NFC home field on the line Monday night
November, 26, 2013
Getty ImagesSean Payton and Pete Carroll say their teams do not struggle on the road.The road to the Super Bowl could run through Seattle or New Orleans. It's no secret that both the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints have an edge when playing at home.
ESPN.com Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and Saints reporter Mike Triplett break down what winning Monday night's matchup might mean for each team.
Seattle Seahawks, CenturyLink Field:
Considering that the Seahawks have an NFL best 13-game home winning streak, which also is a franchise record, home-field advantage in the playoffs couldn't be more important for Seattle.
At least that's how most people perceive it. But the Seahawks' reputation as a bad road team is ancient history. Well, maybe not ancient, but it hasn't been true since December.
Seattle is 8-2 on the road since a 23-17 victory at the Chicago Bears on Dec. 2, 2012. That includes a 24-14 playoff win at the Washington Redskins.
The Seahawks are 5-1 away from home this season, which already has tied a franchise record. A victory in either of the last two road games -- at the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 8 or the New York Giants one week later -- would produce the most road wins in a season in team history.
“I think that’s a big accomplishment,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the team’s 5-1 road record. “We were 2-3 on the road last year at this time. I think that’s a big improvement on a football team. I can totally feel it and see it in the way we approach it, the way we show up on game day and in the way we have played.
“It’s been a much more consistent mentality, and it’s given us a chance to win the games that have been very hard. We get stronger, we get smarter, and we have more resolve, I think, as we move forward.”
The only two road losses since December were a playoff game at the Atlanta Falcons, a 30-28 defeat on a Falcons field goal with 23 seconds to play, and a 34-28 defeat at the Indianapolis Colts this season when Seattle led 28-23 in the fourth quarter before Colts quarterback Andrew Luck engineered a late comeback.
The Seahawks have outscored their opponents 259-180 in those 10 road games. And there’s one other key point to bring up here. The road curse for the Seahawks over the years was games that started at 10 a.m. PT. Entering this season, Seattle was 19-34 in those games since 2001.
But the Seahawks are 3-1 in those games this season. Clearly, this is a different Seattle team on the road than the ones of the past. So having to play a playoff game on the road isn't a guaranteed season-ender that some people might think.
If the road to the Super Bowl goes through New Orleans, the Seahawks lost the last time they played there -- 34-19 in 2010.
Everyone knows the Saints are tough to beat at home, but no team has a home-field advantage like the Seahawks, something the Saints may find out the hard way Monday night. During the 13-game home winning streak, Seattle has outscored its opponents by an average of 30-13.
The Seahawks can win anywhere, but for this team, there’s no place like home.
-- Terry Blount
New Orleans Saints, Mercedes-Benz Superdome:
Saints coach Sean Payton bristles at the notion that his team struggles away from home.
"I think it's a typical stereotype with a dome team," said Payton, who knows the topic will come up often this week as the Saints prepare for a Monday night road game in chilly weather against the Seahawks. "Someone needs to do a little research on it so that we don't spend time answering dumb questions."
The research shows that Payton is partly right. The Saints actually have the best regular-season road record in the NFL since 2009, at 24-13.
But they're 0-3 on the road in the playoffs in the Payton-Drew Brees era. And they're 5-7 overall in outdoor games in December and January when their starters have played.
The Saints aren't a bad road team. They're just a lot more human.
Meanwhile, it's obvious that the Saints are an entirely different monster inside the Superdome, where they routinely rout opponents -- especially in prime-time games. The Saints have won 12 straight home night games, including the playoffs, by an average score of nearly 20 points per game.
Thanks to the volume and the passion of the Saints' rabid fan base, it might be the best home-field advantage going in the NFL today -- unless that honor belongs to Seattle. Which makes this race for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs doubly important for these two teams.
One of the Saints' three playoff losses infamously took place in Seattle three years ago, when the Seahawks sneaked into the postseason with a 7-9 record. The Saints weren't really done in by the weather or the crowd noise. Brees still threw for more than 400 yards. But New Orleans' defense broke down too many times in a 41-36 loss.
The Saints' other road playoff losses came at Chicago after the 2006 season and at San Francisco after the '11 season. The 49ers game was the same story as the Seattle game. The Saints still put up some monster numbers on offense, but they couldn't overcome early turnovers and late defensive breakdowns in a 36-32 loss.
The regular-season outdoor games have been a mixed bag: Since 2009, wins at Washington in '09, Cincinnati in '10 and Tennessee in '11; losses at Baltimore in '10 and at the New York Giants in '12.
Weather doesn't automatically shut down the Saints' precision passing attack. But clearly wind and rain can cause problems. (Some games at Tampa Bay come to mind, including a narrow 16-14 win earlier this year.) Especially frigid temperatures can also affect receivers' hands.
And although the Saints have been running the ball a lot more consistently over the past month, Seattle has been the better rushing team of the two this season.
I certainly think the Saints are capable of winning at Seattle -- either next week or in January, if needed. And I believe the confidence of guys like Payton and Brees, who insisted earlier this month, "It's not like we dread going on the road. Not one bit."
But it's pretty obvious why the degree of difficulty will skyrocket for either road team in this matchup.
-- Mike Triplett