INDIANAPOLIS — — The pressure cooker that is the NFL playoffs is beginning to bubble for the Indianapolis Colts.
As the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Colts have home-field advantage throughout the postseason and just enjoyed a first-round bye, giving their players some needed rest.
But with the top seed comes the expectation that this team will win its second Super Bowl in four years - or at least be the AFC representative in the Super Bowl.
The pressure to win might be palpable around Indianapolis, but Colts coach Jim Caldwell insisted that the players and coaches are impervious to that kind of anxiety.
"I wouldn't say there's any more pressure than there would normally be in this kind of a setting," Caldwell said Tuesday before practice at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "This is an exciting time obviously, one that brings its own pressures. It's just kind of a natural feeling. Our team is typically one that gets prepared and gets focused and plays well and doesn't play tight. The fact of the matter is, this time of year, there is only one happy team at the end of the year. What you do is, you fight to become that team."
Doubts about Indianapolis were planted toward the end of the regular season when the team finished with back-to-back losses to the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills after a 14-0 start.
Caldwell rested many of his starters for those two games, choosing to preserve their health for the playoffs. While the coaches and front office were taken to task locally for not fighting to match the New England Patriots' 16-0 regular season in 2007, CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf, who will call the AFC divisional playoff game between the Ravens and the Colts on Saturday night, hinted that there could be consequences if the Colts don't win.
"Who knows what's right or what's wrong in terms of resting your guys at the end of the year," the former NFL lineman said during a conference call Tuesday. "But I do know this: Because of the way Indianapolis did it, I think they are under a lot of pressure. If they don't win, the second-guessing will be enormous."
But several Colts said there is no concern about a carry-over from the regular season.
"You're going to see a totally different team," center Jeff Saturday said. "We have a lot of different players who will not be playing who played and who weren't playing but are going to play. I would say it's about the same carry-over from the preseason. You play what you've got to play, and then you move on and get better as a team. That's what we chose to do, and I'm hoping it works out like the beginnings of some of our seasons."
Indianapolis, which clinched a playoff spot after beating the Houston Texans in Week 12, hasn't played a meaningful game since clinching the top seed in Week 14.
Could rust be an issue? No, quarterback Peyton Manning said.
"As a team, I felt like we had good work last week," he said during a conference call with Baltimore media. "I thought we had intense practices and focus on the field, and I think it's important this week to have that same attitude. I think the key to playing well on Saturday is what we do this week in practice. You know, you can talk about it all you want, but you have to go out there and do it during practice to be on the details."
The Ravens are "a very difficult team to prepare for," Manning said. "They're very talented, and certainly, mentally, it's a challenge, and I think the key is excellent preparation and on-the-field work."
History would suggest that the odds of Indianapolis hoisting the Lombardi Trophy next month are long.
Only one team since the Super Bowl began for the 1966 season has won it after finishing the regular season with two straight losses. (The 1967 Green Bay Packers lost to the Los Angeles Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers before eventually beating the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl).
The Patriots are the only top seed to win the Super Bowl during the past decade. Seven No. 1 seeds have lost in the Super Bowl.
The Colts have not fared well with the first-round bye. Indianapolis lost to the Tennessee Titans as the No. 2 seed in 1999, to the Steelers as the top seed in 2005 and to the San Diego Chargers as the No. 2 seed in 2007 - with all the setbacks occurring in the AFC divisional round.
So which Indianapolis team will show up Saturday night? The one that lost the past two games or the one that set a league record with five consecutive fourth-quarter comeback victories?
Linebacker Gary Brackett said what occurred in the regular season will have little impact in the postseason.
"That's a season past," he said. "It's done now. We had a great off week last week, working hard. Guys got after it. So we're anxious and ready to go."