The 2017 Indianapolis Colts schedule has been released. After a tumultuous 2016, can this franchise find its way back into the NFL Playoff picture?
The Indianapolis Colts endured a season of disappointment in 2016. In spite of heightened optimism that the team was about to take a significant step forward, they ultimately struggled mightily on the way to a second consecutive 8-8 campaign. For an organization that had enjoyed three straight 11-win seasons from 2012 to 2014, it was clear that forward progress had stagnated, and changes needed to be made.
In the aftermath of such a frustrating year, the Colts hired former Kansas City Chiefs director of football operations Chris Ballard as general manager. The objective is simple: Ballard is tasked with returning the team to the relevance it enjoyed in years past. After all, this is a team that faced the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game two seasons ago, and made the playoffs 14 out of 16 years between 1999 and 2014.
Clearly, success had become the norm for this franchise ever since the early days of the Peyton Manning era, and as the Colts seek their third Super Bowl championship in franchise history, it’s important to look at what worked and what didn’t during that particularly frustrating 2016 campaign.
On the positive side of the equation, the team’s offensive production remained as potent as ever, with T.Y. Hilton leading the NFL in receiving yards (1,448) and Andrew Luck returning to form as a franchise quarterback after injuries robbed him of nine games in 2015. Even though Luck is currently recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, he is expected to be ready for training camp, and the passing attack will surely remain effective in 2017.
However, one serious problem the Colts have to deal with if they wish to keep Luck healthy, is the ongoing struggle of the offensive line. This issue was on full display as Luck’s protectors surrendered 44 sacks in 2016 (fifth most in the NFL) and often failed to open up lanes in the running game. Unless and until this unit displays improvement, it will be very difficult for the Colts to meet their true potential and mount any sort of deep playoff run.
With that said, the Colts’ ultimate undoing proved to be their issues on defense, as the team allowed 6,126 total yards of offense (third most) and 392 points (11th most), while creating only 17 turnovers on the season. Furthermore, the organization appears ready to move on from Erik Walden, whose 11 sacks led the team in 2016. The recent retirement of Robert Mathis certainly doesn’t help the unit’s 2017 outlook either.
Looking at this upcoming season, here’s the Indianapolis Colts schedule for the 2017 season:
In spite of these obstacles, cause for optimism remains. The Colts spent big on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, and are hoping these moves will pay dividends. Players like Johnathan Hankins, Jabaal Sheard, and John Simon will be expected to come in and contribute immediately, and if they hold up their end of the bargain, the situation could improve dramatically.
Ballard spent the last four years of his career in Kansas City, and he’s experienced first hand how to build a solid defense that thrives at creating turnovers. It is certain that he will apply what he’s learned to establish an identity for the team’s stop unit. It may take some time, but he appears to be on the right path.
A glance at the schedule makes it clear that the Colts don’t have an easy task in 2017. In addition to facing their steadily improving AFC South rivals, they have contests against teams from the AFC North and the NFC West, as well as the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos. There are many quality opponents on this slate, and the team has a true challenge ahead.
It remains to be seen what Ballard can accomplish during his first year on the job, but with players like Luck and Hilton on the roster, this group will always be competitive. If the offensive line can mesh as a unit, and the defense improves as a whole, the Colts could very well return to the winning ways that their fans have become accustomed to.