That isn’t the case anymore.
Two of the league’s hottest teams square off Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, as the Colts look to match an NFL record with their 21st consecutive regular-season victory and the Titans try for a sixth straight win.
Indianapolis (11-0) became the first team to secure a playoff berth with last Sunday’s come-from-behind 35-27 win over Houston. The Colts gained the AFC South title later that evening when San Francisco beat Jacksonville 20-3.
They are also getting closer to clinching the top seed in the conference, although nothing has come easy lately.
The Colts were down 17-0 in the second quarter against the Texans and trailed 20-14 after three before becoming the first team in league history to produce five straight fourth-quarter comeback wins.
“Guys go about their business in a professional way and prepare hard, and you like being around guys that have respect for their job and take it seriously,” quarterback Peyton Manning(notes) said. “It doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win every game, but you sure like the way you feel about your team going into each game.”
With this proficient approach, Indianapolis is one win shy of New England’s NFL-record 21-game run from 2006-08. The Colts’ win streak began following a 31-21 loss at Tennessee on Oct. 27, 2008.
Indianapolis extended its run to 14 with a 31-9 victory over the Titans on Oct. 11 behind Manning’s 309 yards and three TD passes against a banged-up secondary.
That was the fifth of six straight losses to open the season for Tennessee, but the team has greatly improved since then.
The Titans extend their NFL mark for consecutive victories after an 0-6 start by winning for the fifth straight time last Sunday in thrilling fashion.
The Titans are amazingly back in the playoff picture, but after their woeful start they have little margin for error.
“A lot of guys know in the back of their heads one loss can hurt our playoff chances,” receiver Nate Washington(notes) said. “Everyone knows that. I don’t think anyone’s paying attention. We’re just playing football and letting fate be fate.”
The Titans haven’t lost since Young replaced Kerry Collins(notes) as the starter following a 59-0 loss to New England on Oct. 18. Young’s latest performance was easily his best, as he threw for a career-high 387 yards and converted three fourth downs on the final drive.
“He just continues to improve and do something unique each week,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “I’m proud of the production and the results.”
Tennessee amassed a season-best 532 yards last Sunday and is averaging 29.0 points with Young as the starter after scoring 14.0 during its skid.
The offense is taking shape under Young, but the turnaround has been fueled by Chris Johnson, the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,396 yards.
Johnson ran for 154 yards against the Cardinals for his sixth straight game of at least 125, matching the NFL mark held by Earl Campbell (1980) and Eric Dickerson (1984). He topped 125 last Sunday with an 85-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, his third TD of at least 85 yards this season. No other player in NFL history has that many in a career.
Johnson’s impressive streak began after he was limited to a season-low 34 yards against Indianapolis.
“Our defense was able to keep him contained and didn’t let him get loose,” first-year Colts coach Jim Caldwell said after that meeting.
Indianapolis, which could have four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney(notes) back after he sat out last week with an abdominal injury, has allowed two 100-yard rushers this season - Miami’s Ronnie Brown(notes) on Sept. 21 and St. Louis’ Steven Jackson on Oct. 25.