1. The Texans’ third-down defense: The Panthers converted 9 of 14 third downs against the Texans on Sunday, the sort of number that’s hard to survive. Houston has been very good on third down this season, and it’s been a key to its defensive and overall success. But the Texans have slipped in recent weeks in the category. After Week 13, they were second in the league in third-down defense. In just three weeks they’ve dropped to eighth. It’s tough to move that much that quickly in season rankings. They must end the trend if they intend to secure one of the top seeds and increase the potential for more than one game at home.
2. The Jaguars’ national credibility: They've played two of their past three games on national television in prime time but did nothing to offset the national reputation they often complain about. Nobody will remember the Dec. 11 41-14 home win over Tampa Bay because it was sandwiched by a "Monday Night Football" 38-14 loss to San Diego and the 41-14 "Thursday Night Football" debacle in Atlanta. The wheels came off in a way even the biggest Jaguars pessimist probably couldn’t have envisioned, and the offseason can’t arrive soon enough.
3. Tommie Campbell, Tennessee Titans special-teamer: He got flagged for four penalties on special teams in Indianapolis, including two 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. It was the sort of undisciplined showing that Mike Munchak has called unacceptable, and to the coach’s credit, Campbell was benched -- although it might have come a bit earlier. Campbell is a blazing fast, great athlete with a future as a cornerback for the Titans if he can avoid the combination of boneheaded plays and temper issues. But he’s got to get past such things if he wants to remain in the plan.
1. Pat Angerer, Indianapolis Colts linebacker: He’s had a great season flying around and making plays. Against the Titans, he keyed an excellent defensive effort, forcing a Jared Cook fumble that killed Tennessee's momentum and picking off a bad ball from Matt Hasselbeck. In a season with so many lousy storylines for the Colts, Angerer has emerged as a reliable tackling machine who can play the run and the pass. He is definitely a piece of what the team will build around. He moved to the middle from the strong side when Gary Brackett suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the opener. It will be difficult to take Angerer out of the spot now.
2. The image of the AFC South as a terrible division: We had to turn something negative into a riser here after bad losses by three of our four teams. Even with their win, the Colts remain the worst team in the league with a 1-13 record, and the Jaguars rank in or near the bottom five. Tennessee is a completely average 7-7, and the Texans, after the loss to Carolina, rank as just the third-best division leader/winner in the AFC. The division has four fewer wins than any other.
3. Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts running back: He’s largely regarded as a bust, but it’s not completely fair. He’s remembered for a blown pass protection that drew the ire of Peyton Manning, and he doesn’t have a fully rounded game. He’s spent a lot of time in the doghouse and has not been used as much as may be warranted. He can run, and he showed it in the win over the Titans, even before a great, freelanced 80-yard touchdown run that secured the win and made Tennessee’s defense look foolish. His 161-yard day should earn him more opportunities.