INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts have been an NFL prime-time fixture for nearly a decade.
That won’t change in 2010.
But when the NFL released its 2010 regular-season schedule Tuesday evening, a schedule that features the Colts – the defending AFC Champions and the AFC South champions in six of the last seven years – on prime-time television five times, there was at least one mild surprise:
The Colts’ game against the New England Patriots?
It’s not one of those prime-time games.
The Colts, after playing host to the Patriots each of the past three regular seasons, will travel to Foxboro, Mass., next season to play the defending AFC East champions. The game will be played in November, which marks the sixth consecutive season – and the seventh time in eight seasons – the teams have played during that month.
But whereas the teams’ meetings in 2004-06 and 08-2009 were in prime time, this season’s game will be played at 4:15 p.m. in Gillette Stadium and televised by CBS.
The Colts’ 2010 schedule features four games against the AFC West, and four against the NFC East, with five games against teams that made the post-season last season: at New England, at Philadelphia and home against Dallas, San Diego and Cincinnati.
It also features six more games against teams that finished .500 or better last season: two against Houston and Tennessee, as well as one against Denver and another against the New York Giants.
The Colts, as they did last season, will open with an AFC South game, but instead of opening at home, they will visit the Texans on September 12 at 1 p.m.
That begins a stretch of five road games in the first half of the season and three road games in the first four weeks of the season, with a notable exception being a home game on NBC’s Sunday Night Football on Sunday, September 19, against the Giants.
That Week 2 match-up will be the first trip to Indianapolis for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning’s younger brother, Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
The only previous meeting between the brothers came in a nationally-televised season opener in 2006. The Colts won that game in Giants Stadium – dubbed by many observers as “The Manning Bowl” – and won Super Bowl XLI following the season.
The Colts, who visit Denver and AFC South rival Jacksonville on September 26 and October 3, respectively, then play host to the Kansas City Chiefs before visiting the Washington Redskins in Indianapolis’ second prime-time game of the season on October 17.
That game also will be on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
The Colts’ open date will be Week 7, their latest bye week since 2005, and they will then play host to the Texans in their third scheduled prime-time game. That November 1 game will be the Colts’ lone appearance of the season on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
The first half of the season will end the following week when the Colts visit Philadelphia on November 7 at 4:15 p.m.
The second half of the season will begin with one of the Colts’ five 1 p.m. kickoffs: a November game against defending AFC North Champion Cincinnati. The game against the Bengals also is the first of a stretch of four consecutive games against 2009 division champions.
The Colts will play New England in Foxboro on Sunday, November 21, at 4:15, then will play host to defending AFC West Champion San Diego in an NBC Sunday Night Football game on November 28 at 8:20 p.m.
They then play host to defending NFC East Champion Dallas on Sunday, December 5 at 4:15 p.m. on FOX.
The final month of the season includes no additional defending division champions, but the Colts close with three division games in the last four weeks, including two games against the only other team to win an AFC South title in the division’s eight seasons of existence.
The Colts will play their final scheduled prime-time game on Thursday, December 9, when they visit Tennessee at 8:20 p.m. That will be the third consecutive season Indianapolis has played a road division game on Thursday in December, having beaten Jacksonville in that situation each of the last two seasons. The game with Tennessee will be telecast by the NFL Network.
The Titans won the division in 2002 and 2008, with the Colts winning it from 2003-07 and in 2009.
Indianapolis will play host to the Jaguars on Sunday, December 19, at 1 p.m. The Colts will then visit Oakland on Sunday, December 26, at 4:05 p.m.
The 2010 season will mark the first season in which all NFL teams will finish the season with games in their own division, a scheduling guideline that makes the Colts’ schedule look similar in the regular-season finale to past schedules.
The Colts will play host to Tennessee on Sunday, January 2, at 1 p.m. They previously played host to Tennessee in regular-season finals in 2007 and 2008, with the Titans winning in 2007 and the Colts winning in 2008. Neither game had playoff implications for Indianapolis.
Also on Tuesday, the league announced specific dates and times for the 2010 pre-season.
The Colts will play host to the San Francisco 49ers in the pre-season opener on Sunday, August 15, at 1 p.m., then will play the Buffalo Bills at Toronto on Thursday, August 19 at 7:30 p.m.
They will visit the Green Bay Packers on Thursday, August 26, at 8 p.m. (telecast on ESPN), then will play host to the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday, September 2, at 7 p.m.