The Indianapolis Colts have been the model of consistency this decade, stringing together seven consecutive seasons of 12 or more victories.
Now comes a curveball.
They are coming off a loss in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1969, the season after the New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Over the last decade, there's been a strong tendency for the loser of the Super Bowl to go in the tank the next season. Yes, the Arizona Cardinals made the playoffs last year coming off a Super Bowl loss, but seven of the previous eight runner-ups failed to reach the postseason and tended to be under .500 the next season.
The Colts won't catch any breaks in their division, either. The Texans and Titans look to be on the rise, and the Jaguars frequently play Indianapolis tough (even though the Colts have won five of six in the series).
Curse of Super Bowl losers or not, Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney said there's no reason to think these won't be the same old Colts.
"Year in and year out, we do the things that we've always done," he said. "It may not translate into Super Bowls, but the fact that we're consistently there — wins, being in the playoffs — people are going to have to deal with us, regardless."
With the stars getting older and big contracts coming up, is the window of opportunity closing on the Colts? When Anthony Gonzalez returns, how will it shake up the pecking order at receiver? Will Peyton Manning and the Colts continue their domination of the AFC South, or are their division rivals closing that gap? Can seventh-rounder Ray Fisher give a boost to an otherwise ho-hum return game?
Rookies and veterans: Aug. 1 in Anderson, Ind.
Quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson quietly assembled very impressive seasons. Now, can the Texans establish some kind of running game to round out that offense? Six of Houston's seven losses in 2009 were by eight points or fewer. Can the Texans start winning the close ones? Is this the season they catch up to the Colts, whom they play host to in their opener?
Rookies and veterans: July 30 in Houston.
Was last season's unbelievable U-turn — winning eight of 10 after an 0-6 start — just a tease, or can the Titans keep that momentum going? Now that the offense is back in the hands of Vince Young, where will he take it from here? How does Chris Johnson follow a 2,000-yard season? How will losing standouts Kyle Vanden Bosch and Alge Crumpler impact the team?
Rookies and veterans: July 31 in Nashville.
Are the Jaguars and their half-filled stadiums long for Jacksonville? How about Jack Del Rio? Can Maurice Jones-Drew keep up his remarkable pace, shouldering so much of the offensive load? Is Mike Sims-Walker one of the NFL's most underappreciated receivers, or just a guy coming off one good year? Did the Jags outsmart everyone by using the 10th pick on Cal defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, widely expected to go later?
Rookies and veterans: July 29 in Jacksonville.
NEXT: NFC North