Soft schedule offers Colts chance to contend
Chuck Pagano's team plays the NFL's softest schedule. (Icon SMI)
If the Colts can’t do better than 8-8 against this schedule, something will be terribly amiss.
The softest schedule in the NFL was released Thursday night, and it affords the Colts a golden opportunity to end their two-year playoff absence, not to mention return to the top of the AFC South.
- Their opponents were a combined 107-146-3 (.424) in 2015.
- They face just three teams that made the playoffs last year (Houston, Pittsburgh and Seattle).
- Four opponents will have rookie head coaches -- Denver (Vance Joseph), San Francisco (Kyle Shananan), Los Angeles (Sean McVay) and Buffalo (Sean McDermott), and the Colts will twice play Jacksonville, where head coach Doug Marrone will be in his first full season after finishing 2016 as the interim.
- The Colts will play the Browns (1-15), 49ers (2-14) and Rams (4-12) and two against the Jaguars (3-13).
- In three of the past four seasons, the team with the easiest schedule has gone on to make at least the conference title game.
- The Colts have three prime-time games (Week 4 on Sunday night in Seattle, Week 6 on Monday night in Tennessee, and Week 15 on Thursday night against Denver).
Here’s a look at the full schedule (opponents’ 2016 record in parentheses).
>> Sunday, Sept. 10, 4:05 p.m. at Los Angeles (4-12): Fun fact about 31-year-old Sean McVay, aside from the fact he’s the youngest head coach in league history. His father, Tim, played defensive back at IU. If Jared Goff emerges, the Rams have a chance to be decent. If not, well, same old, same old. This will be the Colts’ first game in L.A. since 1991, when they played the Raiders.
>> Sunday, Sept. 17, 1 p.m. vs. Arizona (7-8-1): The first trip back to Indianapolis for Bruce Arians, the man who so adeptly guided the team through that rocky yet remarkable 2012 season. If he can squeeze one more healthy, productive season out of Carson Palmer, Arians could have the Arians in the thick of the playoff hunt again.
>> Sunday, Sept. 24, 1 p.m. vs. Cleveland (1-15): Colts fans will get a look at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and they should probably hope the Browns go for someone other than Myles Garrett, given the Texas Tech edge-rusher’s propensity for doing damage to quarterbacks.
>> Sunday, Oct. 1, 8:30 p.m. at Seattle (10-5-1): Get ready for the Andrew Luck vs. Russell Wilson comparisons. I’m already tired of them and the game is months away.
>> Sunday, Oct. 8, 1 p.m. vs. San Francisco (2-14): Another struggling team in its first year with a new organizational structure, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. They may eventually get things turned around, but probably night right away.
>> Monday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. at Tennessee (9-7): The scariest team in the division, the Titans have a steadily rising quarterback in Marcus Mariota, a strong running game and stoutness in the trenches. If they ever figure out how to snap that 11-game losing streak against the Colts, the dam just might burst.
>> Sunday, Oct. 22, 1 p.m. vs. Jacksonville (3-13): The Jaguars always seem to win the offseason and they once again made a splash in free agency by signing A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell and Barry Church. They also traded for left tackle Branden Albert. But as long as Blake Bortles remains their quarterback, the playoffs will only be a dream. Because he served two games as the interim last season, Doug Marrone technically doesn’t qualify as a new head coach.
>> Sunday, Oct. 29, 1 p.m. at Cincinnati (6-9-1): The offense took a couple more hits with the departures of stalwart linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, so the Bengals will lean even more heavily on Andy Dalton than last year, when they dropped out of the playoffs after winning the division in 2015.
>> Sunday, Nov. 5, 1 p.m. at Houston (9-7): The Texans offseason was dominated by the one player they couldn’t get, Tony Romo. And so they remain largely the same team they’ve been for years -- strong defense, iffy offense, and a quarterback who should wear a question mark instead of a number on his jersey.
>> Sunday, Nov. 12, 1 p.m. vs. Pittsburgh (11-5): If you’re tempted to go ahead and put an L next to this one, there’s good reason. The Steelers have dominated the Colts the last three years, winning three times by an average of 24.1 points.
>> Sunday, Nov. 19, Bye Week.
>> Sunday, Nov. 26, 1 p.m. vs. Tennessee. Nice break getting the Titans after the bye.
>> Sunday, Dec. 3, 1 p.m. at Jacksonville. Not as glamorous as London, but much better for the Colts, historically.
>> Sunday, Dec. 10, 1 p.m. at Buffalo (7-9): Former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will try to do what nine others before him have failed to accomplish -- ending the Bills’ playoff drought, which pre-dates the turn of the century.
>> Thursday, Dec. 14, 8:25 p.m. vs. Denver (9-7): With a rookie head coach (Vance Joseph) and young Trevor Siemian at quarterback, the Broncos, who won Super Bowl 50, face the very real prospect of a second consecutive non-playoff season.
>> Saturday, Dec. 23, 4:30 p.m. at Baltimore (8-8): As that once-vaunted defense continues to erode and the offense struggles to compensate, it’s starting to feel like the end of the John Harbaugh era is right around the corner.
>> Sunday, Dec. 31, 1 p.m. vs. Houston. Possible AFC South showdown game in the finale.