Earlier tonight, the Indianapolis Colts' 2016 schedule was released. While we knew the opponents already, we now know when those games will take place. There's plenty to talk about with this schedule, so we'll go game-by-game and look at interesting notes and thoughts on the schedule.
Week 1: Detroit Lions, Sunday, September 11, 4:25 p.m.
For just the second time in the past seven seasons, the Colts will open the season at home (the other came in 2013 against the Oakland Raiders). This one has some significance to it, too, as the Colts will host head coach Jim Caldwell for the first time as the head coach of an opposing team. Caldwell enters his third year as the coach of the Lions, boasting an 18-14 record and one playoff appearance during his time in Detroit. He was a longtime assistant coach for the Colts and was the successor to Tony Dungy as head coach, and in three seasons as the head coach of the Colts he went 26-22 with two playoff appearances and an AFC title. He started his tenure as Colts head coach with a 14-2 campaign and a Super Bowl run, but he ended it with a disastrous 2011 season (though he wasn't really to blame for that). Caldwell returns to Indy as a head coach, however, so that will certainly be a storyline. Another storyline is from the last matchup between the two teams, as in 2012 rookie quarterback Andrew Luck hit Donnie Avery for the game-winning touchdown in Detroit with no time left on the clock, giving the Colts the win. It was a classic game in Luck's rookie year, and the rematch will finally take place in 2016. The real story with this game, however, is that the Colts will open the season at Lucas Oil Stadium, and it will be against the Lions in their first real game without Calvin Johnson.
Week 2: at Denver Broncos, Sunday, September 18, 4:25 p.m.
The Colts get the defending Super Bowl champions in week two, minus one key player: legendary Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who retired this offseason after Denver's Super Bowl win. It will be the first time in the Andrew Luck era that the Colts face a Broncos team without Manning, and it's still unclear who Denver's signal-caller will be. Regardless, it is the Broncos defense that will carry them again in 2016, and the Colts will face an incredibly tough test going against Von Miller and company on the road in this game. The Colts have had a lot of success against the Broncos and their defense in recent years, so we'll see whether Andrew Luck is able to replicate his tremendous performance from a year ago. The problem for the Colts is that
Gary Kubiak Wade Phillips and the Broncos will have ten days to prepare for this matchup, as they host the Thursday night season opener and then ten days later host the Colts. That will be talked about plenty at the time, but the big storyline from the game lies in the matchup of Von Miller and the Broncos defense against Andrew Luck and the Colts offense. Luck got the edge last year, but it's unclear who will get it this time around.
Week 3: San Diego Chargers, Sunday, September 25, 4:25 p.m.
For Colts fans, facing the Chargers likely brings back bad memories of the later years of the Peyton Manning era, where the Chargers seemed to be just as much of a nemesis as the Patriots, if not moreso. Those days are long gone, however, and these two teams look very different. Phillip Rivers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and Antonio Gates is still at tight end, but the Chargers as a whole aren't that great. They will be looking to change that this year and anytime you have a quarterback like Rivers that is possible, but at this point it doesn't look to be one of the tougher games on Indy's schedule. One other thing to note with this game is that the Chargers general manager is Tom Telesco, who was a longtime assistant in Indianapolis and served in a variety of roles, most notably as Director of Player Personnel. He was a very well-regarded assistant with the Colts and now enters his fourth year as GM of the Chargers.
Week 4: at Jacksonville Jaguars (in London), Sunday, October 2, 9:30 a.m.
The Colts travel overseas to play in their first London series game, a divisional game against the Jaguars. The Colts don't lose a home game and yet the NFL still gets to send them to Europe, so it works out well all around. We've known about this particular game and matchup for a while, but it's still very much worth noting and the Colts playing in London is certainly significant. Make sure to note the game time, as it will be a morning game for those in Indianapolis and the Eastern time zone, scheduled that way based on the London schedule. That helps the product overseas, but it also does help the Colts to get back at a reasonable time - something that is important with the way the schedule is this year, because as you'll notice below, the Colts strangely don't have a bye week immediately following their London game. Typically, teams do get the bye after the London game and the Jaguars got that this year, so it's a surprise that the Colts don't get that bye either. Likely, the league is wanting to look into how it would work to have teams returning from London and playing the next week, which would be my guess as to why the schedule worked out like it did for Indy. UPDATE: The MMQB's Peter King has cleared this up, as he reported that the NFL gave teams the choice on whether to have their bye after their London game or later in the year, and the Colts chose to have a later bye rather than in week five.
Week 5: Chicago Bears, Sunday, October 9, 1:00 p.m.
The Colts return home from their overseas trip to host the Chicago Bears, a matchup that always makes for an interesting game in Indiana (as there are plenty of fans of both teams around that you will find throughout the state). Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who was a four-year starter for the Colts after being signed out of the Canadian Football League in 2012, will make his return to Indianapolis in this game. Freeman signed with the Bears this offseason and is likely to start at inside linebacker, and so it will be interesting to see how he does in 2016 and particularly against the Colts in his return to Lucas Oil Stadium. Also, the matchup against the Bears is one to circle and keep in the back of your mind, as Peyton Manning has said that he hopes the Colts honor the ten-year anniversary of the Super Bowl XLI win over the Bears at this game, bringing back a number of members of that team for a reunion and to honor them. If Peyton Manning says he wants to do that, I imagine Jim Irsay, Pete Ward, and the Colts will do everything they can to make it happen, so stay tuned to see if anything does come of that.
Week 6: at Houston Texans, Sunday, October 16, 8:30 p.m.
The Colts' first primetime game of the season comes in Houston against the division rival Texans on Sunday Night Football. The primetime game in Houston has become sort of a tradition, as this will be the fourth season in a row in which the matchup between the two teams in Houston is televised nationally - twice it has been on Thursday Night Football, and now this will be the second time on Sunday Night Football as well in the past four years. I don't know what it is about the Colts vs. Texans matchup in Houston, but the NFL seems to like that in primetime. It will come with raised stakes this year, as it will be their first meeting of the season after the Texans won the division last season. They signed quarterback Brock Osweiler this offseason and made several moves in an effort to improve, but the Colts also will have Andrew Luck back. As a result, this will be the first opportunity to see what figure to be the best two teams in the AFC South face off, and on a national stage at that.
Week 7: at Tennessee Titans, Sunday, October 23, 1:00 p.m.
No game is easy in the NFL, but division games are even tougher. And division road games? Those are tougher still. The Colts follow up a trip to Houston on Sunday Night Football with a trip to Tennessee the following week, and it could be against a much-improved Titans team. Marcus Mariota looks promising at quarterback, and the Titans also made several other moves - such as trading for DeMarco Murray. Plus, they now have a lot of high picks in this year's NFL Draft after their massive trade with the Rams, so if they hit on those picks, the Titans could stand to be a lot better next year. They're still rebuilding, but they should be good enough to give the Colts a tough game on the road.
Week 8: Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, October 30, 1:00 p.m.
The last time the Colts and the Chiefs played, we all know what happened: Andrew Luck went full Superman and led the Colts on a huge comeback to win in the Wild Card round of the playoffs a few years ago, marked by his signature play so far as a Colt when he grabbed a fumble and dove into the end zone. It was a thrilling game and a massive comeback, and this will be the Chiefs' first trip back to Indianapolis since that game. No doubt we'll see that Luck highlight over and over leading up to that game (I'm ok with that), but this also prevents a tough test: the Chiefs made the playoffs last year and were playing really good football, and there's no reason to think they won't be a tough team to face once again this year. So while the rematch of that Wild Card game will generate plenty of attention, we also shouldn't miss the fact that the Colts will be hosting a pretty good team for this mid-season game.
Week 9: at Green Bay Packers, Sunday, November 6, 4:25 p.m.
A trip to Lambeau Field rounds out the "first half" of the Colts schedule leading up to the bye week, and it's a place where the Colts haven't won at since 1988 - the year before Andrew Luck was born. What's exciting for football fans is that this will be a chance to watch two of the most gifted and talented quarterbacks in today's NFL go at it, with Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers offense and Andrew Luck leading the Colts offense. There's a chance they could wind up being two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL next year, but regardless of whether or not that's the case, they are both fun to watch and it should be an interesting game for football fans. Plus, this game too is a rematch of a classic Colts game, as the last time the two teams met was in 2012 in the ChuckStrong game. It was the first game that Chuck Pagano missed after being diagnosed with leukemia, and the atmosphere was emotional as the Colts tried to win for Chuck. After getting behind early, they did just that thanks to an incredible game from Reggie Wayne as the Colts came from behind and beat a good Packers team, helping to spark an unexpected playoff run for the Colts.
Week 10: BYE WEEK
I'm a fan of bye weeks that fall later in the season, as it's nice to have a break after a grueling first nine weeks. For the Colts, it's surprising that the bye doesn't fall in week five following their London game, but by the time they arrive at the bye week it will be a huge relief to get to the point and hopefully will allow them to rest up for the final stretch of the season.
Week 11: Tennessee Titans, Sunday, November 20, 1:00 p.m.
We've already talked about the Titans so we won't go into too much detail here, but there's a chance Tennessee could be much improved next year. As the season goes on the division races will start to pan out, and the Colts will likely be competing for first place in the AFC South (most likely with the Texans), so this could be a key division game.
Week 12: Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday, November 24, 8:30 p.m.
If there's one focal point of the Colts' 2016 schedule, it's this game against the Steelers at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thanksgiving Day. It is the first time in Colts history that they will host a Thanksgiving game, and it will be broadcast nationally on NBC to a huge audience ready to crash on the couch after a day filled with great food. It's a great matchup, too, as the Pittsburgh Steelers figure to have one of the best offenses in football in 2016 and could be a legitimate contender in the AFC, so this will be a big game between two teams likely with playoff hopes at this point in the season. The past several Colts vs. Steelers matchups haven't gone too well for the Colts, so the hope is just that they won't get blown out on a national, Thanksgiving stage - though with this one being at home, that's a help toward those efforts for the Colts. The crowd should be electric and all eyes will be on Lucas Oil Stadium for this game, and it has the potential to be a matchup of two of the AFC's better teams, depending on how things play out next year.
Week 13: at New York Jets, Monday, December 5, 8:30 p.m.
The Colts will play their second-straight night game in week 13, this time on Monday Night Football (meaning they will have plenty of time to prepare, going from a Thursday game one week to a Monday game the next). It will also mark the second year in a row in which the Colts and Jets meet on Monday night, with last year's meeting coming in Indianapolis in week two (a Jets win) and this year's meeting coming in New York in week 13. The weather might be colder for the Colts and the Jets could again be a solid team (depending on their quarterback situation), but this could be an important game late in the season to win against a conference opponent.
Week 14: Houston Texans, Sunday, December 11, 1:00 p.m.
We don't know how the 2016 season will turn out for any team, but I'd go ahead and circle this matchup on your calendar. Last year, the week 15 game in Indy between the Colts and Texans wound up deciding the AFC South, and if both teams compete for the division title again this year like expected, this week 14 game could have similar stakes. The Texans got their first ever win in Indy last year, so that monkey is off their back, but the pressure for this game will still be there for both teams as it's assumed they will both be in competition to win the division.
Week 15: at Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, December 18, 1:00 p.m.
The Colts will get the chance to play in the Vikings' new stadium for the first time, as it will be completed and ready to go for it's inaugural 2016 season. Obviously, Minnesota in mid-December won't be too favorable weather-wise, but the good news for the Colts is that it is an indoor stadium and so the conditions won't play a factor. The Vikings are a good team, having made the playoffs last year, and they should again be in contention for a postseason berth this year. In light of that, this could be a late-season matchup between two potential playoff teams, making for an interesting game that we don't always get to see due to the Colts and Vikings playing in opposite conferences.
Week 16: at Oakland Raiders, Saturday, December 24, 4:05 p.m.
The Colts will play on Christmas Eve this year like most of the NFL, playing on a Saturday rather than Sunday on Christmas Day. The Colts will have a late-afternoon kickoff on Christmas Eve, playing in Oakland. The good news is that the weather should be great, but the bad news is that it may throw a wrench into your Christmas Eve plans and traditions. Beyond that aspect of it, though, this is a matchup I'm excited about. I've made no secret about the fact that I think Derek Carr is a very good quarterback and has a ton of potential, and I love what the Raiders have been doing. I actually think that Oakland could very well compete for a playoff spot this year, and that could lead to this being a late-season game between two playoff hopefuls. A Colts vs. Raiders matchup might not seem like the most interesting, but getting the chance to watch two teams who may be in playoff contention led by quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Derek Carr on Christmas Eve isn't a bad deal at all.
Week 17: Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, January 1, 1:00 p.m.
The Colts' 2016 schedule wraps up (well actually, hopefully it doesn't wrap up with this game!) with a home game against the Jaguars on New Year's Eve (meaning the Colts play Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and New Year's Day this year). Hopefully they will be able to usher in the new year with a win and with the hope of the season not ending with this game. The Jaguars should be an improved team this year and feature a potentially dangerous offense led by Blake Bortles, so it won't be an easy game for the Colts. It will be their first matchup since early in the season in London, and while it's very possible the AFC South could be decided by this point, it's also possible that this game could have implications for the Colts in terms of either the division or the conference standings, so this could be an important one despite being in week 17.