It's way too early to start predicting the Indianapolis Colts' 2012 chances with the NFL Draft still more than a week away and the Colts' roster still in a state of disarray. Yet, with the release of the 2012 schedule, the temptation is too great to offer at least some general observations.
At first glance, it would appear that the NFL schedule-makers have cut the rebuilding Colts a few breaks for 2012. Certainly the Colts' last place finish in 2011 has a lot to do with the relative ease of their schedule (T-14th toughest) but the sequence of the games certainly gives Indianapolis at least a puncher's chance to get off to a much better start despite the roster turnover.
The season doesn't start easy with a road trip to Chicago to face the Bears, but it could be worse. At the very least, game one of 2012 should be a ratings bonanza for Indiana CBS affiliates with the debut of Andrew Luck (presumably) and the combination of Colts and Bears audiences.
Weeks two and three offer the Colts an opportunity to sprint out to a winning start, even if things don't go well in Chicago. The Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars come to Lucas Oil Stadium bringing only slightly more quarterback experience than the Colts have. The Vikings may or may not have RB Adrian Peterson available at that early date, so there are two prime opportunities for wins right there.
Normally, an early bye week isn't welcomed by NFL teams who would prefer to get their break somewhere closer to the middle of the season. For the rebuilding Colts, a week four bye week is ideal. They'll have three games under their belts, may have the confidence of being 2-1, and have two weeks to make adjustments based off the early observations.
It gets immediately tougher after that, but again the schedule makers have favored the Colts with some early home games. Green Bay comes in in week five followed by a trip to the New York Jets in week six. Both of those are likely losses, but the schedule maker must be a Tim Tebow fan because the Jets are loaded with quality opponents early. Rex Ryan's bunch could be in total chaos by the time the Colts come to town if Mark Sanchez struggles early.
The next four weeks provide winnable games for the Colts against non-playoff teams, home against Cleveland, at Tennessee, home against the Dolphins and on the road at Jacksonville. It's conceivable the Colts could reach week 10 with a 5-4 record.
Week 11 takes the Colts to Foxboro for the third straight year. This will be an interesting match up between old master, Tom Brady, and young gun who now has ten weeks of NFL experience. Still, it's too much to hope for the Colts to pull out a win in New England this year.
Two of the next three are winnable, however, with the Bills and Titans coming to LOS sandwiched around a trip to Detroit. If the Colts could go 2-1 there, all of the sudden they would be 7-6 heading into the season's final three weeks. At the very least, that would likely be Wild Card contention.
With two of the last three against AFC South favorite Houston and another on the road to always hostile Kansas City, this may be where the young Colts struggle, limping home at 7-9 and out of the playoffs for the second straight season.
It's highly unlikely that the Colts will return to the post season next year, but the set up of their 2012 schedule has the potential to provide some excitement for Colts fans and maybe even keep them alive for a playoff berth right up to the end.
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