Two questions about the Indianapolis Colts’ upcoming games were the most obvious before the NFL unveiled its 2015 schedule Tuesday night.
We knew the opponents beforehand, we knew where they were going to play — both games are in Indy at Lucas Oil Stadium — we just didn’t know when. Now we do. Bill Belichick brings his defending Super Bowl champions to town on Oct. 18. Peyton Manning returns to his old home with the Broncos on Nov. 8.
We presumed both must-see TV matchups would be in primetime. Anyone else as surprised as me that one of them wasn’t?
The Patriots game will be on a Sunday night, but the Broncos game is at 4:25 p.m., an unusual late-afternoon kickoff for games in Indianapolis.
We’ve come to expect seeing Peyton in primetime against the Colts. It doesn’t get much more compelling than that. Some might say the Patriots games, although New England is 4-0 including two playoff wins against the Colts since head coach Chuck Pagano and quarterback Andrew Luck arrived in 2012.
While we’ll all be interested to see if the Colts have indeed closed the gap between themselves and the Patriots, the reality is Belichick’s bunch have won those games by an average of 29 points. The Broncos and Colts have played some entertaining games the past two seasons — a 39-33 Colts win in Peyton’s return in 2013, a 31-24 Broncos win in the 2014 season opener and a stunning 24-13 Colts upset at Denver in January’s AFC Divisional playoff round.
Then I remembered reading a paragraph from the Colts’ news release on the schedule, the one reminding that games in weeks five through 10 can be flexed to Sunday night.
So now I’m thinking the Broncos-Colts game will be flexed.
If not, someone is overthinking things and ignoring huge TV ratings (i.e. $$$, which I always thought was pretty important to the biggest sports enterprise on the earth).
When scanning the schedule, the next thing that jumps out is the Green Bay Packers are at the Broncos the week before on Nov. 1. So maybe NBC didn’t want to have the Broncos in back-to-back weeks?
I still don’t get it. Perhaps the flex hunch is just that. So be it.
There are other observations about the schedule, including the Colts venturing back to the Steel City to face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in a Sunday night game on Dec. 6. The Steelers had their way with the Colts 51-34 at the same venue last regular season. That should make for good TV.
The finishing stretch of games isn’t too daunting — three of the four are against AFC South Division foes, and two of those are at home including the season finale against the Tennessee Titans. The Colts have won 13 in a row against division opponents, the NFL’s longest such streak.
Bottom line, this schedule appears favorable. That’s the knee-jerk reaction. And you never know just how formidable some teams will prove to be. The Steelers game looks to be the toughest on the road and, as mentioned, the two most challenging opponents are coming to Indy.
If the Colts are indeed Super Bowl contenders who have improved themselves with the offseason additions of wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Frank Gore and outside linebacker Trent Cole among others, then they should be looking at a fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
If this team has learned anything from the recent past, going 11-5 for a fourth straight year isn’t good enough. The Colts need to be 13-3 and grabbing one of those top two AFC seeds, if not wrestling away the No. 1 seed from those Patriots.
The one time the Colts have beaten the Patriots in the playoffs, we haven’t forgotten, was the AFC Championship Game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis in 2007.
This team has taken the next step in each of its three years during the current regime. The Colts made the playoffs and were one and done, they returned and won a home game and lost in the second round and then they came back and won twice including an impressive road win at Denver before losing in the AFC title game.
The next step would be the Super Bowl. And this schedule should be do-able, injuries withstanding and with some tinkering still needed to the defense, for the Colts to win enough games to contend for that top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
That’s more important than not playing Peyton again in primetime, although it probably won’t seem like it that particular week.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.