Conventional wisdom and the CHFF first-response team tells us there are only three sure things in America these days: death, taxes and the Colts.
The rest of the modern NFL power structure is a bigger gamble than betting the under on the number of cocktail waitresses bagged by Tiger Woods.
The defending-champ Steelers and the former New England dynasty have been the two biggest stories of the 21st century, winning five of the previous eight Super Bowls and racking up victories behind future Hall of Fame quarterbacks nobody had heard of when the decade dawned.
They used to be the two surest things in football. This week, their teams are fresh off two of the most humiliating losses each has endured in a decade and two of the surest things in football, the Patriots and Steelers, can now be counted on to come up empty against allegedly inferior teams.
(As usual, the CHFF first response will be updated a few times through Monday morning, so keep checking back!)
The Surest Thing: Indy wins, pressure mounts
There's one sure way to end a five-game winning streak and your playoff hopes: travel to Indianapolis.
The Titans held on to dreams of the greatest in-season turnaround in history, turning an 0-6 start into a chance for 6-6 this week.
The Colts easily fended off the challenge, winning 27-17 and tying the 2003-04 Patriots for the longest "official" win streak (regular-season only) in NFL history at 21 games.
Here's a quick look at some notable numbers from the streak:
Indy has been very good on offense, but the streak has been paced by outstanding defense. The Colts have outscored their 21 victims 559 to 337 – an average of 26.6 to 16.0.
The Colts have held 15 of their 21 victims to 20 points or less; they've scored more than 35 points just once – in this year's 42-6 win over the hopelessly pathetic Rams.
Indy has bested eight quality opponents and four division winners or leaders: the 2008 Steelers, Chargers and Titans and the 2009 Cardinals.
Here's a roll call of Indy's victims: Tennessee (3), Houston (3), Jacksonville (2), New England (2), Pittsburgh, San Diego, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Miami, Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis, San Francisco, Baltimore.
The most impressive part of the streak, though, is not Indy's dominance, it's the team's ability to muscle out victories when lesser Colts teams of the past would have folded: 13 of the 21 victories have been by one score or less; seven have come by a field goal or less.
But now the pressure's on: the "official" win streak is sandwiched around Indy's patented one-and-done playoff apppearance loss last year to the Chargers.
If the 2009 Colts can go on to a Super Bowl victory, we'll be talking about one of the great teams of all time; if the 2009 Colts come up empty in the playoffs as they usually do, we'll be talking about the greatest choke artists in history.
Other than that, there's nothing at stake for Indy in January.
The Pretty Sure Thing: Lights out on the New England empire
One of the big hits on "The Sure Thing" soundtrack came from former Boston DJ turned J. Geils Band frontman turned 1980s hitmaker Peter Wolf. It's called "Lights Out" -- which pretty much describes what's happened to the former New England dynasty since Super Bowl XLII. The lights are out. The ride's over.
In fact, here's a little soundtrack-taste for your entertainment pleasure:
show video here
For the Patriots, first came the crushing championship game defeat against the Giants, then the Tom Brady season-ending injury to kick off 2008, then a machine-gun splatter of indignities over the past month: 4th-and-2 Gatethe Big Easy debacle and then this week's second-half offensive meltdown against Miami that would shame even the Russian nuclear regulatory agency.
For one half of football, it looked like Tom Brady would wash the taste of Week 12 from his mouth with a performance even more spectacular than the one given by Drew Brees last week.
Brees, you might remember, became the first player in 34 years to average more than 16 yards per pass attempt in his team's 38-17 win over the Patriots.
Brady came out swinging against Miami: he completed 14 of his first 15 passes for 277 yards and 2 TD. That's an average of 18.5 YPA which, if he had maintained that pace, would have tied Johnny Unitas for the highest average per attempt in a game since 1960. The early 93.3 completion percentage also put him on pace to have the most accurate day in history.
Then his entire performance – and the entire New England offense – went spinning wildly out of control, as it has regularly since the second half of Super Bowl XLII.
Brady's next pass was dropped by normally reliable Kevin Faulk – he of the six-inches-short Faulks.
Brady completed just 5 of his final 14 passes for 75 yards and 2 picks – a potential game for the ages turned into another in a growing list of career disasters. One of the two INTs was an end-zone pick that prevented what would have been a game-sealing TD. The other came on New England's final drive. The Patriots took over on their own 23 with 1 minute to play and plenty of time to move into field-goal range. Instead, Brady threw a terrible, BrettFavre-style pass into the hands of wide-open Miami linebacker Channing Crowder.
The New England defense has been widely criticized here and elsewhere for their second-half collapses this year and in past years.
But the offense deserves more than it's fair share of blame this year. One CHFF reader, Michael Stridsberg, sent an email Monday morning armed with plenty of Cold, Hard Football Facts.
He wrote: I had noticed from watching the games this year that the Pats offense seemed to be struggling in second half and constantly leaving the door open for comebacks. This is what I found for the 2009 season so far:
First Half: 9.42 points allowed
Second Half: 9.25 points
First Half: 18.33 points scored
Second Half: 9.00 points
Good work, Michael. Pretty much says it all.
The Brady-Belichick Patriots entered the 2009 season with a remarkable 66-1 record when leading at the end of three quarters. This year, they're 6-4.
Deep thoughts with CHFF
If the guy who sang "Dust in the Wind" quit to join the group that sang "Rosanna" would he say to his new bandmates, "Toto, I'm not in Kansas anymore"?
The Very Sure Thing: Minnesota's fatal flaw & CHFF wisdom
We warned throughout the year, and again in our Week 13  picks, that the Vikings had one tragic flaw: a decidedly sub-standard pass defense.
"If the Vikings are going to lose again this year, this is the type of game in which they'll fall: a road game against a team with a potentially explosive offense and a bona-fide NFL gunslinger who's proven over the years that he can shoot up just about anybody ... pass defense remains the one concern every Minnesota fan should have about their club."
In what was probably a meeting of the oldest tandem of gunslingers in NFL history, 38-year-old Kurt Warner easily outplayed 40-year-old BrettFavre, chewing up the soft Minnesota pass defense in Arizona's 30-17 victory:
Warner: 22 of 32 (68.8%), 285, 8.9 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT, 127.7 rating
Favre: 30 of 45 (66.7%), 275 yards, 6.1 YPA, 2 TD, 2 INT, 79.4 rating
The Vikings as of Monday morning rank 24th in the NFL with a 91.2 Defensive Passer Rating. Barring a sudden and dramatic turnaround over the final quarter of the season, that performance spells doom in the postseason.
Minnesota will likely face any one or more of the following in the playoffs: Warner once again, or Drew Brees, or even Aaron Rodgers, who boasts the third-best passer rating in the NFL (104.9) entering his Week 13 game against Baltimore Monday night. That's a tough schedule for good pass defenses, let alone Minnesota's.
And with the defense getting chewed up, it's likely we'll see a familiar-old sight in the playoffs: BrettFavre making poor throws that lead to critical picks in big games. We got a little taste of that old BrettFavre against the Cardinals – as you knew we would sooner or later.
The Vikings were ineffective running the ball in the first half and trailed 21-10 at intermission. BrettFavre came out gunslinging in the third quarter, throwing picks on each of Minnesota's first two drives of the second half, while the team attempted just three runs on those same two possessions.
Deep thoughts with CHFF, Part 2
We skipped between NFL RedZone and Cowboys-Giants Sunday afternoon.
Along the way, we made a stop at "Bikini Beach" on one of the retro movie channels. We gotta admit, Annette Funicello was quite a piece of ass in her prime. Guess we didn't realize it last time we saw those movies, when we were like six years old.
The Almost Sure Thing: Even when we fail, it's spectacular
Our Real and Spectacular picks have certainly lived up to the hype this year: even when we fail, we fail spectacularly.
Week 13 was another example, as we've posted a disastrous 4-11 mark against the spread (and just 8-7 straight up) heading into the Ravens-Packers MNF game.
We've netted winners in 10 of 13 weeks this year – an impressive mark by any measure anywhere. But the failures have been stunning: 5-11 ATS in Week 2; a gruesome 3-10 in Week 8 and a putrid 4-11 here in Week 13.
Here's our weekly performance ATS in 2009:
Week 1 – 10-6
Week 2 – 5-11
Week 3 – 10-6
Week 4 – 8-6
Week 5 – 11-3
Week 6 – 9-5
Week 7 – 8-5
Week 8 – 3-10
Week 9 – 7-6
Week 10 – 10-5
Week 11 – 12-4
Week 12 – 10-5
Week 13 – 4-11
Total: 107-83 (.563)
The Un-Sure Thing: Pittsburgh title defenses
If New England's season has quickly spun out of control over the past month, Pittsburgh's season has already crashed and burned with four straight losses and the only thing that remains is to count the charred bodies.
Pittsburgh went just 8-8 in 2006 in defense of its 2005 Super Bowl title. This year, they're 6-6 in defense of their 2008 Super Bowl title. Even worse, the Steelers fell to Oakland 27-24 Sunday in a game they literally had no excuse losing:
The Steelers were the defending champs playing at home against the worst team in the AFC over the last seven years. The Raiders were 2-11 in their last 13 trips to the Eastern time zone and had not earned a Quality road win in years, except for last year's season finale victory over Tampa, which was in the midst of a major collapse.
Pittsburgh has had trouble closing throughout the year, but the loss to Oakland was a disaster beyond recognition: the Raiders had not scored 21 points in an entire game this year. But they ripped off 21 points in the fourth quarter alone to edge the formerly proud Steelers.
Oakland rookie receiver Louis Murphy, who had scored just two TDs in his first 11 games, caught two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against the Steelers, including a career-long 75-yarder.
Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, meanwhile, compelted 20 of 33 for 308 yards, 9.3 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT and a 121.8 passer rating against a defense that was among the best in the league against the pass last season.
For Gradkowski, the numbers marked career bests in yards, YPA, TDs and passer rating.
Oakland's offense this year has been as far from a Sure Thing as you'll find in football: but for one quarter against the defending champs, they looked like Daryle Lamonica and the 1968 Raiders.