5 thoughts on 2024 Colts schedule: Indy still has to earn its way back to prime time

INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts caught just about everybody by surprise in 2023.

Especially after Indianapolis lost its dynamic rookie quarterback, Anthony Richardson, to a season-ending shoulder injury in the fifth week of the season.

Behind first-year head coach Shane Steichen, the Colts stayed in the playoff race until the final minutes of the season, coming up short to the Texans in a game that ended up deciding the AFC South.

Attention has already shifted to other teams this offseason.

While the rest of the AFC South made big, headline-grabbing moves to land outside stars in free agency, Indianapolis focused mostly on retaining the core of its 2023 roster, confident that Richardson’s return, a healthy Jonathan Taylor and developing young players in key spots will put the Colts back into the playoffs again this fall.

Maybe those moves do not spark hype, a development confirmed by Wednesday night’s release of the 2024 schedule, a slate that mostly keeps Indianapolis out of the limelight.

The Colts are confident they can grab the NFL’s attention again if they can navigate these five developments to watch in the 2024 schedule.

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Only one showcase

Indianapolis has just one game scheduled for prime time in the initial schedule release.

A “Sunday Night Football” appearance on Nov. 17 against Aaron Rodgers and the Jets, the first time the Colts have played on NBC’s weekly showcase since an ugly fourth quarter in Dallas in 2022.

The lack of prime-time love might surprise some fans, given the team’s 9-8 finish in 2023 and the local excitement surrounding the development of Richardson.

From the big-picture view at the NFL offices in New York, though, the lack of prime-time games is easy to understand. Star power drives the NFL’s prime time games — just look at the amount of air time given to Rodgers and the Jets.

Outside of a resurgent season from Jonathan Taylor, the Colts do not have that kind of star power yet, particularly at the quarterback position that soaks up the headlines.

The promise Richardson flashed early last season caught the attention of Colts fans, but Indianapolis was still something of an afterthought at the time, and despite those early flashes, the lack of rookie snaps means Richardson remains unproven.

If Richardson lives up to the promise and puts together a full season, Indianapolis will be back in the national spotlight soon enough.

Air power

Indianapolis ended up battling a string of backup quarterbacks or unproven rookies in 2023, and although the opponents on the 2024 schedule provide plenty of youth, there are a lot more big-name quarterbacks and high-powered offenses lying in wait this fall.

The Colts open against the two breakout stars of 2023, Houston’s C.J. Stroud and Green Bay’s Jordan Love, take a break, then get Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa, Stroud, Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Rodgers and Detroit’s Jared Goff in a span of eight games, along with all the weapons those teams have assembled around their prolific passers.

A Colts defense that ranked 28th in the NFL in points allowed has added first-round pick Laiatu Latu in an effort to improve a pass rush that finished with 51 sacks, the most the franchise has produced in 40 years in Indianapolis, but the Colts are counting on a young group of players in the secondary to take the next step after struggling at times last season.

Young players like JuJu Brents, Jaylon Jones, Nick Cross and Rodney Thomas II have to step up to the challenge.

Because unless there’s another epidemic of quarterback injuries, there is an awful lot of arm talent waiting on the schedule next season.

Road warriors

Indianapolis does not have to travel many miles in 2024.

A road slate filled with trips to the NFC North and AFC East means the Colts have to travel just 11,497 miles in 2024, the third-fewest in the NFL.

But the NFL made up for the lack of miles by concentrating the road games into the middle of the schedule. Indianapolis opens with three of its first four games at home, then plays four of its next five on the road as the month of October bleeds into early November.

Under Steichen, though, playing in a hostile environment hasn’t been a problem yet.

Indianapolis finished 5-3 on the road in 2023, including critical early wins over Houston and Baltimore, two teams that ended up making the playoffs.

Youth movement

The NFL drafted a record six quarterbacks in the first 12 picks of the first round at the end of April.

And as long as they’re in the lineup, the Colts will get a close look at two-thirds of that group.

Chicago’s Caleb Williams (No. 1 overall), New England’s Drake Maye (No. 3), Minnesota’s J.J. McCarthy (No. 10) and Denver’s Bo Nix (No. 12) are all on the schedule, giving the Indianapolis defense a few wide-eyed youngsters on the schedule to make up for all the star power.

If one or two of those guys hit the ground running the way Stroud did, the schedule gets harder. Indianapolis already faces an AFC South that is full of young quarterbacks. Richardson, Stroud and Tennessee’s Will Levis were all drafted in 2023, and Trevor Lawrence is still only 24 years old as the wizened, experienced veteran in the division.

For better and for worse, the Colts will get a look at the future of the NFL’s quarterback position in 2024.

Finishing strong

If Indianapolis can get through the daunting road slate in October and a string of playoff hopefuls in November, the Colts should have a chance to make a run in December and January.

Beginning with a Dec. 1 game against a New England Patriots team that is rebuilding after the end of the Bill Belichick era, the Colts get a rest on a late bye week, take on another rebuilding team in a road trip to Denver, face another team changing its face in the Titans at home and finish off with a Giants team that still seems uncertain at the quarterback position.

In other words, right around the time the Colts should be sure of what they have in Richardson, they face a bunch of teams in flux.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: 5 thoughts on 2024 Colts schedule: Indy has to earn prime time back