INDIANAPOLIS – When the Colts board their team plane on Saturday afternoon, the destination will be to a place they had hoped to be traveling to last January.
Denver was supposed to be the next step in the Colts' journey to reach the game's pinnacle.
The trip to the Rocky's comes this weekend though as Indianapolis gets their chance to try and dethrone a team that represented the AFC in last year's Super Bowl.
Sunday's matchup will pit two of the conference's best threats for the 2014 crown.
Of course, that storyline seems to be overlooked coming into the season opener.
Instead, a bulk of the attention has once again fallen on the shoulders of Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning.
It's the second chapter of Luck/Manning with the hype not as intense as last year's meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Luck is still fielding plenty of Manning questions though even after his back-to-back 11-win seasons highlighting his early list of NFL records.
Chuck Pagano isn't surprised by how Luck has handled the immense pressure that comes with following a future Hall of Famer.
"I don't think from day one (Luck) was overwhelmed with that, or even thought of that," Pagano says. "I think everybody else did, we all talked about it. Everybody in this room wrote about it, but I think it went right over his head because he was so focused on the job and the task at hand, and has continued to do that where he doesn't get distracted by anything.
"The guy has such great focus that he never paid any attention to it and understood that he had a job to do, and his focus was just being the best quarterback he could be, and being that guy early, sooner than later."
During his Wednesday media session, the eagerness on Luck's face was clearly evident.
And how can you blame him with the skill position players at his disposal.
Reggie Wayne is expected to make his return to regular season football on Sunday night and No. 87 highlights the plethora of diverse talents Pep Hamilton is ready to display.
"It's not just exciting for me as a coordinator, it's exciting for our quarterback and our entire football team," Hamilton says.
"Reggie Wayne is arguably one of the best receivers to ever play in the National Football League. We feel like, and we still feel like he can present some matchup problems for any defensive back."
One of the major focal points for the Colts on Sunday will be trying to establish a consistent ground attack to keep the ball away from Peyton Manning.
Last year, the Colts survived despite Denver getting 17 offensive drives.
Trent Richardson and the Colts rushing attack will play a pivotal role in helping out the other side of the ball not having to defend Manning for more than a dozen times on Sunday.
"We've got to keep them off the field and make sure we do whatever we can to keep Peyton (Manning) off the field," Richardson says of the Colts ground game.
"They're going to question it all day until we prove it. Sunday, we're ready to line up and we're just ready to play football."
There's a reason NFL schedule makers wanted these two teams in primetime for the first Sunday Night matchup of 2014.
Come January, these two could be meeting for a contest with far greater implications.
Now, it's just the season opener but it still serves as an ideal barometer for a Colts team with the highest of expectations.
"What a great opportunity for this team, for this club," Luck says.
"Obviously (Denver) represented our conference in the Super Bowl. They're the best in our conference, great team. It'll be a great test. You want to start out with a tough one, and this will certainly be one. Especially on the road, it'll be a great atmosphere I'm sure. It should be a lot of fun."
INTERESTING MATCHUPSBroncos quarterback Peyton Manning versus the Colts defense:Unlike in last year's meeting, Manning won't have to think about Robert Mathis coming off the edge. For the Colts to disrupt Manning and the Broncos potent attack, they must create some sort of pass rush sans Mathis. The Colts top corners are healthy but the safety duo of Mike Adams and LaRon Landry has barely played together in a game setting.Colts running back Trent Richardson versus the Broncos front seven: In an ideal world, the Colts will establish a consistent rush attack from the outset on Sunday night, and in doing so keep the Broncos offense sidelined. Richardson will be running behind an extremely inexperienced interior line. If Richardson and the Colts rushing attack can be north of the 4.0 yards per carry on Sunday that would go a long way in achieving the blueprint needed to win in Denver.Quick Facts
-The Colts have not lost back-to-back games in Chuck Pagano's two seasons as head coach.
-Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne has caught at least three passes in 71 straight games he's played in.
-Colts starting safety Mike Adams started for the Broncos the last two seasons.
-The Broncos 606 points scored in 2013 is the highest total in NFL history.
-In 2013, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning tossed an NFL record 55 touchdowns.
-Manning (1998-2011), tight end Jacob Tamme (2008-2011) and wide receiver Nathan Palmer (2012) previously played for the Colts.NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on if he's surprised how Peyton Manning continues to raise the bar):
-"He's special, we all know that. They do a great job of protecting him. They've done a great job of surrounding him with a ton of talent. We all know the player that he is, we all know his work ethic, we all know his passion for the game. He's going to study and outwork everybody in this league, or try to do that even at 37, 38, whatever he is, and that's why he continues to play at such a high level."
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on what changes with Broncos receiver Wes Welker out of the lineup):
-"He's (Welker) a great player, been a great player for a long, long time. They're going to miss him, but they've got plenty of weapons for Peyton to go to. They've got runners and tight ends and wide receivers, so they've got enough skill to where, again they're going to miss him, we've got great respect for Wes, but they've got enough weapons for Peyton."
Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck(on the outside pressure of having to replace a legend in Peyton Manning):
-"To be honest since day one here, it hasn't been an issue. I never came in thinking, 'Oh, I have to replace a legend, one of the greatest of all-time.' My dad played football growing up. He's in the sports business. You realize professional sports people come and they go. Someone's going to replace me eventually. Hopefully later rather than sooner. I never really worried about it. Guys in the locker room didn't make it feel like I had to be someone. They let me be myself, let me do things as I did. It wasn't difficult at all."
Broncos Head Coach John Fox(on what continues to motivate Peyton Manning):
-"That's probably a better question for Peyton, but in my estimation, I think the passion for the game. The guy obviously loves it because he eats, breathes, sleeps it. He's arguably the first one here and the last one to leave every day. He's worked like I've never seen a guy work conditioning-wise this year because I think it's his first time, over the last couple years, not been in some kind of rehab. I think it's just the fire that burns in his belly, as far as the passion for the game. Again, that's my observation. That's probably a better question for him."Broncos Head Coach John Fox(on what he sees differently from the Colts defense this year):
-"I think schematically, they're very similar in what they're doing. I'm sure they've got some wrinkles like all of us. There's un-scouted looks every season opener, things that guys didn't do in the preseason. I think obviously, because we were involved with the middle linebacker, D'Qwell Jackson, he's an outstanding player that's getting ready to start his first regular season game. I look at Mike Adams there that was with us, so we're very familiar with him. Bjoern (Werner) wasn't healthy all last season. I know you're playing without (Robert) Mathis but he looks like a very, very good replacement. All in all, through the preseason, I thought their defense performed well."Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning(on if the novelty of playing the Colts has worn off):
-"Well I think it was different last year going back to Indianapolis. I think playing here in Denver first game of the season, playing a playoff team to start off the bat, primetime Sunday Night Football. I've been fortunate to be a part of a lot of opening games on primetime and it's not something you take for granted. Players on both teams will be excited. There's a lot of factors to be excited about. Football season's here, there's been a lot of talk all offseason. I'm tired of talking, looking forward to finally playing some real football."