Colts return from bye with second-easiest schedule in the AFC South

INDIANAPOLIS – Matt Hasselbeck’s extended stay as the Indianapolis Colts’ starting quarterback begins Monday when the team reports to its facility following last week’s bye.

How long Hasselbeck will be the starter in Andrew Luck’s absence depends on how long it takes Luck to recover from his lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle. However long his stint, Hasselbeck’s goal is to keep the Colts atop the AFC South. (They have a half-game lead over Houston, which plays at undefeated Cincinnati on Monday.)

As I wrote last week, Hasselbeck is good enough to keep Indianapolis in position to win the division for the third straight season. The Colts have the second-easiest remaining schedule of the four AFC South teams. Their final seven opponents have a combined record of 28-35. (Jacksonville, which is a game behind Indianapolis, has the easiest schedule; its remaining opponents are a combined 23-39.)

Let’s take a look at the Colts’ remaining opponents:

Nov. 22 at Atlanta (6-3)

Quick take: The Falcons are staggering, losing back-to-back games against Tampa Bay and San Francisco after opening the season with five victories.

Nov. 29 vs. Tampa Bay (4-5)

Quick take: The Buccaneers and No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston have defeated Atlanta and New Orleans this season.

Dec. 6 at Pittsburgh (6-4)

Quick take: The Colts were embarrassed by the Steelers 51-34 in Pittsburgh last season. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for six touchdowns and 522 yards in that game.

Dec. 13 at Jacksonville (3-6)

Quick take: The Colts caught a major break in their first meeting, in early October, when Jason Myers missed two field-goal kicks that cost Jacksonville the game.

Dec. 20 vs. Houston (3-5)

Quick take: The Texans have never won (0-13) in Indianapolis.

Dec. 27 at Miami (4-5)

Quick take: The Colts hope Luck will be back for this game against the underachieving Dolphins, who fired coach Joe Philbin earlier this season.

Jan. 3 vs. Tennessee (2-7)

Quick take: The Colts needed a 21-point fourth quarter against the Titans to get their first victory of the season back in Week 3.