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What is the Colts’ most important game in 2017?

NFL: Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

By most indications, the Indianapolis Colts will have a pretty favorable schedule in 2017.

No slate of games is ever ‘easy,’ but relative to the rest of the teams in the league the Colts seem to have an easier schedule. Even with that said, however, there will still be some incredibly important games for them in the 2017 season, and a lot of those will be division contests.

Though the Colts only play three teams that made the playoffs a year ago, they’ll face two of them in back-to-back weeks: at the Texans in week nine and against the Steelers in week ten. That will be a key stretch, and that game against the Texans in particular could be huge.

ESPN recently looked at each team’s most important game for the 2017 season using FPI, which measures how significant each game projects to be for a team’s playoff chances. In other words, which game does a team’s playoff chances hinge on the most? For the Colts it is that week nine game against the Texans, which according to ESPN’s FPI has a 25.5% swing. So basically, the Colts’ chances of making the playoffs in FPI’s projections based on a win and based on a loss are 25.5% different, which is the second-biggest swing for any team in any game this year, behind only the Giants’ week one game against the Cowboys (25.6%). So yeah, it’s safe to say that week nine game will be important.

Here’s what ESPN had to say about it:

The AFC South projects as the tightest division in the league, according to FPI, meaning the race will pivot on key intra-division games. The Colts' matchup at the Texans in Week 9 narrowly edges their trip to meet the Titans in Week 6 as Indy's most important.

For comparison’s sake, that week nine game is not the most important game for the Texans in 2017 according to FPI - instead, it’s the week 17 game against the Colts. So even though it’s a different game, the point remains the same: these Colts vs. Texans games will be huge once again this year, like they normally are.

If the Colts hope to make the playoffs for the first time in a couple of years, their best chance is going to be by winning the AFC South. That makes all six division games very important, but in recent years the Texans have proven to be their toughest competition. Whether or not that continues to be the case in 2017 remains to be seen, but it’s no doubt that their games against Houston this year will be massive for their playoff hopes. We’ve seen the Colts’ playoff hopes drastically crushed in the last two years due to December losses to the Texans, and it just reinforces the narrative of the importance of these division games.