ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** The Broncos' hard-earned regular season success has quickly become a thing of the past.
With the postseason set to begin Saturday, current records will go out the window for each of the 12 teams that are still alive in the NFL's win-or-go-home playoffs. Every play will take on greater importance, which means that each step in the preparation process takes on added meaning.
"You hear that it's faster, you hear that it's more intense," safety David Bruton said. "But actually playing and everything, how intense it can get in the meetings, you realize just how much it means."
A year ago, the Broncos experienced both the highs and lows of playing in games with such high stakes. The team won an overtime thriller against Pittsburgh on an unforgettable overtime touchdown catch by wide receiver . The following week, the script was flipped in a tough loss to the New England Patriots.
"(We) didn't play anywhere up to par last year when we went to New England," Bruton said. "This year will definitely be different. We'll come out there and perform. We realize that there's a lot at stake. We can't be No. 1 and go out so early. We want to be No. 1 throughout the whole thing and finish No. 1. The whole thing is to finish. Being No. 1 in the playoffs is nowhere near enough, and everybody realizes that."
The memory of those experiences has the Broncos well aware of what is on the line, especially considering how many players around the league will be sitting at home wishing they were a part of the action.
"It's really special," tight end Jacob Tamme said. "It's a special opportunity to play football in the NFL and a doubly special opportunity to get to play playoff football because not everybody gets to. There's a lot of really good players in the NFL that haven't even gotten the chance to make it to a championship game or play in the playoffs at all so this is a special opportunity and we've got some more work ahead of us."
Though the team won't begin its playoff run until Saturday, Jan. 12, it has already begun preparing for whichever team it draws. In addition to picking up familiarity with the Ravens, Colts and Bengals, the three potential opponents in the Divisional Round, the Broncos are focusing on their own play as they prepare for their biggest game of the season. And they're doing so as if their playoff lives depend on it.
"It goes up even more," defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said of the intensity. "Attention to detail, attention to everything, playbook, opponents, everything goes up. Only 12 teams playing right now, we're one of them."
One Broncos player with a great deal of postseason experience is quarterback Peyton Manning, who played in at least one playoff game in 11 of his 14 seasons in the league. The 15th-year signal caller fully understands how much changes from the regular season to the postseason.
"I talk about the different seasons, there's kind of offseason, preseason, regular season and the postseason," Manning said. "There's nothing quite like playoff football in my opinion."