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Bengals vs Texans: 4 key Texans to watch for against Bengals

With Houston playing for their life on Monday, Cincinnati will face yet another impressive defensive line led by superhero J.J. Watt. On the other end, budding superstar DeAndre Hopkins will be a handful for the Bengals' defense.

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Cincinnati is back in primetime on Monday, hosting one of their worst enemies of the last few years. Twice, in a row, the Houston Texans beat the Bengals in the Wild Card game and the first time they did so with T.J. Yates at quarterback. I know, it hurts, still.

But this team is different, very different, and not only because they are still one of the only three remaining unbeaten franchises in the NFL. The Bengals do not care if the game is on national television any more, they're ready for the spotlight.

Now that the Indianapolis Colts will be without Andrew Luck, the Texans have a chance to claim the lead in the AFC South and at 3-5 are more than alive in the playoff hunt, as crazy as that sounds. They come off their bye week after beating the Titans just when their season looked like it was beyond repair, which some fans still think it is. They've had really tough losses and their wins haven't been thrilling; they lost two hard fought matchups against Carolina and Indianapolis.

With their 2015 campaign on the line, Houston will need to rely on some key players to get the win in Cincinnati, and you'll probably know some of them.

1) J.J. Watt

Watt is a future Hall-of-Famer and the best defensive player in the NFL. Maybe the best player overall as well? That is a very good debate and I would not argue against his case. He is just unstoppable and he's recorded 4.5 sacks in his last two games as well, so clearly Watt is back on track. Some say he's having a off season, which is hilarious.

He was asked after destroying Zach Mettenberger and the Titans in their Week 8 clash why anyone would single-team him. "I told them they shouldn't have," he said. But the Bengals' offensive line coach, Paul Alexander, plans on doing just that. This is a strategy that could open up holes on other sides for all the other Texans' talented defensive linemen, because the Bengals will have to help whoever faces Watt on Monday.

Jason Marcum did some work on this topic that you can read and watch here. Watt lines up everywhere and there is nobody with his all-around talent at his position in the NFL. Will the Bengals regret not double-teamming him? Watt's worst outing of the season so far was against the Colts on Thursday Night Football and Indianapolis brought even three players to stop him.

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He got tired of this and frustrated, and made a silly mistake getting flagged for roughing the passer on 3rd & 22.

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He's got speed, his hands are great and Cincinnati could be forced again to go with backup right tackle Eric Winston in the line. It is going to be another hard day for the Andrew Whitworth-led unit.

2) Whitney Mercilus

Mercilus is included in our key players list because he is a great edge rusher and had a monster game replacing Jadeveon Clowney against the Titans, which he'll likely be doing again. Mercilus is an underrated player who has 23.5 sacks in three and a half seasons, and after filling in for the former number one pick last year, he's clearly taking advantage of the opportunities when given.

The Ohio native feeds off Watt, and if Cincinnati forgets about him, he is going to make plays. Of course Clowney may play on Monday, even though his coach doesn't believe he will, and he has been stout against the run, but Mercilus is clearly the one who makes other teams pay when they focus only on Watt. He is all about technique and has a long array of moves to get to the quarterback.

The bull rush, for example.

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And then fake plus the escape move.

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3) DeAndre Hopkins

The third-year veteran out of Clemson is on pace for 132 receptions, 1,740 yards and 12 touchdowns. Oh, my. He just has elite ball skills, elite catching ability and elite athleticism. Hopkins is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. And, his quarterback, Brian Hoyer, seems to believe he knows how to beat the Bengals too. His concentration is amazing and he is as strong as anyone after the catch.

He has only two games with less than 94 yards this season and one was in Week 2 against the great Panthers' defense. The first two throws that Hoyer attempted after replacing Ryan Mallett for good against Indianapolis were aimed at Hopkins, who had 11 catches and 169 yards in that game. Hoyer's first two third down conversions were to Hopkins as well. He can make any catch.

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He runs all the routes and lines up everywhere, the Texans rely on him to get the offense moving and he is also opening the field for veteran Nate Washington.

At 6'1" you would not think he is that strong but it is very hard for opposing cornerbacks to jam him or stop him.

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I mean, look at that.

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4) Vince Wilfork

Yes, I know, too many defensive linemen. The massive nose tackle signed this offseason in free agency from the New England Patriots has been one of the reasons why the Texans' defense has struggled - inside linebacker Brian Cushing in coverage is also another factor. Opposing offenses are attacking him and this is a great matchup for the Bengals. Cincy is struggling to run up the middle but they clearly want to set up the ground game with Jeremy Hill, and this is another chance for center Russell Bodine. Wilfork is 34 and is not the player he used to be.

There is a great film room study on him - and other issues like their linebackers' inability to cover - on Battle Red Blog that you can read here.