2013 Houston Texans: Five Players to Keep an Eye On

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COMMENTARY | There's a lot to be said for consistency. Of course, there's also something known as a rut.

In each of the last two seasons, the Houston Texans have won the AFC South, defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild-card round, and lost in the conference's divisional playoffs.

You get the sense that just won't do this upcoming season. Armed with a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, there are few teams in the league as balanced as Gary Kubiak's club. But is this the year that the Texans finally look super?

So it is onto 2013, and here we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success this upcoming season. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.

So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the Houston Texans:

QB Matt Schaub: The often-criticized signal-caller was not playing his best football down the stretch and in the playoffs last season, just one reason the Texans dropped four of their last six total contests following an 11-1 start. Schaub failed to throw at least one touchdown in four of those half-dozen final outings and looked like a quarterback that was trying to aim the football rather than throw it. Still, he remains one of the better passers in the league, but he needs to put together a complete season in 2013.

RB Arian Foster: On the short list when it comes to the best running backs in the NFL, the former undrafted free agent has now led the league in total touchdowns two of the last three seasons, rolling up 17 scores in 2012. In each of his last three seasons, Foster has rushed for 1,200-plus yards and at least 10 touchdowns. The workhorse runner could be spelled a little more often this season following an NFL-high 351 carries a year ago. And Foster has been money in the playoffs that last two seasons.

WR DeAndre Hopkins: Ten years ago, the Texans made Andre Johnson the third overall pick in the draft. It marked the only time in the franchise's brief history that they had invested in a wide receiver in the first round -- until now. The athletic Hopkins was grabbed by the team in April and to date has lived up to billing. The Texans have been looking for a big-play wideout to pair with the productive Johnson for numerous seasons, and it appears that they might have gotten their man.

DE J.J. Watt: Following a solid rookie campaign that featured an interception return for a touchdown in the team's wild-card playoff win over the Bengals, the second season was pretty charming for the 2011 first-round pick. Watt earned 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors thanks to 20.5 sacks (one-half more than the Jacksonville Jaguars) and the star defender may have batted more balls than any of the Houston Astros. Expecting 20-plus sacks is obviously asking a lot, but Watt's presence will make things easier for second-year outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, who takes over a starting role this season.

FS D.J. Swearinger: The rookie defender was unfortunately involved in one of the more talked-about plays this preseason, as his tackle on Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller put an end to the pass-catcher's 2013 season. A second-round pick in April, Swearinger will be the starter at free safety apparently until veteran Ed Reed is ready to play. Injuries were one factor last season to the Texans' late-season slump on the defensive side of the ball. And both Swearinger and Reed hope to improve the team's takeaway total (29) from 2012.

So what can we expect from the Texans in 2013? Can the team win a third straight AFC South title? And who else will play an extremely pivotal role in the team's fortunes this season? Will Houston have a problem getting back to the playoffs this season? Stay tuned.

Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.

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