INDIANAPOLIS – An Indianapolis Colts’ season that opens and closes against the Houston Texans offers more than a few interesting storylines in between.
There are four prime-time games, including – wait for it – two at Lucas Oil Stadium.
There’s Patrick Mahomes’ first appearance in Indy.
There are meetings with AFC South rivals the first two weeks for the first time since the division’s inception in 2002 – the Sept. 11 opener at Houston and Sept. 18 at (shudder) Jacksonville – and five division games crammed in the first seven weeks.
There’s a return to Indy by a quarterback the Colts thought was their long-term answer just 15 months ago only to admit their mistake 13 months later. Carson Wentz and the Washington Commanders visit Oct. 30.
Here are some quick observations:
Owner Jim Irsay has been loud and critical regarding the NFL’s refusal to give his franchise a home prime-time game, other than Thursday night on NFL Network, that is. The Colts have been included on NBC (Sunday night) and ESPN (Monday night) 20 times since 2012 – five at home and 15 on the road. Since 2016, all nine appearances have been away from home.
And that ends.
This season, they’ve been given four prime-time games, two at home. They’re at Denver Oct. 6 (Thursday) and at Dallas Dec. 4 (Sunday), and home against Pittsburgh Nov. 28 (Monday) and the Los Angeles Chargers Dec. 26 (Monday).
About those openers
Anyone else remember Sept. 8, 2013? Andrew Luck passed for 178 yards and one TD, Reggie Wayne had eight receptions for 96 yards and the TD, Robert Mathis had 1 sack and Antoine Bethea collected 11 tackles and one interception. Luck’s 19-yard TD run capped a fourth-quarter comeback for a 21-17 victory.
That’s the Colts’ last season-opening win. Only Wayne is still around, now as the team’s receivers coach. The drought has reached eight straight and Indy has lost 11 of their last 12 openers.
One betting site – sportsbetting.ag – expects the Colts’ season-opening dry spell to end. It has installed them as 8-point favorites, the largest spread in week 1.
The Colts open against Houston for the third time – all on the road – and are 0-2. The Texans rolled 34-7 in 2011 in Indy’s first game without Peyton Manning and 34-24 in ’10 with Manning under center.
This Houston bunch, though, is in serious rebuild mode. The Texans finally rid themselves of Deshaun Watson (traded to Cleveland) and have turned to quarterback Davis Mills and head coach Lovie Smith. Houston has been 4-13 and 4-12 the past two seasons after winning the AFC South in 2018-19.
The Colts have won four straight and nine of 11 in the series. They won both meetings in 2021: 31-3 in Indy and 31-0 in Houston.
About the AFC South
Everything revolves around winning the division. The reward is a playoff berth and at least a first-round home game. The Colts haven’t won the AFC South since 2014.
The division should take shape early for Indy as five of its first seven games are inside the AFC South, including the Titans and Jaguars twice.
Everyone should have the week 2 trip to Jacksonville circled in dark red. That’s turned into a black hole for the Colts. They’ve lost seven straight road meetings to the Jaguars, including that incredibly embarrassing and devastating 26-11 loss in the final game last season. The Colts needed a victory to earn a postseason bid. The Jags were 2-14 and categorically the worst team in the league.
We won’t bore you with the details.
About the Titans
As much as the Jaguars’ mastery of the Colts in Florida (and London) is perplexing, the Titans’ recent success at Indy’s expense has drawn the ire of Irsay.
“It’s just completely unacceptable the way they’ve dominated the division over us. It just is,’’ he said.
Irsay said much more, including some spicy language, but you get the idea.
The Titans have won three straight and four of five in the series. That’s helped them win consecutive AFC South titles.
About the AFC West
The NFL’s rotational system has the Colts dealing with the AFC West in ’22. That appears to be the league’s strongest division.
The Chiefs (Sept. 25 in Indy) traded away Tyreek Hill but still features Mahomes, Travis Kelce and a solid supporting cast. Denver (on the road Oct. 6) reloaded at quarterback with Russell Wilson. The Las Vegas Raiders (on the road Nov. 13) gave quarterback Derek Carr a top-tier receiver in Davante Adams. The Los Angeles Chargers (Dec. 26 in Indy) follow the ascension of Justin Herbert.
The Chiefs were 12-5 and reached the AFC Championship game a year ago, losing at home to Joe Burrow and Cincinnati. The Raiders earned a wild-card berth. The Chargers were 9-8.
About the ‘reunion
We’re talking about Wentz’s return to Indy Oct. 30. The Colts shipped him to Washington Feb. 18 and replaced him with Matt Ryan.
We’ll leave it at that.
Another season, another starting quarterback. Ryan will be the fifth different starting QB in Frank Reich’s five-year stint as head coach, and sixth different QB to start a season opener. Ryan follows Wentz, Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Andrew Luck and Scott Tolzien.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.