INDIANAPOLIS – Two years ago, NFL rankings provided a bit of currency for Chuck Pagano when an international news agency tabbed the 2-14 team he was inheriting as the worst in the league.
Pagano had shirts printed with the power rankings indicating the Colts 32nd, and he distributed them to every player walking into the locker room.
It was a bold stroke by a new coach. It helped bond players together, and Indianapolis went 11-5. The nine-game one-year jump still ranks as one of the NFL's best over 90-plus seasons.
Backing up that surge with a second straight 11-5 record, the Colts were rated the eighth-best team after week 18 of the 2013 season.
With the draft concluded and free agency largely so, ESPN (not the entity responsible for Pagano's ploy, but one that also had Indianapolis 32nd) has issued its first power rankings for 2014. Indianapolis is seventh, third among AFC teams.
ESPN POWER RANKINGS (End of 2013; *2014 opponent)
T-shirts anyone? I don't think so, but the year-round coverage of the NFL and the off-shoots it spawns like mock drafts and rankings register with fans whose appetite for America's sport rarely wanes.
How do off-season rankings rate with Colts players? Do they even notice? At this point, just what does it matter?
"I think it's more for fans than it is for players, but I certainly have seen players use that for motivation," said Matt Hasselbeck. "When I got here, I noticed a shirt that was made the year before where the Colts were 32nd in power rankings and won 11 games and made the playoffs.
"It's hard not to notice this year that the one, two and three are teams last year's Colts team beat. It has its place. I think they're a little bit of a motivating factor."
Clearly, Hasselbeck was attuned to poll, while others were not inclined to put stock in the ranking.
"I don't because the people involved in that don't know what goes on in a locker room," said Gosder Cherilus. "They don't know our hearts, they don't know our goals. They don't know what we're about. We hold each other accountable, and that gets us over the hump.
"It's extremely irrelevant, but let them do what they do. We'll do what we do."
Cherilus was not here for the 2011-to-2012 jump where the club's ESPN ranking zoomed from 32nd to seventh, but Adam Vinatieri was.
He liked the shirt and its message, but he and other Colts said internal fortitude likely was a larger factor in the surge.
"I don't think a preseason ranking makes a whole lot of difference. It's not usually right on," said Vinatieri. "We were 2-14 one season then make the playoffs at 11-5. Ranking don't make a difference.
"It's about hard work, putting the commitment to build a good team. We're ranked higher because we've progressed (in two years). If you don't play well, the ranking slides away. I don't think any of us pay too much attention. Really, these are for fans, for Fantasy Football players."
Like Vinatieri, Cory Redding has been around long enough to see the NFL become year-round appointment viewing. Off-seasons and the draft have been pushed back and coverage has increased.
Redding says "it's good to have the exposure to keep our fans excited," but he thinks a team with a strong resolve is not susceptible to the rankings.
"The shirts were a visible thing, but it mattered what was inside us. We listened to our coaches and created our culture," said Redding. "We used that 32nd spot two years ago as a motivation tool. We put it on a shirt to remind us how people saw us – perception or reality.
"Our reality was we had a good team. We had good leaders, good players and went out and quieted the naysayers. That was our mindset and attitude. All of the rankings, that's for the fans."
None of the players took true exception with the rankings. All expressed appreciation the NFL incessantly is prime news and fans love the action.
Eighth is better than something lower but on a scale of one-to-10, Pat McAfee finds no relevance.
"I give it a zero. We don't know who's going to be on the team. We don't know what's going to happen. To start ranking something before you see the finished product, it's ridiculous.
"It's much better than being ranked higher than 32nd, but this really is for the fans. People love ranking things. As long as fans know we're doing everything we can to be number one, that's all that matters."