The Indianapolis Colts have a huge measuring stick of games between weeks 9-12 in the 2020 season.
There’s little doubt that the Indianapolis Colts have improved throughout the offseason. They brought in quarterback Philip Rivers to run the show on offense, and adding weapons through the NFL Draft in Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. should give Rivers more help and add balance. The defense got a big boost with the addition of DeForest Buckner via trade and bringing in more talent in the secondary.
All of that shows why the Colts are early favorites to get back to the postseason in 2020, with their over/under set at nine wins and early predictions giving them 10 wins and an AFC South division title.
However, if Indianapolis wants to reach true contender status, there is a group of games on the schedule that will be a great measuring stick to see if they can hang with the class of the NFL. They fall in the middle of the season, in a 21 day stretch from weeks nine to 12.
It all starts with a November 8th tilt early in the afternoon against the AFC’s top seed in 2019, the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens look like a team ready to take the next step despite fading in the divisional round. J.K. Dobbins should elevate an already potent rushing attack, and another year of development makes Lamar Jackson all the more dangerous. Don’t forget about their all-around solid offensive line and their opportunistic secondary.
Then, it’s a short week road trip to Tennessee to face the AFC’s runner up, the Titans. Both Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry will return to a team that nearly capped off a Cinderella run to the Super Bowl. The rushing attack will still be excellent and the defense is stout.
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After Tennessee, the Colts return home for a date with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay went 13-3 last season and fell short in the NFC Championship game. The Packers have one of the better offensive lines in football despite losing Bryan Bulaga, a great running back room, and an extremely juiced up front four that will only get better with Rashan Gary’s development.
Finally, it’s another bout against the Titans at home in Lucas Oil Stadium, where they’ll again face a hard-nosed bruiser of a football team.
This stretch will test the toughness and resolve of Frank Reich’s Colts, a team that faded down the stretch last season. The defense of Matt Eberflus will take a beating with four straight games featuring teams who love to tote the rock. The Ravens and Packers have quarterbacks who can make plays out of the pocket and create headaches all game long, and Tannehill is no slouch when everything’s working around him.
This is an important stretch for the Colts offensive line as well, a unit who stood tall all season long without injury. Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, and rookie Justin Madubuike will be a tough assignment for the interior, and Titans second year defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons has game-wrecker potential. The Packers have the Super Smith brothers and blocker deconstruction virtuoso Kenny Clark. Keeping the unit together for this stretch will be so beneficial.
To beat these defenses, Rivers and the offense needs to be firing on all cylinders. If Pittman Jr. can develop a rapport with Rivers early, that will be huge going into a stretch where the top corners will follow T.Y. Hilton.
If the Colts want to be a team that pushes for a higher seed, the measuring stick is right here. Coming away with three or four wins from this stretch could vault them from the four seed (about where their projection is currently) to the third or even the second seed. On the flip side, if things go poorly in this stretch, don’t be shocked if the Colts end up starting off the playoffs on the road.
This stretch will be a blast to watch to see how Indy measures up with the top teams on their schedule, and will give fans an idea of where this team is at as far as contenting goes.