With the release of the Colts’ schedule, we get our first real look at what the Colts will be facing in the 2018 season. As with every NFL season, it will likely hold some surprises. Teams rarely perform as expected, and the draft will change the landscape significantly for several of these teams, but that doesn’t mean we cannot make some educated predictions about how things will go. So, without further ado, let’s have a look:
Week 3 through week 6 presents what I think could be the toughest stretch of football for the Colts this coming season for a number of reasons. Most prominent among them is that this is a Colts team that will be operating a brand new offense and a brand new defense. They’ll be one of the youngest teams in football, and they’ll be relying heavily on rookies to fill out the many holes on both sides of the football. It takes time for young players to adjust to the NFL, and those who had started making adjustments are going to be back at square one as they must learn the new schemes.
Then there’s the fact that, assuming he is healthy, Andrew Luck will have played just two games after missing the entirety of the 2017 season. Regardless of how he progresses, the evidence of rust will almost certainly rear its head early on in the season, and that makes this stretch of games even tougher.
Then there are the matchups themselves. 3 out of the 4 games will be road games. While having early road games might generally be better because it limits how much weather is a factor, this season it means more opportunities for error while attempting to operate a new offense amidst a lot of crowd noise. It also doesn’t help that 2 of the 4 matchups are against the teams who were in the Super Bowl. All this adds up to a tough stretch of games. But let’s look at the games themselves a bit closer.
In week 3, they will head out on the road to face the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. That matchup will likely be their toughest all year, and it will come early. While the Eagles will be welcoming to Frank Reich before the game starts, they’ll definitely have their defense primed to shut him down, and they’ll know his tendencies. On offense, Carson Wentz could very well be back in time to suit up which would make a difficult day for the young Colts’ defense. With Luck still shaking off the rust, the Eagles’ killer defense will be ready to get after him, and it could be a game where the offense struggles to get anything going.
Week four takes them back home to face the Texans in the only home game over this stretch. While this Texans team has struggled to stay healthy, facing them early might be worse for the Colts because it means they might have the best opportunity to be at full strength. J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus will be back and linked up with Jadeveon Clowney who has emerged as a force in his own right. On the back end, Tyrann Matthieu will help solidify the Texans’ secondary. They don’t have a ton of draft capital, so it is unlikely that their talent level will rise dramatically by the start of the season but getting their roster healthy is enough to make them contenders, and if Deshaun Watson is on the field, this won’t be an easy matchup at all.
After that brief trip home, the Colts head to Foxboro on a short week to take on the Patriots on Thursday Night Football. Unless you’ve been under a rock, I don’t need to tell you why that doesn’t favor the Colts. Andrew Luck has never beaten the Patriots. In fact, the last time that the Colts beat the Patriots was in 2009, and the last time they won a game in Foxboro was in 2006. With that said, they will certainly be motivated to get a win, and the Patriots are trending downward as Brady ages and reports of in-fighting continue to emerge. Still, this game would be a shocking win if the Colts pulled it off. If nothing else, we can at least hope that under the new coaching staff, the Colts won’t do anything as dumb as they did the last time they played the Patriots.
Wrapping up the difficult 4-week stretch is an away game against the New York Jets. While the Jets won’t be heavily favored, they will be featuring a tough defense that helped them overachieve last season. Riding that momentum, the Jets are hoping they will land their QB of choice, and this point in the season might be the time they choose to put him on the field. The Colts have not exactly proved to be a murderer’s row for quarterbacks. They have routinely given struggling quarterbacks their best games, as Blake Bortles can attest. If the Jets draft Baker Mayfield like I think they will, this could be the week he makes his debut, and that could go poorly for a young and raw Colts defense. This is certainly a winnable game, but it has the feel of one that could be a hard fought one for the Colts.
Overall, I think the Colts have a chance to see real improvement over last year’s showing. The back half of the season has the potential to allow for a nice run if the team is able to find their form and begin getting comfortable in the new offense. A lot will depend on how the draft breaks down, as well as how Andrew Luck is doing come week 1. If Luck is playing at MVP form by midseason and Ballard hits on several key draft picks, we could have a fun season of football in our very near future. Best of all, we are just a week away from getting a much clearer picture of what that future might look like.
How about you? What do you think is the toughest stretch on the Colts’ 2018 schedule?