INDIANAPOLIS – There’s no denying the buzz emanating from the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
New coach in Shane Steichen.
New quarterback in Anthony Richardson.
Each represents hope and direction for a franchise that’s coming off a chaotic 4-12-1 season and has missed the playoffs in six of the past eight seasons.
Yet the NFL schedule-makers weren’t impressed with the latest version of the Indianapolis Colts.
Aside from allowing them to open the season at Lucas Oil Stadium Sept. 10 against Jacksonville and including them in the International Series – week 10, versus New England, in Frankfurt, Germany – the league did its best to banish the Colts to the periphery in 2023.
No primetime games for the first time since – drum roll, please – 1999, although that could change with the NFL’s flex scheduling. The specific dates and kickoff times in week 15 and week 18 are to be determined.
And at least 13 games with 1 p.m. kickoffs.
Both are reflections of the unattractive national aura surrounding a team that finished 2022 on a seven-game losing streak and has won just four of its last 19 games.
Some observations as the Colts embark on the Steichen/Richardson era:
It speaks volumes that last season’s opening overtime tie at Houston was a step in the right direction. The Colts had lost eight straight openers and 11 of 12 before rallying for the 20-all stalemate with the Texans.
The last time they got off to a 1-0 start: 2013, when Andrew Luck led a 21-17 win over the Raiders, who still were in Oakland.
Along with snapping a nine-year winless streak on opening day when reigning AFC South champion Jacksonville visits Lucas Oil Stadium Sept. 10, Indy can win its season opener at home for the first time since that meeting with the ’13 Raiders game. They’ve lost their last three to Seattle, 28-16 in 2021; Cincinnati, 34-23 in ’18; and Detroit, 39-35 in ’16.
For openers, Part II:
Here’s where we remind everyone the Colts will follow the lead of a different starting opening-day quarterback for a seventh consecutive season. Either Richardson, the No. 4 overall pick in the April 27 draft, or free-agent acquisition Gardner Minshew II will start against the Jaguars. He’ll follow Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Andrew Luck and Scott Tolzien.
Once again, we’ll find out early whether the Colts are a factor in the division. Four of their first six games are against AFC rivals. After opening with the Jaguars, they visit Houston Sept. 17, are at Tennessee Oct. 8 and have an Oct. 15 rematch with Jacksonville in TIAA Bank Field.
The Colts faced a similar stretch to open 2022 with five of seven inside the division. They weren’t able to capitalize, going 1-3-1.
They last won the AFC South in 2014. In the eight subsequent seasons, they’re 24-23-1 against the division.
And let’s not forget the Colts have had zero answers for the Jaguars on the road. They’re 0-8 away from home in the series, including a 30-27 loss in London in 2016.
Not ready for primetime:
The most glaring aspect of the schedule is zero primetime games. Zero. The Colts had a total of nine the last two seasons.
For the first time, every team is not guaranteed a Thursday night appearance.
It’s tough to argue the NFL dissed the Colts. Indy went 1-3 on the primetime stage last season, and that included a 54-19 meltdown at Dallas when the Cowboys rattled off 33 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, and an uncompetitive 20-3 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Their lone primetime win last year was the offensively-challenged 12-9 overtime win at Denver.
Circle the Nov. 5 visit to the Carolina Panthers on your calendar. An undeniable storyline: the Colts facing former coach Frank Reich.
Charting the QBs:
We’ll be able to monitor the growth of a few of the NFL’s young guns. The Colts obviously feature Richardson, while Carolina hitched its future to No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young and Houston did likewise to No. 2 pick C.J. Stroud.
And then there’s 2021 No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville and Will Levis, taken by Tennessee with the second pick in round 2 in April. Levis likely faces a watch-and-learn rookie season behind Ryan Tannehill, who’s in the final year of his contract.
Charting the QBs, Part II:
This really should be fun.
There’s Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson, New Orleans’ Derek Carr, the Raiders’ Jimmy Garoppolo and the Los Angeles Rams’ Matthew Stafford.
OK, we’ll include Tampa Bay’s Baker Mayfield and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett.
For what it’s worth:
The Colts face the fourth-easiest schedule based on 2022 records: 124-162-2, .434. Houston has the third-easiest (123-163-2, .431) and Tennessee the fifth-easiest (127-152-4, 448). That’s a reflection of the lackluster AFC South being paired with the equally-lackluster NFC South in the schedule rotation.
The Colts have just five games against teams that reached the postseason a year ago: Jacksonville (twice), Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Cincinnati.
Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.