Shortly after the NFL schedule was announced last night, I was talking with a friend (not a Colts fan, by the way) and before I could even say a word about the schedule, he remarked, "the Colts have an easy schedule!" And he's absolutely right.
We already knew the opponents for the 2015 season and we know that the Colts' strength of schedule (based on 2014 records) is the second-easiest in the league. And while it's certainly true that many of the teams on the schedule will be improved, let's also not miss the fact that the Colts are fortunate to have a favorable schedule. Look around at early predictions of the 2015 season and you'll see most predicting either 12 or 13 wins for the Colts, and that seems like a fair expectation given the talent the Colts have and the schedule that is paired with it.
They open up with what will be a tough road matchup against the Bills and a very good defense, but even there is a positive: the Colts won't have to go to Buffalo in December to deal with bad weather but will instead get them in mid-September. In fact, there's only one game that seems like even a possibility of being played in cold weather, and that's the Colts' early-December game in Pittsburgh.
After traveling to Buffalo, the Colts then host the Jets on Monday Night Football, travel to Tennessee, and then host the Jaguars. Those three teams were a combined 9-39 last year. 9-39! Sure, all three will likely be improved (if for no other reason than that it'd be hard to get worse) and the Jets have an impressive secondary, but overall this looks like an easy portion of the schedule for the Colts.
Following that is what is without a doubt the toughest stretch of the season for the Colts. They play at Houston on a short week on Thursday Night Football, then host the Patriots on Sunday Night Football, host the Saints, play at the Panthers on Monday Night Football, and then host the Broncos on a short week. Those five teams combined to go 47-32-1 last season and features three division winners from a season ago - and all five teams figure to be good once again in 2015. Without any doubt, that's the Colts' toughest stretch of the season, but even then there are positives: they get to play the Patriots, Saints, and Broncos at home, and then after the stretch the Colts get their bye week to rest up.
After the bye week, the Colts play at Atlanta and then host the Buccaneers. Both teams had bad seasons a year ago and will be picking in the top ten of next week's draft, and while they're likely to be significantly improved, this is a welcome change from the previous month and a half for the Colts.
The Steelers are up next for a Sunday night matchup in Pittsburgh, and this could arguably end up being the toughest game of the season, when considering both the opponent and situation (on the road in primetime in early-December). This one will be a tough one for the Colts.
After the Steelers, however, the Colts close out the season with three of four games against the AFC South. They travel to Jacksonville, hosts the Texans at home, travel to Miami, and then end the season at home against the Titans. The game against the Dolphins will be a tough one, as Miami looks to be a pretty good team in 2015, and then the Texans of course will present a formidable challenge. But this is a very favorable way to end the season for the Colts, and even the fact that their road trips are to Jacksonville and Miami in December are nice scheduling.
Overall, the Colts have a very favorable schedule in 2015. Ten of their games are against the two divisions that were the worst in the NFL last year (AFC South and NFC South), and while there will be improvement this fall, it still looks good for the Colts. Even the toughest stretch of the season for the Colts is made easier by the fact that some of the biggest games will be at home. Put simply, this is a schedule that should make Colts fans and players alike happy, and while it's not a given and will still be tough, the schedule sets up well for a return to the playoffs for the Colts in 2015. But, of course, the Colts' sights are on bigger goals than simply making the playoffs - they want to win in the playoffs.