INDIANAPOLIS – The progression has been at an upward climb, even if it might have skipped a few stops on the mountain.
Ever since Chuck Pagano and the new Colts regime took over in 2012, they've never been afraid of stating their end goal.
Via words or clothing, the chance to "Hoist It" is something players and coaches don't hesitate from talking about.
Sunday provides the chance to reach another point on that mountain, one the Colts haven't seen in five years.
"We've been blessed with a lot of success. That's something we really appreciate." Colts Owner Jim Irsay says of winning 14 division title since 2002.
"At the same time, we're looking forward to taking that next step. We're really excited about our opportunity."
It's an opportunity 24 other NFL teams wish they had this weekend.
Colts safety Mike Adams has been in this position each of the last three seasons.
The former Broncos safety is now on the other sideline this weekend, where his unit will deal with the chess match that is Peyton Manning.
Adams, a former undrafted free agent who has gone on to play 11 years in the NFL, knows the Colts have few believers on their side this weekend.
"We already know we're going to be the underdogs," Adams said. "I embrace that. I've been the underdog my whole career.
"I'm not going to lose sleep over it. I'm just going to play the game because at the end of the day, they lace their cleats up just like us."
On Sunday, Adams will be dealing with a Denver pass catching group that is arguably the most diverse bunch in the NFL.
Manning is the man distributing the football to that Pro Bowl laden group.
The Broncos offense has benefited from a productive running game in the second half of the season of the season, something the Colts have taken away from opposing teams lately.
That leads everything back to Manning and what the Colts need to do to slow the future Hall of Famer.
"Interior push is absolutely critical this week," defensive tackle Cory Redding said on Wednesday.
"We know the kind of guy we're playing. (Manning) wants to take his steps, he wants to work up in the pocket and deliver the pass to his receivers. So as interior linemen, we know that we have to get push in the pocket. Also, our pass rushers know that we cannot rush past the quarterback. We've all got to be on the same page every single play in order to be successful against Peyton Manning."
The Colts offense will play a major role on Sunday in trying to limit the possessions for the Denver attack.
In the Colts Wild Card win over the Bengals, the offense produced six scoring drives for a total of 26 points. That number, and those chances in Denver territory, has to improve on Sunday for a team looking for their first road playoff win since 2007.
"Especially against good teams like Denver, you can't blow opportunities," Andrew Luck said earlier this week.
"Hopefully we can go out there and play penalty free, error free and see what happens. You realize in all the games you can sit back and second guess. Hopefully we're not after this one, and hopefully we can get a win."
INTERESTING MATCHUPSBroncos quarterback Peyton Manning versus the Colts defense:Yes, the Broncos running game has taken charge of the team's offensive attack lately thanks to C.J. Anderson. It's hard to imagine though Manning not playing the ultimate lead role in this one. The Colts pass rush has been ineffective in the team's losses. Lock down ability from Vontae Davis and Greg Toler, along with some interior pressure up front is the recipe the Colts are looking for against the future Hall of Famer.
Colts offensive line versus the Broncos front seven: It will be a rare sight on Sunday to see the Colts trot out the same offensive line for the second straight week for just the third time since Week Three. Denver's pass rush comes with a pair of Pro Bowlers off the edge. Can the Colts offensive line give Andrew Luck the same time the unit provided during the Wild Card round?Quick Facts
-Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri will tie Jerry Rice on Sunday for the most postseason games played in NFL history (29).
-Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne will break a Colts franchise record for postseason games played (20) on Sunday.
-Colts starting safety Mike Adams started for the Broncos the last two seasons.
-The Broncos are undefeated at home in 2014, winning by an average of 14 points.
-In the second half of the season, Broncos running back C.J. Anderson has rushed for 767 yards and eight touchdowns.
-Denver led the NFL in forcing three-and-outs in 2014 with 60 (30.8 percent of drives).NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on what he sees from the Denver defense):
-"Loaded with talent. They've got a bunch of talent at all three levels. Two game-wreckers on the outside, one's got 14.0 sacks, 58 (Von Miller) does, 94's (DeMarcus Ware) got 10.0. They've got 41.0 on the season, which is same number we had, tied for ninth in the league as far as sacking the quarterback. They do a great job of that. A lot of talent in the back end. Three corners that all can play. (Bradley) Roby as a rookie has come on strong and he plays extremely well. (Chris) Harris (Jr.), (Aqib) Talib plays extremely well. Got a couple of enforcers at safety, got a ball hawk back there in Rahim Moore. He does a great job, got great range, gets a jump on the ball, anticipates well, has great ball skills. We found that out obviously in the first ball game. T.J. Ward they picked up in free agency. He's a guy that comes down, plays in the box, covers tight ends, blitzes, does a lot of things. Linebackers are athletic. They run the ball extremely well. They're extremely well-coached. They're disciplined. Front to back, they don't give up very many big plays. You have to earn, they make you earn everything."
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on facing Denver's Pro Bowl tight end in Julius Thomas):
-"No, it's going to be a tough matchup because they move him all around. They're not going to keep him real close to the core where you can get a hit on him and things like that. So they put him out in space, they put him out wide on their sideline and you pick your poison. There's going to be some heavy lifting for our linebackers at times, for our safeties at times. It's a chess match. We've got to do a great job to try to limit the amount of heavy lifting, so to speak, that some of our guys have to do. We've got to do a better job. Obviously, he's got 12 touchdowns on the year. He can wreck the game for you, especially down in the red area. So we've got to do a better job."
Colts Defensive End Cory Redding(on what impresses him most about Peyton Manning):
-"Just how easy for him to decipher what the defense is doing. Looking at the safeties, finding that tail, seeing where you want to go with the ball. Delivering the ball in a window where only his receivers can get it. He knows exactly where he wants to go before the ball's hiked. Just his delivery, his movement in the pocket, his awareness, all those things that he's been very successful for all these years. He's still got it. Playing against him you have to be on your Ps and Qs. You cannot mess up, and the margin of error is zero. You cannot have it in order to be successful against him."
Broncos Head Coach John Fox(on what went into running the ball more down the stretch):
-"Well I think you've got to be efficient at both to be a good football team. That's something we strive for offensively so we don't become one-dimensional. It was an area we needed to emphasize and whether we got better at it I don't know. I know we attempted it more and I think in turn you kind of get what's emphasized and I think we became more efficient."Broncos Head Coach John Fox(on if there's anything to Peyton Manning's stats falling off a bit late in the year):
-"Not at all. I think a year ago, he broke probably every single-season record known to man. It was the style we played and what was best for our team at that point. This year I think we're a little bit different team. We're built different. He was a 12-4 quarterback during the regular season which is I think tied for the best record in football this year."Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning(on if it's strange preparing for the Colts in the playoffs):
-"I think we've kind of covered that before. I've been three years here in Denver. This will be the third time playing against them. I played against them last year. Played against them earlier this year, so we've kind of been down that road before. This is a team you certainly expected to see in the postseason. When we played them earlier in the season, you certainly knew they were a team that was going to be in the postseason. Obviously it's been our goal to get this point, but you knew, there's just certain teams that you play in the regular season whether it's the Colts or the Patriots, that if you do your job and get to the postseason, you certainly expect to possibly see them again."