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No matter how you look at strength of schedule, the Colts have it easy in 2017

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Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Let’s get this out of the way right from the start: no schedule in the NFL is “easy.”

Any team - even the worst in the league - has the ability to beat any other team - even the best in the league - on a given Sunday. But since the idea of an easy schedule is relative to the schedules of the teams around the league, there are always schedules that are easier than others, just like there are schedules that are tougher than others.

And no matter how you look at it, the Colts appear to have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL.

One way to measure strength of schedule is the traditionally adopted way of looking at last year’s records of this year’s opponents. If using that mark, the Colts have the easiest schedule in the entire league, as their 2017 opponents had a combined .424 win percentage last year. The Colts will face twice as many teams that picked in the top ten of this year’s draft (6) as teams that made the playoffs last year (3).

Another way is to use the eye test to look at the schedule, and once again, it looks incredibly favorable for the Colts. Though there are some games that figure to be tougher than the 2016 record would suggest - I think the week two game against the Cardinals is the best example of this - the Colts’ schedule still looks pretty easy. The start is especially favorable, as the Colts will face the Rams, Browns, and 49ers within the first five weeks (with the Cardinals at home in week two and the Seahawks on the road in week four mixed in). And then, of course, while the AFC South figures to be improved and while division games are always tough, even the division does factor into the ‘easy’ reputation.

And then a third way to look at strength of schedule is using the method that Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis uses. He wrote a piece for Rotoworld about that method, which takes into account projected 2017 win totals by the oddsmakers (which gives information on both what the oddsmakers project and what the market response projects) as well as 2016 metrics to determine the strength of offenses and defenses. Using this method, the Colts have the third-easiest schedule in the NFL:

The Colts’ schedule is as easy as this average makes it look. They play the fewest (two) top-5 games (Seahawks and Steelers) and play the second most (six) bottom-10 games. That said, the reason their schedule is easier is because they play many easy (read: bad) offenses. They literally face the easiest schedule of opposing offenses. But the defenses the Colts face won’t be easy (they play the 9th most difficult schedule of defenses). These factors potentially could depress overall game scoring to an extent. Which could, in turn, work in their fantasy owners' favor as the Colts may feel pressure to continue scoring.

The helpful thing about Sharp’s method is that it helps break things down a bit more - such as, for instance, pointing out that the Colts face the easiest schedule of offenses but one of the tougher schedule of defenses. That’s valuable insight, and I think it actually works in the Colts’ favor.

The Colts right now are clearly an offensive team, led by Andrew Luck, and they expect their offense to carry them as they work on rebuilding the defense. So ideally, you’d think that the offense would be better equipped to beat good defenses than their defense would be to beat good offenses, right? So the Colts will be able to match up their best unit against their opponent’s best unit, while their defense will face offenses that might be favorable matchups. Hopefully that could help the defense gain some confidence and get moving in the right direction.

But no matter how you look at it, the Colts’ schedule in 2017 looks pretty easy, at least compared to the rest of the league. That’s one of the reasons why people shouldn’t be too hasty to write them off, because the Colts have a favorable schedule, a (hopefully) improved defense, and a franchise quarterback. With that combination, they should at the very least be competing for a playoff spot.