INDIANAPOLIS – Since the turn of the century, no NFL teams have piled up better records than the two who will meet on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Divisional realignment back in 2002 has done nothing to derail the Colts and Patriots storied rivalry.
Sunday night marks the 15th time the teams have met since the start of the 2003 season.
It's remarkable that these two teams continually play each other, year after year, despite not sharing division allegiance any more.
The reason is a byproduct of winning like no other teams have over the past decade and a half.
"Obviously it starts at the top, owners that care about the team and want to provide everything they can to have the team be successful," Adam Vinatieri, who has played nearly a decade with each of the two teams, says.
"They don't spare any finance to make sure we have what we need as far as the weight room, training facilities and all that stuff. This locker room, our locker room when I was in New England is kind of the same way in the sense that it had a lot of really good guys, blue-collard, hard-working guys that just came to work every single day, played hard. There's a certain reason why teams are successful year in and year out. I think it starts at the top and goes all the way to the bottom."
Inside the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, the week-to-week mantra over the course of an NFL season is always practiced.
But at the same time, players realize what a win on Sunday could mean for a season that has hopes to extend past December.
"We know how important it is," T.Y. Hilton says.
"It's us going there or them coming here (in January). We want to have that game here when it comes that time. Right now they are coming here, so we've got to take advantage of it."
For a guy like D'Qwell Jackson, Sunday night will be his first taste of Colts/Patriots.
During his eight seasons in Cleveland, Jackson admits that playoff talk rarely occurred and that explains his mindset this week, and throughout the Colts final seven games.
"I'm going to take full advantage of this opportunity. I'm so locked in and focused," Jackson says.
"Obviously, I've got enough experience in this game to know if you start looking ahead and what-ifs and what could happen, you lose focus of the task at hand. My job as a veteran and leader on this team is to keep guys in that frame of mind, keep guys focused and let our preparation show on Sunday. "
Andrew Luck will get his third look at the Patriots on Sunday night.
As the Colts reach Week 11 of the regular season, Luck is on pace to shatter franchise records with seven straight 300-yard games.
Earlier this week, Luck commented that this week's task is so difficult because the Patriots truly contest every yard.
"There's a huge mental challenge, a huge emotional challenge and a physical challenge, especially against a smart, tough, disciplined defense that's going to have a wrinkle or two here and there for you," Luck says.
"It's definitely challenging. It is fun and I think by-and-large the locker room enjoys these types of games."
Come Sunday night, two division leaders will meet with significant playoff seeding on the line.
The AFC currently has 11 teams, all with at least five wins, separated by just two games.
A win on Sunday for the Colts could mean a little less traveling if they make it to January.
"In the NFL, you're constantly saying we take it one game at a time but everybody knows how big this game is," former Patriots cornerback Darius Butler says.
"It's a home game. It's a conference game. Obviously it's one of those teams that's going to be in it for the long haul and be there down the stretch. We expect to be there too. This will be a huge game for a lot of reasons."
Earlier this week, Chuck Pagano was poked with the notion that this game carries a little more weight than the other 16.
In typical coach speak, Pagano wants the blinders on his players.
"Total focus is on our preparation for Sunday, period," Pagano said.
"If we don't take care of today, finish up with great meetings, extra film, treatment, rest, eat right, take care of tomorrow, take care of Friday, take care of Saturday, it won't matter. One game at a time."
INTERESTING MATCHUPSPatriots tight end Rob Gronkowski versus the Colts defense:The Colts won't reveal how they will defend the power forward-sized Gronk with a seemingly never-ending catch radius. Expect multiple looks from the Colts as they try to slow a player who has caught 18 of his last 19 targets. In the Colts early struggles against tight ends this year, Jerrell Freeman was banged up. He's now back and healthy and should get some run against the Patriots All-Pro tight end.Colts quarterback Andrew Luck versus the Patriots defense: Much has been made this week about Luck's seven turnovers in his two previous meetings against the Patriots. In round three, Luck now has a full, healthy and productive group of skill players to lean on. Luck and the Colts passing attack has been lethal in 2014 but will see arguably their toughest challenge on Sunday with a talented secondary and a defense that has forced 18 turnovers. Quick Facts
-Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has thrown for a franchise-best seven straight 300 yard games.
-The Colts lead the NFL with 52 plays of at least 20 yards this season.
-In 2014, the Colts have posted eight games with at least 400 net yards of total offense, which ties a franchise record (2004).
-The Patriots lead the league with a plus 12 turnover margin.
-In the Patriots five-game winning streak, Tom Brady has completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 1,601 yards, 18 touchdowns and one interception.
-Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has caught 18 of his last 19 targets.NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on the challenges of facing a Patriots defense):
-"I think it's well-documented that, number one, they're extremely well-coached, we know that. They've got good players at every level of that defense. They do a great job of preparing. They do a great job of game-planning you. They take away what you do best. They find a way to get that done and they've been successful at that for a long, long time. Then it's handling the unknown, so you prepare for what you've got on tape and what you've seen and what they've done to you in the past but we know that like any ball game there's going to be something new that we haven't seen, but that's where you earn your money is on game day and making adjustments and playing the chess match, if you will. But no better than these guys at doing that and game-planning you and making you play left-handed as we like to say."
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on preparing for Tom Brady):
-"He's a great, great quarterback. It's hard to find any flaws in his game. He's done it for a long, long time. Again, there's nothing that he hasn't seen from a defensive standpoint. He's a great student of the game, we all know his talent. He does a great job with whoever they give him from a skillset standpoint. He's always found a way to get the ball in their hands and move the ball up and down the field. I think they're number two in scoring and putting a lot of points on the board. Again, just like we talked about Ben (Roethlisberger), I mean this guy's a first-ballot no-brainer Hall-of-Famer. So you've just got to try to do the best you can to slow him down." * *
Colts Inside Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson(on experiencing this rivalry for the first time):
-"It's great to be on this side, I'll tell you that. Just to be in the conversation, right now, we've earned that right to be in that conversation. Just this rivalry, dating back to 10-plus years ago, it's something special. I'm happy to be here, and right now, I have a laser focus. Everyone is full of focus right now. You can feel it in the building. We want to get this because it's the next one, because it is a huge game. It's rivalry, all those things added together. In order to be prepared for those type of situations, you've got to be prepared throughout the week. That's taking care of your body and doing the little things that got us to this point. That's the mindset I'm taking and I'm sure a lot of other guys are going to take as well."
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick(on the difference between this Colts offense and the one Belichick saw last year):
-"They really can do it all. They can run, play-action, drop back, make a lot of big plays, so everybody's dangerous. Two good backs, tight ends, receivers. Playing four receivers last week against the Giants. (Coby) Fleener and (Dwayne) Allen have had a lot of production. (Ahmad) Bradshaw and (Trent) Richardson have had a lot of production. (Andrew) Luck's had a lot of production. It's almost no matter who they put out there, they've got a lot of weapons, a lot of versatility whether it's three tight ends or four receivers or somewhere in between."
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick(on the impressions of Reggie Wayne at this point in his career):
-"He looks good. Again, really one of the best route runners obviously in the game now maybe ever in the game. He really does a great job of making all the routes look the same. He's got really good quickness to separate at the top of the route. He's good on releases and smart in zones to find the open space. Good hands, made a big play after the catch last week or two weeks ago, whatever it was, down the sideline there. Caught the ball, broke a tackle, 40-yard touchdown, so he's still dangerous with the ball in his hands. He's an excellent route runner. I'm sure the quarterback, (Andrew) Luck has a lot of confidence in him, which he should, because he's such a dependable guy."
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick(on if he's surprised by how well Adam Vinatieri is kicking at the age of 41):
-"No, not really, he's always kicked well. He's as good of a kicker, good of a clutch kicker, and consistent kicker that's probably ever been in the game. Adam keeps himself in great shape. At least when he was here, he worked hard. He was a good participant in the offseason program, not as a specialist but just took part in those things that all the other players did. He's got good body strength for his size. He's not a big guy but he's strong. He's got obviously very good technique. Mentally he's as tough as they come in terms of concentration, focus, discipline, blocking out all the things that he can't control and just doing his job. He's got all the qualities to be a great kicker. He's done it throughout his whole career very, very consistently. He's going strong. I have a lot of respect for Adam."