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Originally published Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 6:30 PM

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Seahawks’ secret weapon: the home-field advantage at CenturyLink

Seahawks players say the noise made by the 12th Man at CenturyLink Field affects their opponents and also pumps them up. The Seahawks are 66-30 at CenturyLink during the regular season, 5-1 in the playoffs.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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In roughly two decades as an NFL coach and commentator, Steve Mariucci has concluded there are two kinds of football fans — spectators and participators.

Seahawks fans, Mariucci says, almost solely fit into the second category.

“Let’s face it,’’ said Mariucci, now an analyst for the NFL Network, “some home crowds are pathetic. There are stadiums in the NFL in the regular season that are not very loud. Seattle is not one of them. You roll down that 12th Man thing over the end zone and crank it up, and then raise the (12th Man) flag — I think people buy into the fact that we are helping our team win. That we are not here to be entertained but we are here to make life miserable for the enemy. You have to love that philosophy and that concept they have in Seattle. There are only a handful of stadiums that really feel that way.’’

The hope for the Seahawks, as they open the playoffs with a home game at 1:35 p.m. Saturday against the New Orleans Saints, is that the home-field advantage will matter as much as it has in the regular season.

All teams, of course, play better at home. Historically, the home team wins about 57 percent of the time in the NFL.

Seattle, though, has won 68.8 percent of the time since moving into CenturyLink Field in 2002, a record of 66-30 that is just a hair behind that of Green Bay’s 66-29-1 as the best in the NFL in that time (in comparison, the Packers are 118-73-1 overall in that span to Seattle’s 105-87).

That includes a 7-1 mark this year after going 8-0 in 2012.

The validity of Seattle’s home-field edge is enough that Las Vegas oddsmakers typically give Seattle an extra point when establishing their betting line each week.

Pat Morrow, the head oddsmaker for Bovada.lv, says an NFL home team is typically awarded 2½ points in the betting line. Seattle this year, he said, typically gets 3½.

“That’s only one point more than the average,’’ Morrow said. “But that’s still significant with that much parity in the NFL these days.’’

The only home-field advantage bookmakers consider better this year, Morrow said, is that of Denver, which tied Seattle for the best record in the NFL at 13-3.

“The only difference is the elevation,’’ Morrow said of Denver’s mile-high altitude. “When it comes to the fourth quarter, that causes a lot of teams to wear down in that kind of air and atmosphere and that helps the Broncos. Otherwise, if they were playing in the same elements, the Seahawks would have the number one home-field advantage in the NFL.’’

Seattle’s home-field edge is pronounced enough that the Seahawks made getting the No. 1 seed in the NFC — and all playoff games at home — their main priority. Mission accomplished, with a 13-3 record that was a game better than the rest of the conference.

As the Seahawks saw last weekend, though, the home field isn’t necessarily everything. Three of the four games in the wild-card round were won by road teams.

“It doesn’t guarantee anything,’’ Seattle coach Pete Carroll said this week. “But it certainly is more fun to play here for us than to go on the road. We have a tremendous connection with our fans and the 12th Man and CenturyLink. And all of that doesn’t mean you are going to win. That just gives you the best advantage you can gain.

“And not just this year will that be the focus for us, but that will always be the focus in this program.’’

Generally, the most tangible benefit of playing at home is not having to travel and being in comfortable surroundings. Players who reach the NFL level usually get accustomed to playing in a certain level of noise, and noise typically becomes a factor only when it reaches unusual levels.

As the two Guinness records that CenturyLink set for crowd noise this year make clear, though, the noise made by Seattle fans is unique.

“I think we obviously have the loudest stadium,’’ said center Max Unger. “The (Guinness) records kind of speak for itself. But noise is an unbelievably powerful advantage for the home team when you have a crowd that is that into the game and making it that much harder for the other offense to operate.’’

Specifically, that noise makes it tough for players to hear the play call, either in the huddle or audibles made at the line of scrimmage, and then the snap count itself.

All teams have systems of nonverbal communication, such as hand signals indicating plays or when to snap the ball (hand claps and the lifting of a leg can also be a signal for a snap).

But Unger, who has to deal with the same things at times when Seattle is on the road, says “you can practice it, but when you are out there, it’s a different animal, for sure.’’

New Orleans found out just how disruptive the noise at CenturyLink can be when it played here Dec. 2. On the first play of that game, Saints running back Pierre Thomas took a handoff to the right side. The problem was, many of his teammates went to the other side. The noise disrupted communication enough to create confusion. Seattle easily tackled Thomas for a 4-yard loss.

“That was not really smart of me,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton said this week. “You open the game up with a play that could go left and it might be able to go right. It’s probably right after they just raised the 12th Man flag, so it was loud as the stadium could be. ...

“There are probably four or five of these stadiums that really challenge you with communication. They challenge you with crowd noise. It’s kind of like August down here in New Orleans: At some point it’s just as hot as it can be, and we don’t need to know the exact temperature. ... It’s just loud.’’

Payton said the Saints would put an emphasis this week on preparing for the noise. The Saints used earplugs, with mixed results, during the December game. Some of the Saints players might try them again Saturday.

Still, football is a game where a tenth of a second can create a critical advantage. And there is simply not much that can be done to account for the difference in a lineman having to look to watch for the ball to be snapped rather than having his head up and being able to listen for the snap count.

“I feel like we do get an advantage because you see the guys on the offensive line and they can’t necessarily look at you,’’ said Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril. “They are all looking at the ball. It definitely gives you that split-second jump on the ball.’’

Seahawks opponents have been penalized 132 times for false starts since 2005, eight more than any other NFL team has drawn.

The fact CenturyLink is loud isn’t an accident.

When the stadium was constructed after the Kingdome was demolished following the 1999 season, owner Paul Allen wanted to create an atmosphere similar to what he experienced as a kid at Husky Stadium.

The roof covers roughly 70 percent of the fans but also helps bounce the noise back down to the field. Designers also chose hard surfaces rather than materials that would absorb the sound. And because the stadium needed to be built on the same site as the Kingdome, it has the smallest footprint of any in the NFL, which means seats are not only close to each other but to the field, further concentrating the noise.

“It’s the loudest stadium I’ve ever played in,’’ said Seattle linebacker Heath Farwell, who also spent six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, who played in the notoriously raucous Metrodome.

Seattle players say while the noise affects opponents, it also has a more subtle impact on the team.

“There’s nothing bigger than making a big play and everybody is literally cheering for you, you know what I mean?’’ Avril said. “It definitely gives you a little more juice.’’

And more often than not, it has also meant winning.

Seattle is 5-1 in playoff games at CenturyLink, 5-0 since a loss to St. Louis in 2004.

As Morrow noted, though, the difference between most NFL teams isn’t that great. Road teams have been having as much success in the playoffs as ever the past few years. Of the 20 teams that made it to the Super Bowl the past 10 seasons, just eight were No. 1 seeds.

Only once in that time (New Orleans-Indianapolis Super Bowl in 2009) have both No. 1 seeds made it to the Super Bowl, meaning the odds are against a Denver-Seattle clash on Feb. 2 in New Jersey.

Carroll, though, will take his chances on what the home field might mean for the Seahawks.

“Does it help? Is it going to help?’’ Carroll asked this week. “We will find out when we go play. Hopefully it will.’’

Home-field heroes
The Seahawks, who will play any pre-Super Bowl games this postseason at CenturyLink Field, have been much better at home under coach Pete Carroll (playoff games in parentheses).
Year Home Away
2010 6-3 (1-0)2-7 (0-1)
20114-43-5
2012 8-04-6 (1-1)
2013 7-16-2
Totals, 4 years25-815-20

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.



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