INDIANAPOLIS – Kickoff Weekend is a time of newness, and nowhere is that evident more than in starting lineups for Indianapolis and Oakland.
Under second-year head coaches Chuck Pagano and Dennis Allen, the Colts (perhaps 10) and Raiders (nine on defense; five on offense) have new or predominantly new starters.
Indianapolis augmented its 11-5 team from a year ago to include veteran talents on both lines, in the secondary, in the backfield and at a receiver position.
A team that jumped nine games in the victory column tries to meet high seasonal aspirations against an opening opponent looking to improve from 4-12.
Feeling good about his team's progress, Pagano eyes Oakland with about 27 new faces and a fresh offensive coordinator.
"There's always the unknown, whether it be a new staff, a new head coach, new coordinators, new players," said Pagano. "You can look at preseason and say, 'You know what, they didn't show anything either.' You're always going to rely on your fundamentals, your technique and your assignment. Once the game gets going and you start to see exactly how they're going to play you, then you can make your adjustments."
A year ago, Pagano stoked his players by issuing shirts proclaiming Indianapolis as the NFL's 32-best unit, a projection made by an international media organization. Players and coaches divorced voices outside the building in bonding into a playoff participant.
Staying true to that process means knowing Oakland is capable of what was done in Indianapolis a year ago.
"No, no, no way," said Pagano. "We got a group of guys that understands they're (Oakland) going to come all this way for one reason and one reason only – to whip our tail and win a football game."
As the second-longest tenured Colt, Robert Mathis endured a 2-14 season in 2011 that led to those low outside predictions for Indianapolis. Mathis helped lead the resurgence by internal focus and a dedication to preparation.
Public perception of Oakland is of no worry to Mathis.
"That's their issue. They're going to have to deal with it the best way they know how," said Mathis. "We don't have to deal with it. I'm more concerned about us."
Mathis long has been one of the most proud and coachable Colts players. His few words, chosen well, reverberate, but he leads far more by example.
His example of self-study and assignment integrity starts from the top.
"I'm not worried about them. I'm worried about us," said Pagano. "Everybody in that locker room is worried about us. The enemy is always in your own camp.
"There's nothing worse than reading your own press clippings, thinking about what you did a year ago because nobody really cares what happened a year ago. This is about, 'What have you done for me lately.' Our guys understand that, and we will not overlook anybody."