ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --As of Thursday, only one team is certain to be on the field at Sports Authority Field at Mile High next Sunday in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs -- the Denver Broncos.
And that's who the Broncos are focusing on this week.
"I think you use this time to improve your team, your individual job, your mechanics, those types of things," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "And then, once you find out who it is you're going to face Sunday afternoon, then you go from there."
With the team's practices this week, the club will use the time to look at itself and what it can do to improve.
Head Coach John Fox said there's a reason teams work hard for a playoff bye week. Not only does it allow for some rest and recovery for the players, it provides extra time to prepare for a potential opponent -- even if the three options won't be narrowed down to two until Saturday evening and finalized Sunday. And most importantly, it means the team has a chance to focus on itself before moving on to its opponent.
"Our guys had a good workout today," Fox said. "This is an opportunity to get better. A lot of people on the outside call it a bye week. To me it's a get-better week."
The Broncos find themselves in the same situation as last January, when at 13-3 the club was the No. 1 seed in the AFC awaiting its opponent during a playoff bye week.
But Manning said things are different -- new players, new team, new season -- this time around. And last year's Divisional-Round loss provided a lesson that has stuck with the team.
"As painful as it was, I think you can learn from it," Manning said. "I think you can use it certainly to fuel you. But you can learn from some of the situational football parts of it. I think you can learn from 16 more games this regular season. It was a new team last year. It's still a new team this year but there is more familiarity and hopefully we have more chemistry with the players that have been on both teams. The players that are new this year, I think we've been through a lot here in just 16 games and hopefully that can help us."
In those 16 games, the Broncos have dealt with suspensions, season-ending injuries, heart-breaking losses, wins of all varieties and even the absence of their head coach for a month.
It didn't feature the type of 11-game winning streak that the 2012 Broncos went through, roaring into the postseason.
It has been, as Manning put it, "a pretty unique season."
"Hopefully we have learned from it and we can use it," Manning said. "Kind of like we talk about preseason – you want as much to happen in the preseason to prepare you for the regular season as possible. And I think the same is here. You hope you face as many situations in the regular season that can get you prepared for the postseason. I think we have faced a lot and seen a lot – and certainly haven't seen it all. But hopefully we're more prepared."
The regular season is behind the team at this point. As far as Fox is concerned, the playoffs are a new season entirely.
"All the records go out the window, all the stats go out the window – it's a whole new season," Fox said. "The key is not so much the bye, not the bye, all that stuff – it's playing the best football during this playoff season. It's a single-elimination tournament, so you can't have a bad day. You have to be on your game from the beginning to the end, and the team that usually does that is the team that usually wins it all."