INDIANAPOLIS — Each season, the Indianapolis Colts play the same three division opponents two times a year, and the storyline is pretty much the same: we know what they've got, and they know what we've got.
But with Sunday's huge divisional matchup with the Houston Texans looming — and first place in the AFC South Division on the line with just three more games to go — Colts head coach Chuck Pagano has challenged his players this week to look at their division rival with a different perspective.
"I challenged everybody to look at this team and study them like they were an NFC team; like they were an out-of-the-division team," Pagano said. "Because you can lull yourself to sleep and say, 'Hey, I know who I'm going against; I know what (Jadeveon) Clowney is; I know what Vince Wilfork is; I know (DeAndre) Hopkins,' if I'm Vontae (Davis) or a corner.'"
Both the Colts and the Texans — who at 6-6 are also tied atop the AFC South standings with the Tennessee Titans — have had their share of changes since the teams last met up almost two months ago on Sunday Night Football.
In that game, Indianapolis saw Houston erase a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 23 with 54 seconds left and send things into overtime, where the host Texans would see Nick Novak kick a game-winning 33-yard field goal to give them a 26-23 victory.
Both teams have had their shares of highs and lows since that matchup — as well various players coming and going from their lineups — but the Colts can certainly claim the momentum heading into Sunday's game, as they have won three of their last four games, while the Texans have lost their last three contests.
Last week, the Texans fell to the Green Bay Packers, 21-13, at Lambeau Field, while the Colts had their most dominating performance of the season so far, defeating the New York Jets, 41-10, on Monday Night Football.
And while Houston has had one more day to prepare for Sunday's game than the Colts, Pagano said he's not so sure how much of an advantage that can be from week to week.
"It was a short week, if you will, and (the game) came really, really fast," said Pagano, whose team returned on Wednesday from the Jets game to begin Texans preparations. "But sometimes that's a good thing, you know? Because we've waited around — it's been a crazy, crazy year — and we've had a wild schedule a lot of travel, and a Sunday game, a Thursday game, a London trip, then you get a Thanksgiving Day game and a 10-day window. So we've had it all. But sometimes a short week heightens your sense of urgency, if you will, attention to detail — all that stuff."
Pagano hopes his players make up for the lost day of preparation by putting in extra time on their own doing their film study — both of their Texans opponents, as well as themselves.
But that goes back to the fifth-year head coach's challenge this week: don't just study the Texans like you would any other time; "take a beginner's mentality."
"Take the mindset that we've never played these guys before, and dive into this game, and start dissecting these people and study as hard or harder than you ever have from a preparation standpoint and the mental part of it," Pagano continued. "our guys have bought into that; I think they've done that — because, again, I think you can take some things for granted and say, 'Hey, we know this team,' and all that stuff. They've changed a little bit, we've changed a little bit, and so we'll continue to do that until 1 o'clock Sunday."