All home fields aren't created equal.
I discovered that fact when I played for the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs during the 1990s, and I've continued to see a handful of teams consistently dominate opponents in recent years due to the presence of a raucous crowd and/or favorable weather conditions. Last season, the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots capitalized on their respective home-field advantages to land spots in Super Bowl XLIX.
In this edition of Bucky's Best, I've taken on the task of identifying which buildings provide the biggest home-field advantage heading into the 2015 campaign. After asking a handful of coaches, scouts and players for their opinions on the toughest places to play, I've come up with this list:
T-5) Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans Saints)
Yes, I have a tie at No. 5. Yes, this is a cop-out. Deal with it. The Saints stunningly lost five games at home last season, and this did knock the Superdome down a peg. That said, this madhouse still deserves a spot on the list, as it remains one of toughest places for visiting teams to get a "W". The raucous crowd makes it challenging for opponents to execute offensively, and the Saints' "built for speed" attack blows the doors off opponents when Drew Brees is on his game. With Sean Payton tweaking his team's personnel to match up better with rugged NFC foes, the Saints should re-establish their home-field edge in 2015.
T-5) Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City Chiefs)
It's hard to find a louder place in America than Arrowhead Stadium when the Chiefs are rocking and rolling. The crowd is consistently at a fever pitch when the defense is on the field, making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks attempting to stymie the Chiefs' relentless pass rush without using a hard count. Thus, it is no coincidence that Justin Houston and Tamba Hali consistently wreak havoc on opponents with their explosive skills off the edge. Although the offense remains a work in progress as a scoring machine, a trio of playmakers (RB Jamaal Charles, TE Travis Kelce and WR Jeremy Maclin) could ramp up K.C.'s already-electric atmosphere even more this fall.
4) Lambeau Field (Green Bay Packers)
Including the playoff win over Dallas, Green Bay went a perfect 9-0 in the comfy confines last season. The crowd feeds off the energy of the Packers' explosive offense, especially when Aaron Rodgers is Discount Double-Checking after dropping dimes down the field. Here's a remarkable stat: Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception at home since Dec. 2, 2012. During that 17-game span -- which includes three playoff games -- the Packers QB has tossed 41 TD passes. The defense keeps the buzz going with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers producing splash plays off the edges. With the chilly, inclement weather conditions creating anxiety and angst for opponents, Green Bay has a serious advantage when playing in front of the home fans. Expect a whole bunch of Lambeau Leaping once again this fall.
3) Sports Authority Field at Mile High (Denver Broncos)
The prospect of facing a healthy Peyton Manning on his home turf is already a daunting task, but dealing with the five-time MVP in high altitude routinely forces opponents to tap out before the closing bell. The Broncos sport a 22-2 record at home over the past three regular seasons, thanks in large part to a high-octane offense that puts opponents on their heels with a warp-speed tempo and flawless execution. In addition, Denver's hard-hitting defense suffocates opponents, as the ferocious pass rush feeds off a boisterous crowd that disrupts offensive communication.
2) Gillette Stadium (New England Patriots)
The Patriots' home field is rarely cited as one of the rowdiest stadiums in the NFL, yet the team's dominance over the AFC for the past decade-plus makes it worthy of a lofty position on this list. New England has won 17 of the past 18 AFC East games at home and enjoys a 33-6 regular-season record against division rivals since Gillette Stadium opened. Over the last six regular seasons, the Pats have lost a grand total of four home games. Tom Brady and Co. certainly deserve credit for lighting up the scoreboard each week, but the ultimate key is Bill Belichick's mastery of situational football.
1) CenturyLink Field (Seattle Seahawks)
There's no disputing the challenge of knocking off the Seahawks at home. Including the postseason, Pete Carroll's troops have compiled an astounding 26-2 home record over the past three seasons (8-0, 9-1 and 9-1), with the non-stop energy of the "12s" clearly factoring into big games. The acoustics of the stadium make it nearly impossible for opposing players to communicate, which limits the offensive adjustments available at the line of scrimmage. When the 'Hawks have the ball, the electricity created by Marshawn Lynch's power runs and Russell Wilson's mesmerizing impromptu play keeps the 12s fired up and active on game day. The "Legion of Boom" also routinely sends the masses into a frenzy by serving up "bang-bang" shots on runners and receivers who dare venture between the hashes.