I didn't really need the help, but I would like to thank NFC West colleague Mike Sando for inciting the masses this week with his post on the NFL's toughest venues. Mike suggested that I turned a "cold shoulder" on Lambeau Field by ranking it fourth out of 32 NFL stadiums.
As you probably know by now, I ranked Qwest Field, Heinz Field and the Superdome ahead of Lambeau. I was away for the week and couldn't provide an explanation, opening the door readers such as Jeff of Milwaukee, who wrote: "You're toast. ...That shows a lack of respect and definitely signs of being out of touch."
So to the extent that anyone's interested, let me at least set forth my thinking before we move on to next week's exciting installment of the Power Rankings. (Clue: It rhymes with "beft backles.")
Both on the blog and in our SportsNation chats, I've noted that Lambeau Field is my favorite NFL stadium to watch a game. But this week's Power Ranking wasn't intended to list our top 10 favorite stadiums. Nostalgia, history and emotion weren't parts of the question. My understanding of the assignment was to rank stadiums based on their potential for impacting the outcome of games.
In that vein, I considered three criteria: Noise, field conditions and weather -- in that order. Of that trio, to me, Lambeau Field's biggest imposition is weather. No NFL team, except perhaps the Chicago Bears, would be unfazed in frigid December/January temperatures that can come in Green Bay.
Crowd noise is clearly subjective, and Lambeau Field is clearly loud. But I've never noticed, or heard, that opposing players were unable to hear a quarterback's signals or were otherwise discombobulated by the volume at Lambeau. I have most definitely heard it about games at Qwest Field, Heinz Field and the Superdome.
In 2010, opponents committed nine false start/delay of game penalties at Lambeau, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That total was tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL. Qwest Field tied for No. 7 with 15 such penalties. Last year, opponents committed only nine false start/delay of game penalties at the Superdome. But based on personal experience, the volume levels at the Superdome and at Lambeau don't compare.
From everything I can tell and have heard, the field conditions at Lambeau Field are pristine during the early part of the year and, thanks to a unique mixture of grass and artificial turf, doesn't deteriorate much as winter approaches. The "frozen tundra" mystique really isn't in play anymore. Lambeau Field has heating coils and a playing surface that remains relatively well-footed. You can't say the same about Heinz Field or, for that matter, Soldier Field. Because the Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers are more accustomed to playing on loose sod, the field is a distinctive advantage to me. In fact, players ranked Lambeau Field as the fifth-best grass playing surface in the NFL in a recent poll.
I'm sure many of you know that the Packers have the best home record in the NFL since 1992, when their resurgence began under general manager Ron Wolf and coach Mike Holmgren. Their record at Lambeau over that span is 114-38. But I think it's fair to ask if that sparkling .750 winning percentage is a function of the venue or if it is a simple reflection of good, consistent teams. Over the same stretch, in fact, the Packers have the seventh-best road record in the NFL (74-78). I consider that a telling comparison.
Many of you consider these long explanations as an indictment of my original decision. All I'm trying to do is take you through my thought process. (And yes, there was one.) In brief: Lambeau Field is a beautiful stadium with the potential for the coldest weather in the NFL. But its noise level doesn't impact opponents the way others venues do, and its field condition actually limits the home advantage, in my assessment. Take that for what it's worth.