INDIANAPOLIS – You play the hand you’re dealt, but it’s doubtful everyone at West 56th Street is pleased with the 2020 hand dealt to the Indianapolis Colts.
One prime-time game, and that’s a Nov. 12 road trip Nashville for a Thursday night matchup with the AFC South rival Tennessee Titans.
That’s it. The Colts are looking at a sixth straight prime-time game, and 12 of the last 14, on the road.
To compound the frustration, they’re locked out of a Monday night or Sunday night prime-time game for the first time since 2012, Andrew Luck’s rookie season. They also had to settle with one Thursday night appearance that season. The Colts were flexed into the 2018 Sunday night finale at Tennessee when the game carried win-and-in playoff ramifications.
In late February, owner Jim Irsay lamented his team’s inability to secure a prime-time home game last season, especially coming off a 10-6 record and winning a road playoff game at Houston in 2018.
It was something he was “disappointed with, that I don’t understand,’’ he said. “So it’s something that I just have to pursue, and you know me, I protect the Colts and I will fight as hard as I can to accomplish the things that we do.’’
Maybe next year.
With little prime-time exposure, the Colts open and close against AFC South rival Jacksonville – the Sept. 13 opener in Jacksonville and the Jan. 3 finale against the Jaguars in Lucas Oil Stadium. They open on the road for a second year in a row and for the fifth time in seven seasons.
The regular-season home opener is Sept. 20 against the Minnesota Vikings.
Aug. 13-17 Philadelphia
Aug. 20-24 Washington
Aug. 27-30 at Buffalo
Sept. 3-4 at Cincinnati
Sept. 13 at Jacksonville 1 p.m.
Sept. 20 MINNESOTA 1 p.m.
Sept. 27 NEW YORK JETS 4 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Chicago 1 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Cleveland 4:25 p.m.
Oct. 18 CINCINNATI 1 p.m.
Oct. 25 BYE
Nov. 1 at Detroit 1 p.m.
Nov. 8 BALTIMORE 1 p.m.
Nov. 12 at Tennessee 8:20 p.m. (Thursday)
Nov. 22 GREEN BAY 1 p.m.
Nov. 29 TENNESSEE 1 p.m.
Dec. 6 at Houston 1 p.m.
Dec. 13 at Las Vegas Raiders 4 p.m.
Dec. 19-20 HOUSTON TBD
Dec. 27 at Pittsburgh 1 p.m.
Jan. 3 JACKSONVILLE, 1 p.m.
A few tidbits:
The schedule includes seven games against teams that reached the playoffs last season: two each against Houston and Tennessee, one against Baltimore, Green Bay and the Vikings. Five of the seven are at Lucas Oil.
It also features three quarterbacks drafted 1st overall: Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield (2018), Detroit’s Matthew Stafford (2009) and Cincinnati rookie Joe Burrow (2020).
And features two others with NFL MVPs on their resume: Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson (2019) and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (2011, ’14).
The Colts have games against five of last year’s top-10 ranked QBs: Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill (No. 1), Jackson (No. 3), Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins (No. 6), Detroit’s Matthew Stafford (No. 6) and the Raiders’ Derek Carr (No. 9). Houston’s Deshaun Watson was No. 11 and Rodgers No. 12.
It provides another meeting with Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s on the comeback tour after being limited to two games and 62 passes last season by an injury to his right elbow that required surgery.
2020 will test a Colts’ defense that ranked 7th against the run last season. It will face 10 of last season’s top-14 running backs, including reigning rushing champion Derrick Henry of Tennessee (1,540 yards) and No. 2 Nick Chubb of Cleveland (1,494). It also gets Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette twice. He finished 6thwith 1,152 yards.
Regardless the names and teams and dates and matchups, the Colts unquestionably are heading into what must be considered a pivotal season.
They’ve reached the playoffs just once in the last five seasons, although two – 2017, ’19 – were directly related to Luck’s absence. The last time the franchise endured a worse stretch was a seven-year postseason drought from 1988-94.
Also, the Colts have posted a losing record in two of the last three seasons (again, both were Luck-related). The last time they’ve suffered three losing seasons in four years: a nine-year stretch from 1978-86.
It’s anybody’s guess whether the NFL schedule will unfold as planned, and if so, in what form. The COVID-19 pandemic has cast uncertainly over every professional league.
The NFL is planning on a 16-game schedule and full postseason – two extra teams, remember? – leading up to Super Bowl LV Feb. 7 in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.
However, contingency plans undoubtedly are being considered.
It’s possible games will be played, but without fans in the stands.
“In preparing to play the season as scheduled, we will continue to make our decisions based on the latest medical and public health advice, in compliance with government regulations, and with appropriate safety protocols to protect the health of our fans, players, club and league personnel, and our communities,’’ NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said.
“We will be prepared to make adjustments as necessary, as we have during this offseason in safely and efficiently conducting key activities such as free agency, the virtual offseason program and the 2020 NFL Draft.’’
Thursday, California Gov. Gaven Newsom was asked about the possibility of normalcy returning to the NFL or any pro sports league in the coming months.
“It’s difficult to imagine a stadium that’s filled until we have immunity, until we have a vaccine,’’ he said. “It’s difficult for me and imagine what the league, broadly, leagues, do when one or two of their key personnel or players are tested positive. Do they quarantine the rest of the team if an offensive lineman is practicing with a defensive lineman, and they are tested positive? What happens to the rest of the line?
“What happens for the game coming up next weekend? It’s a very tough question for these leagues to answer, because they must have a safety-first, health-first mindset, and there are conditions that persist in this state and this nation that make re-opening very, very challenging.’’
Also, Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie said it was “likely’’ his league’s season could be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. His comments were made while testifying Thursday to a House of Commons standing committee on finance.
The CFL’s immediate future, he said, is “very much in jeopardy.’’
The NFL is preparing to play the 2020 season as scheduled and with increased protocols and safety measures in place. The league will be prepared to make adjustments as necessary in order to conduct games in as safe and efficient a manner as possible, based on the latest advice of medical and public health officials and in full compliance with current and future government regulations.
As such, if a game is canceled and cannot be replayed, or is played under conditions that prohibit fans from attending, ticket refund information can be found at Colts.com/Tickets.Indianapolis Colts
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.