INDIANAPOLIS – Finally.
At long last, after plenty of justified griping and complaining.
The NFL released its 2022 schedule Thursday night, and there they were. Two prime time games for the Colts and the city of Indianapolis. Two Monday Night Football appearances for Lucas Oil Stadium, the first on Nov. 28 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the second hosting the Los Angeles Chargers the day after Christmas.
Maybe the league office liked the move from Carson Wentz to Matt Ryan. Maybe the NFL watched Jonathan Taylor shred the New England Patriots in prime time last December and realized putting one of the best players in the NFL in prime time might help drive ratings.
Maybe the NFL is finally acknowledging it has screwed Jim Irsay, the Colts and the city of Indianapolis far too many times over the last decade or so, and it’s finally trying to make amends.
Sea:Colts schedule 2022: Indianapolis will have one less home game in the upcoming NFL season
If that is the case, it’s been a long time coming.
The numbers don’t lie. Indianapolis has been stiffed on prime time home games for more than a decade; even when Andrew Luck was the quarterback. The Colts have played just 30.6% of their prime time games at home since 2011, the lowest rate in the entire NFL.
And up until the NFL released the 2022 schedule on Thursday night, the problem was getting worse, not better. The Colts played just 23.5% of its prime time games at home since 2016, a laughable number that’s impossible to defend.
All of the traditional counter-arguments fall flat.
Indianapolis is one of the NFL’s smaller markets, true, but the size of the city matters very little to a TV audience tuning into the game from the comfort of their own couches.
And it’s fair, obviously, to say the Colts haven’t been as successful in the post-Peyton Manning era as they were when Indianapolis was dominating the NFL during the ’00’s, but that argument hits a wall every time the NFL lets the Bears host Aaron Rodgers on Sunday Night Football or hands the Raiders another home game even though they’ve barely had time to unpack in Las Vegas. The Raiders have played 70% of their prime time games at home since 2011, the second-highest mark in the league, trailing only Arizona.
Make that make sense.
The Cardinals and Raiders play in nice digs, to be sure, but State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas aren’t exactly the hallowed tundra of Lambeau Field.
But there’s still one more argument.
The Colts got to host two prime-time games in 2021, exactly as many as they have on this schedule. What’s the fuss?
One of those 2021 games was a Thursday night game against the hapless New York Jets, a prime time game only because of the time it kicked off. The other was a flexed option; the NFL only decided to give Indianapolis a prime-time game because its original options didn’t fit the bill.
These two Monday Night Football games in 2022, these are different.
One is against the Steelers, one of the most popular franchises in the NFL even after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger. The other involves Justin Herbert, one of the league’s rising stars at the quarterback position.
But the opponent isn’t why the Colts should be celebrating. There are reasons both football (a team that plays in prime time at home has a distinct advantage in recovery for the next week, avoiding the red-eye flight), and financial (big prime-time games produce a lot of excitement and revenue) .
Indianapolis has the star power, and the track record, to play on the NFL’s biggest stages. Outside of a public flogging of the Jets on Thursday Night Football, the Colts played compelling, tight contests against good teams every time the NFL put them in prime time in 2021 (including road games vs. Baltimore, San Francisco and Arizona). The league finally seems to recognize that under Frank Reich, the Colts often play well against good teams.
Beyond the two home games, Indianapolis is also scheduled for two other prime time games: a Thursday nighter against star quarterback Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos, and a Sunday Night Football game against the league’s biggest draw, the Dallas Cowboys.
The NFL is finally beginning to recognize that the Colts can be compelling in prime time. Taylor, a budding superstar who rushed for more than 170 yards in both of the Indianapolis home prime time games in 2021 and capped both of them with electric touchdown runs, probably has a lot to do with it.
Whatever the reason, handing Indianapolis two Monday night games at home was the right thing to do, even if the NFL still has a long way to go to make it right.
Beyond the prime time games, there is plenty more to analyze in the 2022 Colts schedule. By 2021 winning percentage, Indianapolis faces the sixth-easiest 2022 schedule in the NFL. Five of the first seven games are AFC South contests, including two against the Titans, giving the Colts a chance to grab the division by the throat or find themselves chasing Tennessee again. Indianapolis has to take on the loaded AFC West, and those early games against the Chiefs and Broncos could be key to a fast start.
But all of that is the normal stuff, the typical analysis that comes with the schedule release each year.
Indianapolis is scheduled to host two games of Monday Night Football.
Finally. Been a long time coming.
But the NFL’s still got a long way to go to pay its debt to this city.