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Instant Debate

Seahawks, Cardinals among toughest teams to face at home

Fourteen weeks into the 2014 NFL campaign, four teams remain perfect at home:

Hey, whaddya know: Those just so happen to be the top two seeds for each conference in the updated playoff picture. One team that is not on this list: the highly disappointing New Orleans Saints, who've inexplicably dropped four in a row at the Superdome, which had been a house of horrors for opponents prior to this season.

All of this begs one question: Right now, which team has the biggest home-field advantage in the NFL?

The Packers are the easy answer, but the Cardinals are the right choice. That's because they are the team that is most clearly a different squad at home than it is on the road, where it's just 3-3. Todd Bowles cooks up more blitzes than any defensive coordinator in the league, and his guys play with a rare frenzy at home, boosted by an underrated Cardinals crowd that has been starved for a winner.

Arizona has won four tight games at home against quality teams: San Diego, Philadelphia, Detroit and Kansas City. The home crowd was the difference. Let's not make this more difficult than it needs to be: In 2014, the only two answers are Lambeau and/or C-Link. The Packers and Seahawks clearly reap the benefits of their respective homes. Matter of fact, the question of who will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl likely will come down to whichever one of these two teams nabs the conference's top playoff seed. Aaron Rodgers and his pals have been rude hosts this season -- and they figure to only treat their guests more coldly as the temperature continues to drop. The Seahawks, meanwhile, still have the loudest, most intimidating atmosphere in the NFL -- which should allow them to take care of a broken Niners team this week and the Rams in Week 17. If they can do that and beat Arizona in Glendale this month, then the road back to Glendale in the new year might run through Seattle.

Of course, it'd be disingenuous to suggest it's all about the stadiums. Call me a snob, but here in the Quarterback League, I'll take Rodgers (No. 1) and Russell Wilson (No. 2) over Mark Sanchez's Eagles, Drew Stanton's Cards and either of those two guys wearing silver-and-blue 9s (at least 'til one of 'em does something in the postseason). I think the Seahawks should be grandfathered onto this list. Yes, they were defeated by the Cowboys at the Clink back in October, but that was at a time when the Legion of Boom was beat up and the defending champs were struggling to regain their swagger. Now the Seahawks are back, and there's no team -- not even the mighty Packers -- who would beat them in their house in January. The New England Patriots hold the NFL's biggest home-field advantage at this time. They're a dominant squad that is nearly impossible to knock off in front of the raucous crowds that fill Gillette Stadium. And then there's the weather. Though it's rarely a major factor in early-season matchups, inclement weather -- combined with a sloppy field -- often means a team must be constructed a certain way (physical in nature and possessing a powerful running game, a stifling defense and a strong-armed quarterback who can make pinpoint throws in messy conditions) to win late in the year in Foxborough. Tom Brady continues to excel in such conditions, the Pats' ground attack is showing life behind a workhorse in LeGarrette Blount and their defense is stout. It will be hard for any team to topple these AFC heavyweights at their place. Fans are a lot better now than they once were at disrupting visiting teams; they know exactly when to turn up the noise. Here's how I'd rank the toughest places to play:

**1) Seattle:** 
Seahawks fans really get into it. They've been making life difficult for opponents since the days of the old Kingdome, which used to get very loud, and going to Seattle continues to be an exceedingly challenging proposition. 
**2) Kansas City:** 
Chiefs fans don't know how to do anything but have a good time, enjoy football and make a lot of noise. 
**3) Arizona:** This used to be a quiet place, but ever since the 
Cardinals went to 
Super Bowl XLIII, the volume has been way up. 

When the Saints are winning, I'd put New Orleans above Arizona, but of course, Drew Brees and Co. have dropped four straight at home. Crowds are fickle and can lose faith in a hurry. And finally, I want to mention Minnesota -- which is playing at the University of Minnesota's outdoor stadium while a new venue is constructed -- because the Metrodome was a daunting building to enter. It was on the smaller side, more compact, which made it easy for fans to crank up the volume. It was a very, very tough place to play.

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