INDIANAPOLIS – Now that 512 games have been played to pare the competitive field from 32 to 12 teams, the nature of post-season football comes into play.
Now that there are no "next weeks," a Colts player not conditioned to the nature of playoff football has his marching orders.
"Just watch the older guys, they'll lead," said Donald Brown. "Having guys like Robert (Mathis), Antoine (Bethea), Cory (Redding), the older guys, just watch them. Follow their lead and match their intensity in practice."
While Chuck Pagano always plays to win and said as early as mid-November that every game was a playoff game, the nature of having the next game guaranteed is out the window.
Thus, the 19 Colts on the active roster who never have felt the buzz will feel it soon.
"Everything gets ramped up a bit," said Brown. "You're guaranteed 16 games in a regular season, but you're not guaranteed (that in the) playoffs.
"You're playing against the best of the best competition and if you lose, you're out."
The 34 Colts who have appeared in playoff football have combined to start 58-of-131 total appearances.
Adam Vinatieri has been in 25 playoff games, Robert Mathis 16, Antoine Bethea 11, Matt Hasselbeck 11. They are the most seasoned of the group that has participated in this type of fray.
Of the 34 active Colts who have been in the playoffs, 14 have only played in one career game, and that includes notables like Andrew Luck, Anthony Castonzo, Vontae Davis, Jerrell Freeman, T.Y. Hilton, LaRon Landry and Cassius Vaughn.
"I think we've got a good formula that has worked from day one," said Vinatieri, who has decided two Super Bowls with final-second field goals. "Chuck (Pagano) has always said, 'Young guys, follow the leaders. Do what they do and you'll be okay.'
"We'll probably talk about it this week during meetings. It's football. It's what's played between the lines. It's running, throwing, catching, tackling and kicking. It's the same thing. If you have a good game plan and execute, that's the key. I don't think there's a new formula."
Twelve of the 22 starters from the Baltimore playoff loss last year remain – six on each side of the ball. Luck headlines that bunch, and it was a team that leaned heavily on budding talents.
"I think we probably have some more playoff experience this year than last year," said Vinatieri. "This is (Andrew's) second playoff bout. We've got some of the other younger guys that have been around it. We still have great leaders like Cory and Robert. Reggie (Wayne) won't be on the field, but he's in the locker room every day. He's helping the young guys along.
"We've got enough leadership there that if guys have questions, they definitely can ask. It's still just football."
Vinatieri was on a Super Bowl losing team his rookie year and so was Brown. Mathis reached the conference title game as a rookie, while Bethea started and won in a Super Bowl as a rookie.
"(I) just watched the veteran leadership," said Brown of his 2009 rookie season. "We had guys who had won Super Bowl, guys who won numerous Super Bowls. They know what to do. They know how to get there. You just have to watch them."
All these veterans are resources who know the challenge and the nature of one-and-done.
"The excitement level (intensifies). It's single elimination, so there's a lot more on the line," said Vinatieri. "Not to say that regular season games aren't important, but it just has a different feel and a different meaning. The intensity level is a whole lot more.
"I honestly think a lot of times playoff games are lost more often than they're won. The pressure mounts at the end of the game. The team that can handle that and just executes when the game is on the line is the one that usually wins the game."
Mathis is the master of succinct correctness, and he has brief advice, "Do what got you here and we'll be alright."
INJURY UPDATES – Pagano said Vontae Davis (groin), Bjoern Werner (ankle) and Aubrayo Franklin (knee) will be day-to-day. All were dinged in Sunday's game. Ricky Jean Francois, who has missed time, is day-to-day. Mike McGlynn, Cory Redding and Sergio Brown are cleared to practice.
Davis had an MRI that came back negative. "Any time one of your starting corners has an injury, specifically a groin, hamstring, anything to do with his ability to run fast, plant, drive, turn…is a concern. Hopefully, he'll come in tomorrow and feel much better and keep progressing throughout the week and certainly be available for Saturday."
Jeff Linkenbach played Sunday and came out well, as did Greg Toler, who had 19 snaps. "He's a little sore, but we'll manage him," said Pagano of Toler. "He's heading in the right direction."
Indianapolis started seven different offensive line configurations during the season and the entire unit appears to be healthy Saturday.
"We'll put the best five out there that give us the best chance to win," said Pagano of how he will construct his offensive line. The Colts have started different alignments in each of the last six games, with Sunday's group being used twice (not consecutively) in that six-game stretch.