 loss to the Chicago Bears.

And boy is April’s draft an important one for general manager Monti Ossenfort and the Cardinals.

In addition to their own first-round pick nestled between the Carolina Panthers and Washington Commanders at No. 2 overall, the Cardinals possess the Houston Texans’ first-rounder thanks to a 2023 draft-day trade orchestrated by Ossenfort.

The prospects of landing not one but two picks inside the top 10 instantly entered the minds of many soon after the deal was made official.

But much to the chagrin of Cardinals fans, the Texans have exceeded expectations under first-year head DeMeco Ryans and rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud so much so that Houston is in the conversation of teams still in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Just getting anywhere inside the top 15 would be a big win for the Cardinals at this point.

In an effort to keep track of Houston’s positioning in the draft order, here’s a look at where the Arizona’s other first-round pick sits heading into Week 17’s slate of games with a little help from Tankathon:

2024 NFL Draft snapshot

10. Atlanta Falcons (7-8)
11. New Orleans Saints (7-8)
12. Green Bay Packers (7-8)
13. Las Vegas Raiders (7-8)
14. Denver Broncos (7-8)
15. Minnesota Vikings (7-8)
16. Houston Texans *owned by the Cardinals* (8-7)
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7)
18. Cincinnati Bengals (8-7)

Arizona’s second first-round pick moved up one spot to No. 16 last week thanks to a Texans’ loss to the Cleveland Browns and the Steelers’ unlikely win over the Bengals.

Joe Flacco did what now?!

The Stroud-less Houston squad was unable to manufacture the same success it had in a Week 15 win over the Tennessee Titans, falling 36-22 at home to the Browns.

A big reason for the Texans’ downfall on Sunday was off-the-couch gunslinger Joe Flacco’s third straight game of at least 311 yards and multiple touchdowns.

The other factor was the otherworldly performance from wide receiver Amari Cooper, who ripped off 265 yards and two scores on 11 catches in Cleveland’s W.

Texans heat index: Temperature rising

How on earth is the Texans’ heat index on the rise after that kind of showing?

He goes by Stroud.

With the rookie expected to make his return to the offense this week after dealing with a concussion the past two games — Stroud’s back practicing and talked with reporters on Thursday signaling he’s out of the protocol — Houston should be riding high when the 5-10 Titans come to town.

Before going down with the concussion, Stroud was among the handful of names in the MVP conversation behind 3,631 yards and 20 touchdowns to five interceptions on 62.4% passing.

He’s turned heads in Year 1 and undoubtedly accelerated Houston’s rebuild timeline in the process.

Stroud will also get his first look at divisional foe Tennessee Titans, who watched Case Keenum throw for 229 yards and one touchdown to an interception in Houston’s Week 15 win in overtime.

Putting the Wild in Wild Card

Another thing to watch for when it comes to Houston’s potential playoff bid — and slide down the draft order — is how the Bengals and Steelers fare the rest of the way and the Wild Card implications surrounding them.

Currently, the Texans hold the head-to-head tiebreakers over the pair. If it just so happens that there’s one Wild Card spot left to grab between the three, the Texans would slot in.

That’s multiple spots down the draft board if that’s the case.

Crowded at the top of the AFC South

There’s also the chance that the Texans don’t need a Wild Card spot to make the playoffs given the downturn from the division-leading Jacksonville Jaguars and just how close the AFC South is with three teams at 8-7.

The Jaguars remain in the driver seat to win the division, currently holding tiebreakers over the Texans and Indianapolis Colts but are riding a four-game losing streak with a less-than-100% Trevor Lawrence under center.

Again, a playoff spot for Houston is not a good thing for the Cardinals’ draft positioning.

The Jaguars winning out the next two weeks, takes out one postseason scenario for the Texans.

Lucky 7s?

There are currently six seven-win teams sitting ahead of the Texans, three of which they can surpass in Week 17.

In a perfect scenario, the Cardinals’ second first-round pick could go as high as 13th with a Texans loss and wins by the Raiders, Broncos and either the Vikings or Packers, who play one another in Week 17.

NFL games to watch in Week 17

Outside of Texans-Titans, there are plenty of games to keep an eye on this week:

Atlanta Falcons @ Chicago Bears

This one could go either way with both coming off wins last week.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders have found a groove under interim head coach Antonio Pierce, especially on the defensive end.

The Colts meanwhile have won five of their last seven.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Carolina Panthers

Like I mentioned before, a pair of wins by Jacksonville shuts at least one door to the playoffs for Houston.

Even with their injury woes at QB, the Jaguars get a juicy matchup against the Panthers.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Seattle Seahawks

A Steelers win keeps them behind the Texans in the draft order regardless of what Houston does.

Denver Broncos vs. Los Angeles Chargers

It’s a tough year in Chargers land.

But Russell Wilson just got benched and the Broncos are riding a two-game losing streak.

In no way is a Broncos win a forgone conclusion this week.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs

A Bengals victory keeps Cincinnati behind Houston regardless of what the Texans do.

And with what we’re seeing out of Kansas City, a win by the Joe Burrow-less Bengals isn’t out of the realm of possibility by any means.

Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings

One way or another, this game between two 7-8 squads is going to have an impact on the draft order.

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