Our second team-by-team NFL schedule breakdown focuses on the second-place team from last season, the Indianapolis Colts. And other than death and taxes there seems to be one sure thing in life: Indianapolis winning at least 12 regular-season games, as it has done for a record seven seasons in a row.
In reality, the Colts haven’t lost a regular season game that they gave full effort in since Week 8 of the 2008 season at Tennessee. The Colts last season became the third 14-0 team in NFL history, joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins and 2007 New England Patriots, and set an NFL record with a regular-season winning streak of 23 games. That all came to an end in Week 16 against the Jets when Peyton Manning took a seat on the bench because the Colts already had clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Indy then lost another meaningless game in Week 17 before cruising pretty easily through the AFC playoffs before losing 31-17 to the Saints in the Super Bowl.
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Here’s the 2010 Indianapolis Colts schedule (all times Eastern):
Sept. 12 Indianapolis at Houston (1:00 PM)
Sept. 19 N.Y. Giants at Indianapolis (8:20 PM)
Sept. 26 Indianapolis at Denver (4:15 PM)
Oct. 3 Indianapolis at Jacksonville (4:05 PM)
Oct. 10 Kansas City at Indianapolis (1:00 PM)
Oct. 17 Indianapolis at Washington (8:20 PM)
Nov. 1 Houston at Indianapolis (8:30 PM)
Nov. 7 Indianapolis at Philadelphia (4:15 PM)
Nov. 14 Cincinnati at Indianapolis (1:00 PM)
Nov. 21 Indianapolis at New England (4:15 PM)
Nov. 28 San Diego at Indianapolis (8:20 PM)
Dec. 5 Dallas at Indianapolis (4:15 PM)
Dec. 9 Indianapolis at Tennessee (8:20 PM)
Dec. 19 Jacksonville at Indianapolis (1:00 PM)
Dec. 26 Indianapolis at Oakland (4:05 PM)
Jan. 2 Tennessee at Indianapolis (1:00 PM)
The Colts’ strength of schedule is ranked 10th in the NFL with an opponents’ cumulative record of 132-124 (.516). Indy has opened as the +800 favorite on BetUS to win Super Bowl XLV and is a huge favorite to win the AFC South has well for NFL futures odds.
Overall the Indianapolis schedule features five games against teams that made the postseason last season: at New England, at Philadelphia and home against Dallas, San Diego and Cincinnati. It also features six more games against teams that finished .500 or better last season: two against Houston and Tennessee, one against Denver and another against the New York Giants.
That Week 1 game with Houston might set the tone for the season, and I’m calling a Texans victory right now. Frankly, Houston probably should have won both games with the Colts last year but instead fell to 1-15 all-time in this series. But the Texans always give Indy fits at Reliant Stadium; Houston is currently a three-point underdog.
Things are no easier the following week when Peyton hosts the Giants and brother Eli in the Manning Bowl. It’s only the second time the brothers have faced off in the NFL, and it’s not impossible that the G-Men drop Indy to 0-2.
The Colts only have back-to-back road games once this season, and that follows the Giants game with visits to Denver and Jacksonville, two teams that could be good or lousy. Manning had to hit Reggie Wayne on a bomb to win last year's road game against the Jaguars. The Colts beat Denver in Indy by 12 last year and the weather shouldn’t be a major factor Denver in late September. But three road games in the season’s first four weeks could take a toll.
The Chiefs will be a pushover prior to another tough road trip to Washington. Then comes what will probably be a much-needed bye (the team’s latest bye since 2005). Indy better get healthy then because the next seven games are all against teams that either were in the playoffs last year or very well could be this year (and that stretch includes four 2009 division winners). The NFL’s marquee matchup every year is Colts-Patriots and they face off again, although this year in Foxboro after being in Indy the past three seasons. The game will be played in November for the sixth straight year and seventh in eight.
The final three games of the season are all very winnable and the Colts should be favored in all three, assuming all things in the norm. Of course, 2010 is the first season where every NFL team faces a division foe in Week 17, a new rule put in by Roger Goodell in large part because of what the Colts did last year.
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Eventually Indy’s remarkable 12-win run has to end and I believe this is the year – expect the books to put its win total at 11 and I would go ‘under’ that: Indy finishes 10-6, but that’s just barely enough to win the AFC South again. I don’t think Manning gets back to the Super Bowl unless Indy finally finds a running game and somehow Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney both stay healthy. Even if all that happens, I don’t see how Indy can do better than 11-5. A return trip to the Super Bowl seems unlikely given the recent checkered history of Super Bowl losers the following season.