By Bethany Robison @BethanyRobison on April 24, 2014
Though the Indianapolis Colts arguably have the easiest schedule in the league this year, it's still one of the highest profile, including five prime-time games. The past couple of years they've had a habit of competing against elite teams and disappearing against the middle class. If the AFC South remains weak, there's little doubt they'll return to the playoffs. Thirteen wins is very doable, but here's a conservative road to 11-5.
The Denver Broncos have had an entire offseason to stew in the anger and embarrassment of getting blown out in the Super Bowl. No one wants to cross ticked-off Peyton Manning on his home turf right now, least of all his former team (you know, the ones who dinged up his ankles last year).
Entering year two of Chip Kelly's offense and considering Nick Foles' interceptions-less streak last season, anticipate something less than a defensive struggle. This smells like either a classic Andrew Luck fourth quarter come-from-behind win at home or a complete disaster resulting in nationwide headlines like: "What's wrong with the Colts!" I'm guessing the latter in hopes of avoiding a jinx.
Sometimes a trip to Jacksonville is the perfect medicine, and sometimes it feels like their running backs get more than 200 yards each. The first two weeks of the season will give the Colts an immediate gut check. Assuming they're still fairly healthy at this point, the Colts should rise to the occasion and win their first division game.
If the Colts are serious Super Bowl contenders, they need to win all of their division games in Indianapolis, without exception. This is the perfect opportunity for them to set that precedent.
Chuck Pagano still expresses some close ties to his former coaching gig with the Ravens, so regardless of what happens in the weeks prior to this, the Colts should be up and ready for this game. If they were playing in Baltimore, I might feel differently, but playing in Indy, this needs to be a win.
If things are going too well for the Colts, this could easily turn into a trap game. I'm still surprised the Texans played so poorly last season, but hopefully the Colts won't take them for granted.
Last season the Bengals embarrassed the Colts in Cincinnati, despite having a plethora of injuries to their much-improved defense. I suspect the Colts will remember and act accordingly.
Last season, I honestly kind of forgot the Steelers existed. It's not like them to be a non-factor. When in doubt, predict a loss (especially against a team with an outstanding home crowd) and then be pleasantly surprised with a win.
The Chuck Pagano Colts have never lost back-to-back games, and they're not going to do it this year -- not with (supposedly) the league's easiest schedule. Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw will kiss their Super Bowl rings and then punch their former team in the mouth. And longtime Colts fans might feel just a tiny bit of guilt because Eli Manning still seems like their universal little brother.
The Colts - Patriots rivalry isn't what it used to be, but it still warrants a national spotlight. This will be Tom Brady's first visit to Indianapolis since 2009. With the Colts coming off their bye week, it's going to be Andrew Luck's first career win against the Patriots.
The Jags will be coming off their bye week after playing the Cowboys in London, and the Colts might be coming off a prime-time high. This could be a potential trap game, but the Colts need to win all their home division games. They just do. (By the way, I had to Google hard to figure out who was still on the Jags' roster. The answer is Chad Henne.)
It will be interesting to see what newly-minted head coach Jay Gruden does with Robert Griffin III and the Redskins. They seem like one of those potential middling teams that consistently tripped up the Colts last year. But at the same time, there will be so much hype about the top three picks from the 2012 draft all playing in one game (Luck and Richardson on one side, RG3 on the other) I can't imagine the Colts coming out flat.
The Colts play both Ohio teams this season, and both of them are probably better than people give them credit for. It's a big ask for Indy to beat them both, and this looks like about the right time for a backslide.
The Houston Texans have never won in Indianapolis. Lord willing, this holiday tradition will continue, and the Colts will secure their playoff spot right around Week 15, having swept their division at home.
The Colts' first visit to Jerry's World! This is a tricky one. The Cowboys are famous for losing must-win games (especially at home) this time of year. But on the other hand, if the Colts have won their division and are pretty well locked in to their playoff seed, they might not have a lot to play for. When in doubt, predict loss and hope for the reverse jinx; but this is Andrew Luck playing in Texas. Feels like a win.
The game in Nashville between the Colts and Titans was hard fought last year (headbutts and all), but the Colts escaped with the win. There might be resting of starters. There might be a last second scramble for playoff seeding. The Colts certainly can win this game. What the heck, let's say they will win. That makes 11 wins, conservatively.
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