During July, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be analyzing the schedules of every team in the NFL and ranking each game in order of difficulty (with one being the most difficult). This series will be split up into the eight most difficult games (ranked 1-8) and the eight easiest games (ranked 9-16) for each team. In this article, the Indianapolis Colts easiest games are the focus.
Indianapolis Colts Easiest Games in 2017
9. Week 8 at Cincinnati Bengals
The Colts and Bengals last matchup was during the 2014 season, when they met for an AFC Wild Card matchup. The Colts handily defeated the Bengals, largely on the leg of future Hall-of-Famer Adam Vinatieri, who kicked four field goals in the contest. These two teams are incredibly different than their 2014 iterations however. Expect this game to be a bit more exciting offensively. Stalwarts A.J. Green at wide receiver and Tyler Eifert at tight end give quarterback Andy Dalton long, athletic weapons to throw to down the seam. The drafting of speedster John Ross at wide receiver coupled with troubled Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon gives an already potent Cincinnati offense even more weapons to work with underneath.
10. Week 15 vs. Baltimore Ravens
This game very nearly made it onto the most difficult games list, but the potential loss of Kenneth Dixon earlier this week pushed them down a few spots. The Colts and Ravens haven’t played against each other since 2014, when the Colts won 20-13 on the combined legs of quarterback Andrew Luck (with a 13-yard run for a touchdown) and future Hall-of-Fame placekicker Vinatieri (two field goals). While the Ravens rushing attack is mediocre at best, they still have a formidable defense led by inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. Quarterback Joe Flacco will keep the Ravens in the game with newly signed wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, but the offense is incredibly one-sided at this point, which the Colts will surely key in on.
11. Week 14 vs. Denver Broncos
Make no mistake, this will not be an easy contest for either team. It’s simply easier than every other contest ahead of it. The Broncos handed the Colts a significant loss last season at Mile High, mostly due to two costly turnovers by Andrew Luck (an interception and strip-sack that were both returned for touchdowns by the Denver defense). Even with the free agency loss of defensive tackle Malik Jackson last year, the Broncos still have one of the most terrorizing defensive fronts in the entire NFL. Although they are still looking for their long-term solution at quarterback, expect the defense to keep them in this game down to the wire.
12. Week 7 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Colts have lost four home games against the Jaguars dating back to the beginning of this series in 2000. Furthermore, the Colts haven’t lost to the Jaguars in Lucas Oil since 2012 – a full five seasons ago. Home field advantage will have a significant impact on this game, but due to the exceptional drafting by the Jacksonville front office over the past few years, expect it to be an engaging and competitive contest throughout.
13. Week 13 at Buffalo Bills
The Colts and Bills haven’t played often since the NFL re-alignment in 2002, only meeting five times in the last 15 years. The last meeting was in 2015 when the Bills beat the Colts soundly at Ralph Wilson Stadium. With significant questions at quarterback (will Tyrod Taylor live up to expectations?), the Bills will have to find creative ways to use star wide receiver Sammy Watkins to create space and score points. Expect running back LeSean McCoy to shoulder a lot of the burden in this otherwise minimalist offense. The Colts should lean on running backs Frank Gore, Robert Turbin, and rookie Marlon Mack to wear down a Bills defense that finished the 2016 campaign ranked 29th in the league in rushing yards allowed.
14. Week 1 at Los Angeles Rams
The Colts start their 2017 campaign with a trip to Los Angeles to take on the Rams at the LA Memorial Coliseum. These two teams have only played four times in the past two decades, so there’s not a lot of historical significance to the matchup. While the Rams have seemingly found their long-term solution at running back in third-year man Todd Gurley, this year will be the first real test for first overall pick Jared Goff at quarterback. For a team that only won four games last season, the Colts will be a real test to open up the 2017 schedule.
15. Week 5 vs. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers were almost unanimously hailed as winners of the 2017 NFL Draft. Selecting defensive lineman Solomon Thomas out of Stanford with the third pick overall and then following that up with Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster at 31 (due to a draft-day fall related to off-the-field issues), the 49ers revamped a defense that had been depleted due to both defections and early retirements over the past couple of years. That defensive rebuild doesn’t do much for their anemic offense however, as the 49ers signed perennial backup Brian Hoyer as their starting quarterback. The 49ers had no real solution at the quarterback position following their controversial release of firebrand Colin Kaepernick, related to his politically motivated actions on the field last season. Expect this game to be on the easier end of the scale for the Colts, as the 49ers offense leaves very little to be afraid of.
16. Week 3 vs. Cleveland Browns
If there’s one team that had a better draft day than San Francisco, it was the forever floundering Cleveland Browns. Even though they still don’t have an answer at quarterback, adding defensive end Myles Garrett and hybrid safety/linebacker Jabrill Peppers along with tight end David Njoku in the first round makes this team already more formidable than they were last season. This is a team that is still in rebuild mode, but so far the pieces in place look promising for the future. Unfortunately for the Browns, the future isn’t now, and this should be an easy game for the Colts and their explosive offense.
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