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Thursday, September 17, 2009
AFC North: Rating the stadiums



Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE
Heinz Stadium has the best atmosphere in the AFC North.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Heinz Field, capacity 65,050)

Heinz Field opened in 2001 and quickly has become one the toughest venues for visiting teams. The stadium is most famous for its Terrible Towel-waving fans.

Its horseshoe-shape stadium leaves an open lot on the south end where many fans often spend time rooting for the Steelers and socializing. The biggest complaint comes from its natural grass surface, which gets beat up annually because of the number of high school, college and professional games are played on it every season. The Steelers often take advantage of this muddy surface late in the year.

Wow factor: 5 wows (out of 5)

Baltimore Ravens (M&T Bank Stadium, capacity 71,008)

Despite the Ravens still being a young franchise, M&T Bank Stadium already has established itself as one of the best -- and most underrated -- home-field advantages in the NFL. It’s the only place in the NFL where you can see top-flight, pregame dancing from future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, whose moves coming out the tunnel gets the crowd amped every time.

What also makes Baltimore’s stadium unique are the fans, who get twice as excited to watch the defense take the field than the offense. Not that Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed need additional help, but Baltimore’s defense always has a 12th man with the amount of crowd noise Ravens fans generate.

Wow factor: 4 wows

Cincinnati Bengals (Paul Brown Stadium, capacity 65,353)

Paul Brown Stadium sits in a beautiful backdrop of downtown Cincinnati. The Bengals were among the early batch of teams to install FieldTurf in their stadium full-time in 2004. Many teams have followed as Cincinnati has maintained one of the better turf surfaces in the league.

The crowd atmosphere in “The Jungle” can be tricky. When the team is rolling, it can be a tough place to play with a loud crowd. But when the team is struggling, which has been the case for much of the past two decades, it’s pretty easy for opposing teams to take over the stadium. It mostly depends on the type of season the Bengals are having.

Wow factor: 2 wows

Cleveland Browns (Browns Stadium, capacity 73,200)

The new Browns Stadium opened in 1999 near Lake Erie, on the site of old Municipal Stadium, which was one of the NFL’s toughest atmospheres at one point. But the new Browns Stadium hasn’t been able to match the same feel.

Some of it can be blamed on the team’s lack of success. Some of it is the new amenities. The spacious natural-grass stadium makes it the biggest venue in the AFC North division. But at the same time, the infamous Dawgpound and Browns fans are not on top of the visiting team and thus not as intimidating as it once was. It also doesn’t help that Cleveland is 1-10 in its last 11 home openers since 1999, which usually lead to poor seasons at home.

Wow factor: 2 wows