The goal of any team coming out of the gate in an NFL season is to play to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The formula for success in the NFL is to dominate at home and get the job done on the road. If Week 1 showed us anything, home field is clearly an advantage.
Sixteen games were played in the first weekend of the 2010 season and 13 of them were won by the home team. The only home teams to lose were Buffalo and St. Louis – two of the league's more pathetic franchises – and Philadelphia, which saw a late charge headed by Michael Vick come up short against the Packers. There is something to be said about home-field advantage and, as the Vikings prepare for Miami Sunday, the comfort of the raucous, noisy Metrodome is firmly on their minds.
While the Metrodome is little more than a landfill by NFL stadium standards, it has provided the Vikings with an advantage few teams enjoy and, according to veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, it's an advantage the Vikings have made the most of.
"They call it home-field advantage for a reason," Winfield said. "You see what we've done at home the last couple of years and you can see how important winning at home can be. We've done very well at home the last couple of years and that is a big reason why we're the two-time division champs."
In 2008, the Vikings lost the home opener to Indianapolis 18-15 because they couldn't find a way to close out Peyton Manning, who scored 11 points in the final few minutes to pull out the win. Since then, the Vikings have won 14 of their 15 regular-season home games, making the Metrodome a house of horrors for opponents. Even players who have played on the biggest stage in college, where crowds can be in excess of 90,000, are in awe of the thunder created under the Teflon roof of the Metrodome.
"The dome gets crazy loud and you love to play in that kind of atmosphere," tackle Phil Loadholt said. "It may have been louder when (Oklahoma) plays Texas, but those crowds are half and half (for each team). When one of them is screaming, the other half is dead quiet. At the dome, everybody is yelling for us."
Some discount the advantage of playing at home merely on the consistency of the work week. There is no travel for the home team. They don't have to sleep in a strange town. It makes sense that the regular work week is severely disrupted, much less making a cross-country trip like Miami will do on Saturday. But the hostile atmosphere may be even more important than the logistics of playing on the road.
"It's more than just being at home and having your regular routine," tight end Jim Kleinsasser said. "Being able to count on the fans giving their offense heck (with noise) and not bothering our offense is huge. That's a big deal. When you can work your offense and make your calls and take your time and aren't in a panic mode when the play clock is winding down, it's a big advantage."
The Metrdome has a reputation around the league as being one of the loudest. When in a prime-time game or a playoff contest, it isn't unusual to see a sideline reporter holding a decibel meter equating the noise at the time to be tantamount to a 747 taking off right next to you. That sort of frenzy among the fans is contagious to the players. In the case of Ben Leber, it was one of the selling points that made him a Viking when he hit free agency and could pick and choose his landing spot.
"That was one of the reasons I was so excited to come to Minnesota because I knew how loud it gets in the dome," Leber said. "The Vikings have such a great fan base and the Metrodome provides us with a huge advantage. That hasn't changed the entire time I've been here and I can't wait to get out there Sunday and feel that electricity."
The biggest advantage of the 12th man is how it can affect a visiting offense. In a game played at lightning speed, the moment of hesitation provided by a noisy crowd keeping the offense from hearing the snap count – much less trying to audible out of a play or move into the shotgun – can be extremely disruptive and often can make the difference between making a big play on offense and making a big play on defense.
"This is a game that plays are made in a split second," Winfield said. "If a safety is a half-step late getting over on a deep pass, it can be a big gain for the offense. If the noise can make it hard for the offensive linemen to hear the snap count and they get off the ball a fraction of a second later than they ordinarily would, we can get sacks off of that because our guys fly off the snap at the same time. It may not seem like much – a fraction of a second – but in this game, it's huge."
At a time where parity is alive and well in the NFL and the difference between being a playoff team or not is razor-thin – one mistake here or there turns a win into a loss – having any competitive advantage is magnified. Kicker Ryan Longwell, who has enjoyed the home-field advantage of both the Metrodome and Lambeau Field during his career, said that advantage is something teams must take capitalize on if they expect to make a run at a Super Bowl title.
"If you want to advance in this league postseason-wise, you have to win at home because it's so darn tough to win on the road in this league," Longwell said. "Knowing that, you can't pass up any opportunity to win at home. When you can get the crowd on your side and all the factors on your side, it's a huge advantage."
While powerhouse teams like the Vikings, Colts, Cowboys, Jets and Bengals – all playoff teams in 2010 – look to avoid going 0-2, they can all take comfort in knowing that, like so many of their brethren, their losses came on the road and, once they get back home, that early disadvantage will disappear. Why? If a team can be dominant at home and consistent on the road, good things will follow.
"Of course you want to win all your games, but home field is a place where you have to win," guard Steve Hutchinson said. "I've been told that if you win all your games at home and half your games on the road, you'll finish 12-4. That's what we did last year and had a good shot at winning at all. We expect to do the same this year. If we do, nobody will remember that we lost the opener."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings: Home field holds the advantage
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