The Cincinnati Bengals are off to their best start in franchise history, sitting at 8-0 with a firm grasp on first place in the AFC North and now welcome the Houston Texans for a "Monday Night Football" tilt. As we reach mid-November the true playoff contenders start to emerge and the Bengals still have plenty to prove even though they are well on their way to earning a fifth consecutive postseason berth.
But what's unquestionable is that the Bengals are one of the most talented teams in the NFL and they're playing as well as anyone right now. Their goal for the second half of the season should be to grab one of the top two seeds in the AFC and the valuable first-round bye that comes with it.
The Texans meanwhile have been somewhat of a disappointment, but even at 3-5 they still have a chance at the division title in the weak AFC South. With Andrew Luck set to miss a number of games, the Texans could tie the Colts for first place with a win tonight.
Taking down the undefeated Bengals is no small task, but Houston quarterback Brian Hoyer is coming off one of his best games and with talent like reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, you can never rule an upset out.
Houston at Cincinnati
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET (Monday)
Spread: Bengals -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Johnson on Green
Rookie cornerback Kevin Johnson has been one of the few bright spots for the Texans this season, stepping in and immediately looking like he fits. But this week he'll likely get his toughest challenge yet -- A.J. Green. Green has 50 catches for 702 yards and four touchdowns and has been coming through in the clutch time and time again this year. While tight end Tyler Eifert has pulled some focus from Green, it's the wide receiver that remains the biggest threat outside of the red zone. If the Texans and Johnson can slow down Green, it could be the first step to an upset.
2. Block Watt
J.J. Watt is always the starting point for any offense facing the Texans, and yet he still has 8.5 sacks. The Bengals' homegrown offensive line is one of the best in business, but so is Watt and he can ruin any offense's game plan if given the chance. The Texans must hope for a turnover or two in this one, and the quickest way for that to happen is to allow Watt to get consistent pressure on Andy Dalton. The Bengals must identify where Watt is on every snap and make sure they have the numbers to stop him.
DeAndre Hopkins enters tonight's contest fourth in the NFL with 66 catches and is one of the most explosive up-and-coming wide receivers in the game. Brian Hoyer is also quietly putting together a decent season, considering he's without running back Arian Foster, with 13 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. Can Hoyer and Hopkins put together a game for the ages to knock off the Bengals' defense that is just 15th in passing yards per game allowed? Expect Hopkins to get most of the Bengals' attention to prevent that from happening.
The Texans have a few of the most talented players in the league, but they just can't seem to put it all together. They played one of their best games against the Titans last week, but beating the Bengals in Cincinnati is a whole different ball game. The Bengals are full of confidence and well rested coming off a dominating win over the Browns last Thursday. Cincinnati will look at the national exposure as a chance to prepare for the playoffs and have all the pieces to keep the undefeated train rolling.