They caused an earthquake in Seattle, and it wasn’t the first time. That’s how loud the crowd at Century Link Field was last Monday night. It set a record for decibels and it shook a nearby Seismometer. It shook the New Orleans Saints pretty good too.
That’s why the general feeling around the NFL is that the Seattle Seahawks, already at 11-1, may be on an unstoppable road to the Super Bowl. It’s because the road will almost certainly go straight through the epicenter of the best homefield advantage in the league.
Here’s the thing, though. The Seahawks (6-0 at home) aren’t the only ones that claim to have one of the best homefield advantages in the league. The Saints are 6-0 in the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The Patriots are 6-0 at Gilette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. The Bengals are 5-0 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati and the Broncos are 6-0 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.
And that doesn’t even count the Ravens, Cowboys, Panthers and Cardinals who all could be playoff-bound and are all 5-1 at home, or the Chiefs at 5-2.
At the moment, though the reigning home kings reside in the Pacific Northwest. But the path to the Super Bowl won’t be easy for any team that has to take a detour through these cities, home to what are currently the five-best home-field advantages in the league:
1. Seattle – The loudest noise ever recorded at an outdoor stadium came at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 15 when the crowd noise was measured at 136.6 decibels. Then they topped it at 137.6 on Monday night. They have probably been louder over the years in a place where the “12th man” takes great pride in causing opposing offenses to false start.
The Seahawks were undefeated there last year and have won 14 straight games overall. It’s not all about the noise, either. A big factor for the Seahawks is their geographic isolation – there’s no harder place for most NFL teams to get to than the Pacific Northwest. And while their weather isn’t huge, it’s often a chilly rain, which the Seahawks are used to, while other teams are not.
2. New Orleans – The Saints have won 18 straight at the Mercedes Benz Superdome and 13 straight at night in what has to be the loudest indoor stadium in the NFL. The dome is huge, and even though it only holds 72,000, it seems like it holds about 100,000. It sounds like it too, especially when the music starts thumping and the fans start dancing along.
Aside from just the audible discomfort, many teams have said they can feel a wave when the Saints get on a roll and the crowd gets behind them. There are few places where things can go from bad to worse faster. When the Saints win there, they usually win in a blowout. And they don’t lose often. The Sean Payton-Drew Brees combo hasn’t lost there since 2010.
3. Kansas City – The stands can be a sea of red, which can be intimidating enough. So can the ride on the bus through the parking lot, where few fans throw a tailgate party like the ones in Kansas City. And when the game gets going, Arrowhead Stadium – an older stadium with architecture not exactly built for great acoustics – can be as loud as any in the league.
In fact, they proved that earlier this season when the Chiefs fans out-did the Seahawks fans and were measured at an ear-splitting 137.5 decibels in a win over the Raiders. Sure, the Seahawks reclaimed the world record a few weeks later, but their stadium was built with sound records in mind.
In Kansas City it’s all natural, and opposing players know it. Outside of Seattle, there’s not a more intimidating outdoor stadium in the league.
4. Denver – Make no mistake, this isn’t the old Mile High Stadium, which used to shake and was intimidating to opponents. What’s more intimidating about a trip to Colorado these days is the thought of Peyton Manning and the most dangerous offense in the league.
The bigger problem is this: The city is actually a mile high, which means the air is thinner and even professional athletes get tired quicker. The Broncos are used to it from practice every day. Opponents get no time to adjust at all. And when they’re huffing and puffing and trying to catch their breath, while chasing the Broncos receivers and trying to figure out what Manning is about to do, the whole thing can turn into a great big mess.
5. Cincinnati – The Bengals once enjoyed a great homefield advantage when they played in “The Jungle” – the nickname for old Riverfront Stadium. But it’s taken them a while to warm up to their new digs. At the moment, they’ve won six straight games overall there for the first time since The Jungle was demolished.
And they’re winning big and big games there, too. They beat the Packers there when Aaron Rodgers was healthy. They beat the Patriots and didn’t allow a touchdown. They also demolished the Jets and Browns, topping 40 points each time. And as the wins pile up, the stadium seems to be getting louder, which makes it a sneaky dangerous place to play.
—By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN