The Colts will emerge from the tunnel into the spotlight of the 2012 season Sunday in Chicago.

To say expectations are modest for the Colts would be a bit of an overstatement.

Based on a sampling of major media outlets, they are ranked as low as No. 32 (by ESPN.com), and no higher than No. 25 (SI.com and FoxSports.com).

If this was college football, they’d be lucky to show up in “others receiving votes.”

It’s hard to fault the forecasts. Coming off a 2-14 season, they are banking on a rookie quarterback, a completely rebuilt offensive line, a revamped defense that moved its two best players to unfamiliar positions and a complete makeover in the front office and coaching staff – which, by the way, are led by first-timers at general manager and head coach, respectively.

The way that coach sees it, being overlooked isn’t such a bad thing under the circumstances.

“I love where we sit,” Chuck Pagano said. “For a long time, they’ve been the hunted, if you will, around here. So I love where we’re sitting and our players love where we’re sitting. Use it as motivation? I guess you could say we have and we’ve talked about it. These guys have got something to prove.

“Across the board, ever since this makeover, this extreme makeover has taken place if you want to call it that, nobody’s given us a chance. Power rankings had us at 32, somebody else wrote we’d be 1-15 and you can just go on down the line. We’ll use that as motivation. I know they (the players) are. I know our coaching staff is. We’ve all got something to prove.”

As much as I like to go my own way, I find it hard to diverge from the pack on this one.

It is not because I have compelling reasons to believe the Colts will be bad. I just don’t have very many that would convince me otherwise, other than some interesting arguments from the players.

“They’re basing that off of last year’s record. They’re basing that off of last year’s team. That was last year, know what I’m saying? That’s in the past,” said Cory Redding. “We look forward to the future. We look forward to what we’ve got going on down the road. This room is electrified about who is in here, the playmakers, the veterans and the leadership. That’s what we really and truly are happy about.”

This whole being-taken-lightly thing can work to their advantage, at least early in the season. In an interview with Dan Dakich this very afternoon, Hall of Fame ex-Bear Dan Hampton – who used to host his team’s pre- and post-game shows — referred to Sunday’s matchup with the Colts as “a layup,” and suggested Brian Urlacher should sit this one out in order to be more fully healed for next week’s game against Green Bay.

It’s hard to put a radio interview on a bulletin board, but perhaps word will circulate in the locker room nonetheless.

“A lot of people are basing their predictions based on last year and that’s what guys in the media do. You can’t fault guys for saying the Colts are going to do this or the Colts are not going to do that,” said Jerraud Powers. “It’s their job. It’s what they do. But as far as the guys and the coaches and everybody that’s in these doors and this facility, we know what we’ve got, we know what we can do, we know the things we’ve got to accomplish as a team and what we’re going to accomplish as a team.

“This team hasn’t done anything. We haven’t won one game, we haven’t lost one game. All that will start this week and hopefully after this first week is over, you guys might change your minds a little bit with some expectations or what-not.”

There is no shortage of motivation. That, too, should work to the Colts’ advantage, at least in the short term.

“We’ve been waiting for this since the final whistle of the 2-14 season,” Robert Mathis said. “It’s here. We have a lot to prove. A couple of chips on our shoulders and we have to knock them off this week.

‘It’s more than a chip. It’s a whole two-by-four wood block. We know what we’ve got in this locker room. We know what we’ve been working hard toward the whole offseason. It’s time to put it on the field.”

Only then will we truly begin to discover just exactly what should be expected from these Colts and, ultimately, what they expect of themselves.

 
 
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