The most shocking news to come from this year’s version of Black Monday was not an unexpected firing, but an unexpected re-hiring (Link: https://www.realsport101.com/breaking-chuck-pagano-to-stay-with-the-indianapolis-colts/). It seemed to be widely accepted for weeks that head coach Chuck Pagano would be removed from his duties, with the biggest question seemingly being whether general manager Ryan Grigson would follow Pagano out the door. Not only did owner Jim Irsay keep both men, he extended their contracts for an identical period, tying the fates of his two key employees together – so they better play nice. In truth, when taking his four seasons as a whole, Pagano has yet to have a losing season with 3 consecutive playoff appearances to begin with setting a high standard. He will have an excellent opportunity to return the Colts to winning ways, and back to the post-season in 2016. Star quarterback Andrew Luck ought to be back healthy, with lessons learned from his toughest year as a pro yet, and they have on paper one of the easier schedules to play, ranking 11th of the 32 team schedules based on 2015 win-loss records. That is helped by once again being part of the relatively weaker AFC South division, accounting for over a third of their games. They are however set to face 6 teams from this year’s playoffs, and should expect the Texans to be better themselves in their attempts to repeat as division champs. Matching up with the NFC North and AFC West creates some tough match ups, and they also find two 10 win teams in the Steelers and Jets to round out their schedule. The dates of each game won’t be announced until April, but the Colts have the following teams scheduled for 2016: Home Away Texans Texans Jaguars Jaguars Titans Titans Chiefs Broncos Chargers Raiders Bears Packers Lions Vikings Steelers Jets Let’s pick out a game the Colts will feel confident in winning, one that looks particularly daunting, and finally a game that has the best chance of being selected for primetime for us all to enjoy.
Nice and easy
The most winnable games for the Colts in 2016 look like they will once again come from their AFC South rivals, and while they could be much improved in Mariota’s second year, the obvious choice is their home tie with the Titans. Tennessee pushed them all the way this year in week 3, leading Indy 27-14 before Luck got going, rallying in the 4th quarter to just win 35-33. With the team scrambling for anyone to play QB for them in week 17, the margin of victory was again narrow, finishing 30-24 in the Colts favour. While neither win was overly comfortable, it does stretch their winning streak over the Titans to nine games. Indianapolis have their number, sweeping them each of the last four season, a run that Luck and Pagano will feel confident about continuing next season.
Despite the seemingly favourable ranking of 11th “easiest” schedule, there’s a lot of tough games ahead in 2016. A rare trip to Lambeau Field is arguably the one that stands out. Though they don’t play there often, 1988 marks the last time the Colts left Wisconsin with a victory. It’s never an easy place for opponents to visit, and though they’ve stumbled over the line into the playoffs this year, expect the Packers to be strong again next season. Green Bay likely spend part of their offseason re-tooling the O-line, will welcome back Jordy Nelson, and would surprise no-one if Rodgers was once again leading one of the more effective offences in the league.
There’s a very good chance that the above match up gets a prime time slot, with two of the NFL’s top two quarterbacks squaring off. One that also fits the bill is another tricky road assignment to face the Broncos at Mile High. At this point, we don’t know if this will once again match Luck against the man he ousted from Indy in Peyton Manning. Earlier in the season it seemed a definite no. Regardless though, should the Colts be back to playoff and Superbowl contenders, this game has the potential to be a critical one between what could be two of the AFC’s top teams. Denver likely returns one of the league’s better defences, ensuring that Luck and his offence will have to be on top form. This one has all the makings of a crucial battle to determining playoff and seeding in the conference in 2016. There’s a lot of fascinating fixtures facing the Colts this upcoming season. It’s going to be a crucial one for the newly extended coach and GM, and though there’s some tasty matchups ahead, dominating in their own division is once again going to be the key to a return to relevancy this time next year.
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