INDIANAPOLIS – The hype is coming to a close.
We are now just over 24 hours away from the Colts and Broncos meeting in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Here are seven things to keep an eye on when the Colts hit the road in their playoff run:
1. Getting To Manning
-Two sacks. That's all the Colts have in their five losses this season. One of those came in the season opener against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Interior pressure on Sunday has to be constant. Yes, the sacks are ideal, but forcing Manning away from his precise timing is just as important.
2. Finishing Off Drives
-Against the Bengals, the Colts had seven drives in Bengals territory produce just 26 points. That ratio has to rise on Sunday. Settling for field goals against Manning and the Broncos isn't going to cut it. The Colts knows this and have said it ever since their 26-10 Wild Card victory became official last week. Adam Vinatieri is a great weapon but when the Colts get inside the 20-yard line on Sunday, No. 4 needs to remain on the sideline.
3. Win The Early Downs
-The biggest difference the Colts will see from Denver in early September is the frequency at which they run the football. The Colts have done a tremendous job in limiting some of the league's better backs over the past month, month and a half. Forcing Denver into some third-and-longs is a must. The chess match on money downs will be one to watch between Manning and the Colts defense. Colts defenders frequently say stop the run and then have some fun. That holds true again for a C.J. Anderson-led ground game.
4. Fast Start, No Giveaways
-The Colts opening drive touchdown in the Wild Card round was there first of the year. Some sort of points out of their first series on Sunday would be pivotal in weathering an early storm. In Week One, the Colts dug themselves a 24-point first half deficit with an interception leading to that early hole. If the giveaways category for the Colts read 0 or 1 come Sunday night, it's hard to imagine this team not having a golden opportunity to leave Denver with a road victory.
5. Maintain Poise
-Considering how the Broncos exited the playoffs the last two seasons, it will be an antsy crowd at Mile High on Sunday afternoon. It's a venue where the Broncos have yet to lose this season and have won their eight games by an average of two touchdowns. If the Colts can remain within striking distance, and avoid any Denver lead to swell thus forcing a multi-score comeback, no team in the NFL is better in close games over the last three seasons than Indianapolis.
6. Find Another Skill Weapon
-If history is any indication, the Broncos are going to do everything they can to take away T.Y. Hilton. That probably means a second defensive back shadowing Hilton, therefore opening up opportunities throughout the skill group. Against the Bengals, Boom Herron caught 10 balls out of the backfield, frequently benefiting from deep safety looks. Is Sunday a chance for Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener to catch a half dozen balls with all the attention worried about Hilton's big play ability?
7. Relish The Moment
-When the Colts walked off the field following their season-opening loss to the Broncos, players knew they would see this team again in January. They return to that venue on Sunday with a trip to the AFC Championship up for grabs. The Colts haven't won a road playoff game in eight seasons and a win this weekend would be the next step for a program that has unquestionably overachieved since the new era began in 2012.