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 most difficult games are the focus.
Indianapolis Colts Most Difficult Games in 2017
1. Week 10 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers steamrolled the Colts in their win during week 12 of last season while Andrew Luck sat out with a concussion. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown connected five times for 91 yards and three touchdowns. Le’Veon Bell added one more touchdown on the ground for good measure. The game should be a bit closer this season, as the Colts should have Luck available. We should know at this point how well the offensive line plays in protection for the franchise quarterback. While the Colts have done significant work to revamp their secondary and defensive line, the inside linebacking corps still has serious issues to address. We’ll see how the Colts defense fares against what is considered by many to be the best offensive combination in the NFL.
2. Week 4 at Seattle Seahawks
The Colts and Seahawks haven’t played against each other since Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson’s sophomore campaigns. The Colts won that game on the back of T.Y. Hilton’s five catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns. This game will be decidedly different than the last encounter, as both rosters have seen significant player turnover on both sides of the ball. The Seahawks still pack a formidable defense that will do everything it can to wreak havoc on the Colts receivers and tight ends while trying to limit ageless wonder Frank Gore from pummeling them up the middle. While the Seahawks still have wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse at their disposal, the loss of running back Marshawn Lynch to the Oakland Raiders is a significant concern for a balanced offensive attack in 2017. Still, expect the Seahawks defense to live up to its reputation and make the day difficult for Luck and Co. on the field.
3. Week 2 vs. Arizona Cardinals
It was a coin flip between this game and the Week 9 matchup at Reliant Stadium against Houston for the number three spot on this list. Ultimately, I gave the nod to Arizona due to their lack of questions at the quarterback position. Carson Palmer may be in the twilight of his career, but he can still throw the ball as well as nearly anyone else in the league. Add in running back David Johnson with wide receivers John Brown and the seemingly immortal Larry Fitzgerald and you’ve got a potent offensive attack that could spell all sorts of trouble for a rebuilding Colts defense. With starting strong safety Clayton Geathers out for the first six games of the season on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list, we’ll see how well the Colts secondary holds up against what could be an explosive passing attack.
4. Week 9 at Houston Texans
The Texans have rattled off three wins in a row against the Colts over the past two seasons – possibly a sign of the times and how much the division has changed over recent years. A dominant defense coupled with a top-flight talent at receiver in DeAndre Hopkins and a workhorse running back in Lamar Miller will make the Texans a formidable opponent in their home stadium. This matchup has become the marquee contest of the AFC South over the past half-decade while the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans have gone through what seems like perpetual rebuilds. While the Texans may not have their quarterback situation figured out just yet, expect Deshaun Watson to be under center by week 6 of this season. Even without a top-tier quarterback, the Texans have proven time and again that they are as difficult of a matchup as anyone for the Colts.
5. Week 6 at Tennessee Titans
The Colts haven’t lost to the Titans since October of 2011, so it speaks to the success that Titans general manager Jon Robinson has had rebuilding this roster over the past season that they rank so highly on this list. The emergence of Marcus Mariota as a legitimate franchise quarterback, coupled with a tenacious runner in DeMarco Murray, 2017 first-round draft pick Corey Davis and touchdown machine Eric Decker at wide receiver makes the Tennessee offense as potent as any the Colts will see all season. Add in tight end Delanie Walker and a reinvigorated Rishard Matthews and you’ve got some serious weapons available at Mariota’s disposal. The Titans defense is nothing to laugh at either, as they’ve made significant strides in turning that unit into one of the best run-stopping defenses in the league. Expect former Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan and first-round draft pick Adoree’ Jackson to significantly improve the Titans pass defense.
6. Week 12 at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars series has been the most evenly matched of the Colts AFC South opponents during the lifetime of the division. The Colts split the series last season, losing against the Jaguars in London during their October matchup but evening the score at home to close out the 2016 campaign. The Jaguars, much like the Titans, have gone through a significant rebuilding phase over the past half-decade (or, to be more blunt, for the last decade in the case of Jacksonville). However, it finally seems that the seeds of these rebuilds are finally coming to fruition. The Jaguars finally seem to have the talent to be consistently formidable on the field. The drafting of running back Leonard Fournette out of LSU answered the most pressing question for the Jaguars offense (outside of whether or not Blake Bortles is the long-term answer at quarterback). Couple that with multiple years of what seems like draft-day success on defense and the Jaguars are finally looking like a complete and competent team again. Poaching star cornerback A.J. Bouye from divisional rival Houston only helps build this narrative. He’ll work fine opposite budding star Jalen Ramsey, along with recent draft picks Dante Fowler, Sheldon Day, and Myles Jack. The Jaguars are hoping to move beyond a team that looks spooky on paper to a team that looks serious on the field on Sundays.
7. Week 11 vs. Tennessee Titans
It’s beyond telling that the Titans show up twice on this list, and it’s again indicative of the major strides they’ve made over the past few seasons in retooling their roster. Everything that made them formidable in the week 6 matchup stays relevant here. Expect this to be another hard-nosed game, even though it’ll be in the relatively safe confines of Lucas Oil Stadium this time. Other than home field advantage, the only things that should make a significant impact on this game would be if either team finds themselves in a groove. Momentum is a very real thing in the NFL. We’ll wait to see which team has it coming into this matchup.
8. Week 16 vs. Houston Texans
Two out of three divisional rivals have both of their Colts matchups make it into the upper half of difficult games this season, and that’s no coincidence. The Jaguars, Titans, and Texans have all been moving the chains recently to try and catch up the Colts, and the Texans have found their way out in front at this juncture. With the quarterback situation most likely settled at this point in the season, expect this game to have serious playoff implications for both teams. The added stakes, combined with the ever-growing animosity between these two franchises, makes this game a must-see for any fan of tough divisional football.
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