The regular season is finally upon us. It feels like this offseason has been longer than usual, with so much happening behind the scenes around the league. Now that the New Orleans Saints offseason, training camp, and preseason are behind us, it feels like a breath of fresh air. Fall truly is upon us now!

The Houston Texans will be visiting the Superdome on Monday night, the first of ESPN’s doubleheader that evening. It promises to be a great game from start to finish, and will no doubt be a statement win for either team.

That being said, here are three match-ups you need to know for the Monday night game.

JJ Watt Vs Terron Armstead/Ryan Ramczyk

I remember vividly the soundbites from JJ Watt being “miced-up” the last time the Saints and Texans played, almost four years ago. It was extremely entertaining as Watt brought on a solid mixture of sarcasm, sportsmanship, and smack-talk to the table as he dominated Terron Armstead. Watt ended the game with 5 tackles, 2 sacks and 8 hits on the quarterback as the Texans went on to win, 24-6.

The Texans like to mix the locations that they send Watt from, sometimes lining him on the right side of the defense (against the left tackle) and other times on the left (against the right tackle). Because Watt is such a good run defender as well as a pass rusher, he creates a handful for anyone tasked with blocking him.

Armstead was a young NFL player back then and has grown into an incredible talent. Last season, he was so effective that he was selected to a pro bowl despite only playing in ten games. His progression hasn’t been unnoticed by the league.

Ryan Ramczyk is also one of the league’s best tackles, already in just two seasons establishing himself as a premier run blocker. Last season he was a second-team all-pro, voted by both the AP writers as well as the PFF.

Watt is not the player that he once was, as injuries have slowed him, and the Saints offensive line has improved tremendously. How well can these tackles fend off one of the best defensive players in the league?

Prediction- I think the Saints win this matchup, limiting Watt’s effectiveness as a pass rusher tremendously.

Saints Defensive Line Vs Texans Running Game

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The Texans have spent much of the preseason adjusting the roster and trying to find the right fits to maximize the 53 man roster as well as they can. One of the areas I believe they fell short at is running back.

Currently, Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson are the running backs in this stable. With Lamar Miller on the injured reserve so unexpectedly, Houston was forced to scramble to replace him, and hope that these two backs can give the offense some of the explosiveness that Miller brought almost single-handedly.

Lucky for Houston, the Saints will be missing two of their starting defensive linemen. David Oneymata is suspended for a game for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, while Sheldon Rankins continues to be out with his Achilles injury.

The Saints, who had the leagues best run defense last season, are missing two key run defenders on the defensive line. They are hoping that Malcolm Brown, Taylor Stallworth, and Mario Edwards Jr can be of assistance in that category, keeping the Texans run game in check.

Hyde has been a journeyman across the league, mostly for lack of burst of any other type of elusiveness. His style has struggled to transition to the league. Duke Johnson is a dual-threat back, effective in both the passing game and the running game. His small frame and quickness were big parts to the Cleveland Browns offense. Johnson is now with the Texans following a trade request.

Prediction- I think the Saints defense wasn’t just good because of who was upfront, but the linebackers clean up a lot of the issues with this defense. I think the Saints practice with better running backs and won’t have an issue in this category.

LBNL: Saints CB Marshon Lattimore Vs Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins

Nov 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) is unable to make a catch during the third quarter as New Orleans Saints cornerback Brandon Browner (39) defends at NRG Stadium. The Texans defeated the Saints 24-6. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

DeAndre Hopkins has emerged as a premier wide receiver in the league and dominates on almost every level of football. The past two seasons, Hopkins has been a first-team all-pro. His chemistry with Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is undeniable, as the two have flourished together. Last season, Hopkins caught an astonishing 70.6% of his targets, as well as 115 catches and 11 touchdowns.

Marshon Lattimore has come into his own as a borderline great cornerback. After winning defensive rookie-of-the-year, Lattimore saw a bit of a “sophomore slump” as he didn’t seem to be as focused in year two.

Believe me. That is about to change.

Lattimore has all of the physical tools that you want in an NFL cornerback and has the picture-perfect technique to turn hips in coverage. However, he struggles with aggression, something finer route runners gave him fits about by taking advantage of.

Prediction- Lattimore will make a couple of good plays on the ball, but he will also get torched a lot. Big day for Lattimore.

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