Home opener with Bengals, trip to New England highlights of Colts’ 2018 schedule

Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The byproduct of a 4-12 season – a third consecutive non-winning record – is reflected in the Indianapolis Colts’ 2018 schedule.

There’s one prime-time appearance for a franchise that used to test its fan base’s late-night staying power by getting the maximum allotment. Of course, that one appearance is a doozy: Oct. 4, a Thursday night, at New England. Nice to see you again, Josh McDaniels.

And there are 13 1 p.m. kickoffs, including the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium. One way or the other, Sunday dramas will end at a reasonable hour.

The overriding interest in the meeting with the Bengals is whether the Colts will be led onto the field by Andrew Luck. The team’s $140 million quarterback continues to rehab from surgery on his right shoulder that forced him to miss all of last season. He last played Jan. 1, 2017 in the ’16 season finale against Jacksonville.

Luck is optimistic he’ll be ready for the start of training camp and the season, but there’s no guarantee.

While the Colts open at home for the sixth time in the last 12 years, they also won’t leave Lucas Oil Stadium for an entire month. The league office gave them three straight November home games: Jacksonville (Nov. 11), Tennessee (Nov. 18) and Miami (Nov. 25). Their bye is Nov. 4.

Here are some observations on the schedule:

  • Renewed ‘rivalry:’ General manager Chris Ballard offered a drop-the-microphone moment in early February at a press conference to explain the decision by McDaniels to renege on his agreement to succeed Chuck Pagano as the Colts’ head coach.

“The rivalry is back on,’’ he said, exiting the room.

Well, it would be nice if Colts vs. Patriots once again resembled a bona fide rivalry.

The Colts have lost seven straight to New England, including an ugly four-game stretch during which they were outscored 189-73. They’re making their first trip to Foxborough since their 45-7 loss to the Patriots in the 2014 AFC Championship game. You remember Deflategate, right?

And can’t wait for that pre-game handshake between Ballard and McDaniels.

  • Not ready for prime time players: It should surprise no one the Colts were given just the one prime-time game. That stage is reserved for more attractive teams, not one in serious rebuild mode that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2014.

Also, the Colts haven’t exactly thrived of late on prime time. They’ve lost three straight and 10 of the last 12. That’s in stark contrast to the Peyton Manning era when Indy routinely strutted its stuff on the national stage. From 2003-10, the Colts were 29-7 on prime time during the regular season.

  • Regaining footing in the AFC South: That’s a must, begins at home Sept. 30 against Houston and picks up serious steam over the second half of the season. Five of the final eight games are against division opponents as the NFL continues to back-load schedules with divisional games.

Since setting an NFL record with 16 straight victories against division opponents mid-way through the ’15 season, the Colts are just 6-9 against the Texans, Jacksonville and Tennessee. That’s not going to cut it. The only guarantee to earning a playoff spot is winning the division.

The Colts have won nine AFC South titles since 2002, but none since 2014. The last three have gone to Houston (twice) and Jacksonville.

The Jaguars have been especially difficult to handle. They’ve won four of the last five, including a pair of take-no-prisoners wins last season: 27-0 at Lucas Oil Stadium in October and 30-10 in Jacksonville in December. Jacksonsville’s defense dominated each game, piling up a total of 14 sacks and 14 quarterback hits on Jacoby Brissett. The 10 sacks at Lucas Oil Stadium were the second-most allowed by the Colts in team history.

  • Reunion weekends: There always are interesting week-to-week storylines in the NFL. In ’18, that includes Frank Reich returning to Philadelphia (Sept. 23), where two months ago he and the Eagles celebrated their Super Bowl LII victory over the New England Patriots.

Also, the Colts can catch up with former teammate Frank Gore when Miami visits Lucas Oil Stadium (Nov. 25) and cornerback Rashaan Melvin on their Oct. 28 visit to Oakland. And the two meetings with Jacksonville will offer evidence whether an offseason relocation has lit a fire under wideout Donte Moncrief.

You can watch every Colts regular season game on CBS4/FOX59.

COLTS 2018 SCHEDULE

Sept. 9 – Cincinnati, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Sept. 16 – at Washington, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Sept. 23 – at Philadelphia, 1 p.m. (FOX)

Sept. 30 – Houston, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Oct. 4 – at New England (Thurs), 8:20 p.m. (FOX/NFL Network)

Oct. 14 – at New York Jets, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Oct. 21 – Buffalo, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Oct. 28 – at Oakland, 4:05 p.m. (CBS)

Nov. 4 – Bye

Nov. 11 –  Jacksonville, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Nov. 18 –  Tennessee, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Nov. 25 – Miami, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Dec. 2 – at Jacksonville, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Dec. 9 – at Houston, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Dec. 16 – Dallas, 1 p.m. (FOX)

Dec. 22 or 23 – NY Giants (TBD)

Dec. 30 – at Tennessee 1 p.m. (CBS)

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