The NFL has reached the part of the offseason where we are looking for any content possible to make news.
Free agency and the draft have passed, rookies are heading into their minicamps, and veterans are getting work in as offseason programs are underway. Other than that, there is not much going on in the NFL world.
The lack of football news is part of the reason why the NFL schedule release is such a big event. Each team’s opponents have been known for months now, but eyes still tune in in anticipation of the release.
Looking at the Indianapolis Colts’ schedule, there are quite a few things to note. The Colts’ home opener in 2022 will be against the Kansas City Chiefs, providing a great test to the Colts whether they can compete with the elites of the AFC this season. The Colts will also play five of their six divisional games – games that could prove crucial for tie-breaking scenarios – in the first seven weeks of the season. And do not forget about the four primetime game appearances in 2022, including two at home, which Jim Irsay loves to see.
But what if I told you that the most important games of the season for the Colts were against teams that had a combined record of 7-27 in 2021? That the Colts’ season would depend on beating the two franchises that drafted first and third overall in the NFL Draft just three weeks ago?
It’s true. The outcomes of Week 1 against the Houston Texans and Week 2 against the Jacksonville Jaguars will shape the course of the 2022 NFL season for the Colts.
Starting with Week 1, it may seem like a simple divisional game to kick off the season. Not for the Colts, who are still looking for their first Week 1 win since 2014. There was a young, budding superstar wearing No. 12 quarterbacking the Colts at that time, long before the injuries piled up and a shocking retirement announcement.
Week 1 means something to this Colts team. While the season is long and full of opportunities, Irsay has been vocal about wanting a win to start the season for years now. It helps get the season started on the right note instead of immediately trying to dig out of a hole.
2022 presents a great opportunity for the Colts to finally get back in the win column come opening weekend. A trip to Houston is on the docket where the Texans are in the middle of an obvious rebuild. The Colts handled the Texans last season, outscoring their divisional foes by a combined score of 62-3 in their two meetings.
Indy will be heavily favored to get the victory in Houston that weekend. However, as they found out last January in Jacksonville, being heavily favored does not mean anything if it does not translate to the field. The Colts must handle their business and not take the Texans lightly if they want to get their first Week 1 victory in almost a decade.
Speaking of Jacksonville, guess where the Colts will be traveling for Week 2? Yes, the Colts will be heading back to the very site of one of, if not the, most embarrassing collapses in franchise history. Coming in as the biggest road favorite in team history, the Colts laid an egg on all sides of the ball and were outplayed by a Jaguars team that was the worst in the NFL.
When the Colts returned from Jacksonville that night with their playoff hopes evaporated, Irsay called Chris Ballard and Frank Reich into his office at the Colts’ complex to discuss what he had just witnessed. Reich called it “a good conversation, a supportive conversation, but also demanding and wanting answers.” Ballard, always a straight-shooter, called it an “ass-chewing” from their passionate owner.
Months after the debacle on that sunny afternoon in Florida, the organization has still not forgotten the feeling they had after the loss. From Ballard and Reich down to the players on the roster, all still have a bad taste in their mouths from what happened. They have vowed to use it as fuel through the offseason so something like that does not happen again.
Luckily for the Colts, they’ll get their chance to redeem themselves early. While the Jaguars are expected to be better than they were a year ago, as quarterback Trevor Lawrence continues to develop and the Jags add more pieces, Indy has a much more talented roster at almost every position group. The Colts have not won a game in Jacksonville since 2014, the same year they last won a season-opener.
On paper, it seems like the Colts have a good chance of starting 2-0 and getting off to a fast start. But that is not why the outcomes of these two games will define their season.
Football is a very mental game, with wins and losses having a tremendous impact on both players and coaches alike. Winning or losing these first two games will completely shape the mentality of the Colts for the 2022 season. Getting over the enormous mental hurdles that these two games pose and ending two eight-year winless streaks to begin the season is crucial to the success of this team.
Think of it this way: Say the Colts win both matchups in Weeks 1 and 2. Taking down the Texans gives the Colts a 1-0 record for the first time in almost a decade. Finding victory over the Jaguars silences the thought the Colts cannot win in Jacksonville and gives the team closure for how last season ended. The Colts would be flying high with confidence as they head into matchups with the Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, and Denver Broncos, arguably their toughest three-week stretch of the season.
Now, say the Colts drop both games in Weeks 1 and 2. The questions will remain; why can’t the Colts win Week 1? Why can’t the Colts win in Jacksonville? Included in the 0-2 start would be an 0-2 start in divisional games to two teams expected to be towards the bottom of the NFL standings. A mentally crushed team then limps into a three-week stretch that could see the Colts be 0-5 when all is said and done.
Both scenarios are very plausible this season. One sets the Colts up for success and allows them to put all eyes forward. The other only reinforces the past failures that this franchise wishes to overcome and put in the rearview mirror.
There are many other important games throughout the year for the Colts against much tougher opponents. There are also many new faces on the team that did not experience the heartache Indy faced to end last season. New quarterback Matt Ryan, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore are just a few new faces who have not lost a season opener or in Jacksonville as a member of the Horseshoe.
But with what the majority of this organization went through to end last season, combined with the constant disappointment of starting 0-1, these games mean more for the mentality of this team. Winning these games gives them the confidence they can continue to roll and take on any team. Losing these matchups brings about immense doubt and pressure.
So, while you’re looking forward to games against the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Dallas Cowboys, you may want to focus on the first two opponents. They will more than likely either make or break the 2022 season for the Colts.
Have thoughts on the what Weeks 1 and 2 mean to the Colts? Drop a line in the comments below and let us know what you think!
Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMooreNFL.