NFL Nation: 09 stadium AFC

AFC East: Rating the stadiums

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
11:48
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


To coincide with NFC East blogger Matt Mosley's feature about the regular-season opener at sparkling Cowboys Stadium, we're taking a look at the wow factor of each division's stadiums.

Buffalo Bills (Ralph Wilson Stadium, capacity 73,079)

The structure in suburban Orchard Park is average. There's no curb appeal. Once inside, it's functional. The scoreboards are OK. The amenities are decent.
AP Photo/Steven Senne
Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, replacing Foxboro Stadium.

What makes the Ralph Wilson Stadium experience is the people. The parking lots are jammed with semipro tailgaters who wake up on Sunday hell-bent on having a good time whether the Bills win or not. The atmosphere after kickoff can be electric.

Wow factor: 3 wows (out of 5)

Miami Dolphins (Land Shark Stadium, capacity 75,540)

The Dolphins have sunk $250 million into renovating Land Shark Stadium over the past three years, but it still looks outdated, especially compared to the sparkling venues competing for Super Bowls. Land Shark is dull. There's not much life on game days. It's located in the middle of nowhere.

Land Shark has one of the NFL's least-popular playing surfaces. The Florida Marlins also are a tenant. The dirt infield leaves a lot to be desired, both competitively and aesthetically.

Wow factor: 1 wow

New England Patriots (Gillette Stadium, capacity 68,756)

Robert Kraft built the privately financed stadium for $325 million, and it's a beauty. Gillette Stadium has been sold out since it opened. From the moment fans walk through the turnstiles, they have a great view of the field. There are standing-room areas throughout.

The stadium anchors a 1.3 million-square-foot retail and entertainment district that includes the same types of stores you'd see at your local mall and restaurants for any palate. There's a hospital and a cinema.

I would give Gillette Stadium the maximum 5 wows if Jerry Jones hadn't upped the ante with his $1.2 billion Texas spectacle.

Wow factor: 4.5 wows

New York Jets (Giants Stadium, capacity 80,254)

There's a great reason the Jets and Giants are getting a new home next door in East Rutherford, N.J. Giants Stadium is a dinosaur. Like other ballparks built in the 1970s, it was constructed for function, not for the creature comforts that generate so much added revenue these days and help fans walk away with a certain feel.

Giants Stadium is a concrete oval with little else going for it. I'm giving it one more wow than Land Shark Stadium because tailgating is much more festive at the Meadowlands, and the crowd seems to get into the game more than in laid-back South Florida.

Wow factor: 2 wows

AFC West: Rating the stadiums

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
11:47
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


Denver Broncos (Invesco Field at Mile High, capacity 76,125)

This is a very nice stadium that is now its ninth season of operation. It is a big, luxurious building that offers a pleasant game-day experience.

The problem is it is almost too pleasant. The place replaced the gritty, old Mile High Stadium. The old joint was short on luxury, but it was a rocking house of horrors for opposing teams. The Broncos have lost their home edge in the new house, where the noise level never seems to hit the raucous days of old Mile High. This is a great building, but it doesn’t have the charm of the old Mile High.

Wow factor: 2 wows (out of 5)

Kansas City Chiefs (Arrowhead Stadium, capacity 79,400)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
The Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium is the best venue in the AFC West.

This stadium is one of the coolest in the league when the Chiefs get things going. The stadium, which is getting a facelift, is a sea of red on game day. There isn’t a bad seat in the house and they almost hover over the field.

It is one of the few charming stadiums left in the league. The facelift is necessary, but this is a very simple place that creates energy.

Wow factor: 3 wows

Oakland Raiders (The Oakland Coliseum, capacity 68,800)

The stadium itself is old and outdated. There are few frills provided by this old cookie-cutter stadium. But it works for the Raiders, although they would love to get a new stadium.

Fans don’t go to Raiders games to be lavished in the state-of-the-art amenities. They go to have a Halloween party. And this stadium is a perfect party house for a few hours.

Another issue players have to deal with in Oakland, at least for the first month or so of the season, is the infield dirt used by the Oakland A’s. The Raiders are one of three NFL teams (along with Miami and Minnesota) that still shares a venue with a baseball team. That’s an added wrinkle of dissatisfaction to this stadium.

Wow factor: 1 wow

San Diego Chargers (Qualcomm Stadium, 71,500)

Arguably the three worst stadiums in the NFL are in California. Like Oakland, there are few luxuries available at this old stadium. The Chargers are trying to find a new home.

And the Chargers need to do it quickly. Still, the atmosphere is decent when the Chargers are winning. The big, circular building can get loud when things are going well. But this stadium just doesn’t fit beautiful San Diego. The place that calls itself “America’s Finest City” has one old, stale stadium.

Wow factor: 1 wow

AFC South: Rating the stadiums

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
11:47
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


Houston Texans (Reliant Stadium, capacity 71,054)

Reliant Stadium is an impressive building that fits right into the love Texas has for all things big, though it’s not to the scale of Cowboys Stadium. The one-time Eighth Wonder of the World, the Astrodome, sits beside Reliant, and seems like a small pod preparing to dock with the mother ship.

Upstairs is pretty steep, but it seems to me there is a good view from everywhere in the building, which also serve as the team’s headquarters. When the retractable roof is closed, it can be awfully loud in there. Ticket-buyers just need more to cheer about. Smartly designed to fit soccer games, too.

Wow factor: 4.5 wows (out 0f 5)

Indianapolis Colts (Lucas Oil Stadium, capacity 63,000)
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
The Colts are in their second season playing in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Entering its second season as the replacement for the RCA Dome, Lucas Oil Stadium has an exceptionally airy feeling for a retractable roof stadium even when everything is closed. The roof parts side to side rather than end to end, and a gigantic window facing the city also opens. (Shadows cast on the field with the roof open last Sunday made for some difficult TV watching, some viewers said.)

You can walk to it from virtually any downtown hotel or restaurant, and you’re better off eating before the game because the food offerings are one giant weakness. It’s a unique building that surpasses Reliant by just a touch as the division’s best.

Wow factor: 5 wows

Jacksonville Jaguars (Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, capacity 67,164)

I’ve long said it’s an underrated venue, but it’s a pretty straightforward building with no discernible bells and whistles, which is why it would be better if it had more neighborhood surroundings. It also serves as home to the Jaguars' headquarters and the annual Georgia-Florida game.

Lots of people like to point out that the team’s ticket-sales struggles come despite the tarps covering large sections of seats. But even minus those seats, the place holds more than either Soldier Field and Heinz Field. I’d put it at the top of the bottom tier, but I’d sure rather watch a game there than in venues like the ones in San Francisco, San Diego, St. Louis or Minnesota.

Wow factor: 1.5 wows

Tennessee Titans (LP Field, capacity 69,143)

The best thing about LP Field is location. Fans can park or party in the heart of downtown, then walk over one of a couple bridges in 10 minutes and get to the game. The building that’s been known as Adelphia Coliseum, the Coliseum and now LP Field was not overbuilt. Open concourses behind just one level of stands in both end zones provide a nice, open feel.

Recent updates improved the scoreboards and JumboTrons. It's also soccer ready. But measured against many other buildings we’ve seen pop up since 1999 -- like those in Indy, Houston, Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia and New England -- LP doesn’t rank as a place for pizzazz. I rank it middle of the pack.

Wow factor: 2 wows

AFC North: Rating the stadiums

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
11:40
AM ET

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

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