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Indianapolis Colts 2016 schedule announced: Dates, game times, strength of schedule, and more

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The Indianapolis Colts' 2016 schedule has been released!

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts 2016 schedule is officially here!  While we've known for months those opponents the Colts will face next season, we now know when those games will take place, as the NFL unveiled their 2016 schedule tonight.  Here's the full schedule (all times are Eastern):

Week 1: Detroit Lions, Sunday, September 11, 4:25 p.m., FOX
Week 2: at Denver Broncos, Sunday, September 18, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Week 3: San Diego Chargers, Sunday, September 25, 4:25 p.m, CBS
Week 4: at Jacksonville Jaguars (London), Sunday, October 2, 9:30 a.m., CBS
Week 5: Chicago Bears, Sunday, October 9, 1:00 p.m, FOX
Week 6: at Houston Texans, Sunday, October 16, 8:30 p.m., NBC 
Week 7: at Tennessee Titans, Sunday, October 23, 1:00 p.m, CBS
Week 8: Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, October 30, 1:00 p.m, CBS
Week 9: at Green Bay Packers, Sunday, November 6, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Week 10: BYE WEEK
Week 11: Tennessee Titans, Sunday, November 20, 1:00 p.m., CBS
Week 12: Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday, November 24 (Thanksgiving Day), 8:30 p.m., NBC
Week 13: at New York Jets, Monday, December 5, 8:30 p.m., ESPN 
Week 14: Houston Texans, Sunday, December 11, 1:00 p.m., CBS 
Week 15: at Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, December 18, 1:00 p.m., CBS
Week 16: at Oakland Raiders, Saturday, December 24, 4:05 p.m., CBS
Week 17: Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, January 1, 1:00 p.m., CBS

The big news from the Colts' schedule release is that, for the first time in franchise history, they will host a Thanksgiving game as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town for the night game.  That's also the Colts' only home night game, though they have three primetime games overall.  The Colts will have five games kickoff in the 4:00 time slot, including the first three games of the season starting at 4:25.  The Colts will also have a morning kickoff from London in week four.  Perhaps the most interesting part of the schedule, though, is the fact that the Colts don't have a bye week after their London game, which is a very rough schedule.  The Colts will host the regular season opener at Lucas Oil Stadium, just the second time in the past seven years that they will have done that.  The schedule is highlighted by games on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and New Years Day, and the schedule is filled with plenty of late afternoon kickoffs.

The way the Colts' opponents were determined this year comes from the NFL's formulaic scheduling model.  The Colts will, like always, play their three AFC South opponents twice each in 2016, playing each team at home and away.  That counts for six games in the schedule each year.  Furthermore, another eight games come from the fact that the Colts will play two other divisions this year, which are scheduled from year-to-year on a rotational basis.  This year, the Colts will face the AFC West and NFC North divisions.  Between those two other divisions and their own division, that accounts for 14 of the 16 regular season opponents for the Colts.  The other two are based off of last year's standings, as the Colts will play every AFC team that finished in the same place as them.  In other words, since the Colts finished second in the AFC South, they will play the other three second-place finishers in the conference.  One of them (the Kansas City Chiefs) is already taken care of by the fact that the Colts play the AFC West division, so that leaves just the second place team from the AFC East (the New York Jets) and the AFC North (the Pittsburgh Steelers) to round out the Colts' schedule.  This also explains why the Colts won't play the New England Patriots in the regular season like they normally do, as the Patriots finished in first place in their division (not the same as the Colts) and Indy isn't scheduled to play the AFC East division next year.  That's the basic idea of how the scheduling of opponents works.

Using 2015 records, the Colts' 2016 opponents were 122-134 last year, which gives Indy a strength of schedule of .477 heading into next year, which ranks 22nd in the NFL.  By comparison, the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons are tied for the toughest strength of schedule at .555, while the Green Bay Packers have the easiest at .457.  Of course, a lot can change from year-to-year, but this is the best way to analyze how strong a schedule is at this point.  In that regard, the Colts seem to be right near the middle of the pack in the NFL.

We also already know the Colts' preseason schedule, which will feature five games this year due to the Hall of Fame game:

Hall of Fame game - vs. Green Bay Packers (Canton, Ohio) - Sunday, August 7, 8:00 p.m.

week 1 - at Buffalo Bills - Saturday, August 13, 7:00 p.m.

week 2 - vs. Baltimore Ravens - Saturday, August 20, 7:00 p.m.

week 3 - vs. Philadelphia Eagles - Saturday, August 27, 7:00 p.m.

week 4 - at Cincinnati Bengals - Thursday, September 1: 7:00 p.m.