ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --No one is pretending this week is just another game.
But when it comes to the way the Broncos will prepare for the AFC Championship Game, nothing will change from the first 19 weeks of the season.
"Certainly preparation is important in games like this and you want to have laser focus," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "I guess what I would say, if you have to prepare harder for this game that means you probably haven't been preparing hard enough all season long. I really feel you have to treat every game — every regular-season game — as it's the most important game."
"When you do that all season long, when you get to games like this it should flow right along. Obviously we know that we're one of two games being played, but it has to start with the preparation. Our preparation has been good all season, it will be important that it's solid again this week."
The Broncos' mindset all season long led them to a 13-3 record, the No. 1 seed in the AFC and now home-field advantage in the semifinals of the playoffs.
Now they face a New England Patriots team that handed them one of those three regular-season losses.
That means preparing for a team that Manning knows Head Coach Bill Belichick will have well-prepared as well.
"Coach Belichick is the best coach that I've ever competed against," he said. "I think it's safe to say he'll go down as the greatest NFL coach of all time. So the teams that he has coached that I've competed against have always been well-coached, always been prepared, always played hard for 60 minutes."
"You know it's going to be a 60-minute fight."
In the two teams' Week 12 matchup, it was a fight that lasted longer than 60 minutes. It lasted nearly a full 75 minutes before a game-winning field goal with less than two minutes remaining in overtime sealed a New England victory.
That experience will serve the Broncos well in their preparation this week, but they know that this Sunday's game will likely be nothing like the previous matchup.
The only thing they can count on for sure is that Sunday's game won't be easy for any phase of the game.
"I know our defense is in for a tough challenge facing Tom (Brady) and their offense," Manning said. "We have to do our part offensively. Our offense is in for a tough challenge facing their defense. Our defense has to help us out. The only way you beat good football teams is all three phases of the team contribute — offense, defense and special teams. That's probably never more true than when you are playing against the Patriots, in my opinion."
And what's on the line couldn't be any bigger -- a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII.
For the Broncos to have that opportunity in front of them stuck out to Manning. It's an opportunity that he knows doesn't come around often, and one that the team has to seize.
"There is no question that we have come a long way in the two years that I have been here," he said. "It's very rewarding when you put a lot of hard work and it pays off with the opportunity to play in a game like this. You don't take it for granted, especially when you've been through an injury, been through a major change and you're in the home stretch of your career. We're excited about the opportunity, we've worked hard to get to this point. (Head) Coach (John) Fox mentioned how many obstacles the Patriots have overcome to be in this game — we've overcome a number of obstacles as well to get here. Starting way back to the offseason, starting back to maybe last season's playoff loss. It's commendable to the team that we fought through those obstacles and we put ourselves in this position and playing a great football team, AFC Championship.
"It's certainly very exciting."