A 6-2 record, tied for 2nd in the conference, a top 10 offense and defense, I could name 24 other fan bases that would be ecstatic to have their team in this position. Who Dat Nation is another beast altogether. We know the score here, and we are well aware of the implications of the position we find the Saints in following Sunday's loss. There is a growing, menacing shadow lurking in our closet, and try as we might, it won't just go away because we say it doesn't exist.
The New Orleans Saints are simply not nearly as good on the road as they are at home. Many will refute this claim and point to the stats that prove that the Saints are one of the best in the NFL in road win percentage since 2009. This is fact and honestly cannot be disputed, but it is also an illusion and a crutch that we as Saints fans lean on when the media begins to pile on our team. The Saints are a different team on the road than they are at home and we all know it is fact, we just don't like to admit it.
The term "road game" in-and-of itself is pretty subjective regarding the Saints and it is this minutiae that I base this discussion upon. The previously mentioned argument about the Saints road record since 2009 is quite valid, but all road games are not equal, not for the Saints. The Saints have been built for speed and precision under Sean Payton, and regardless of crowd noise, we've seen this translate well in road games under the roof in Dallas and Minnesota among other enclosed stadiums around the NFL.
It's the Sun, the Moon and stars that seem to give the Saints concern. I'm not just saying the elements, honestly most teams have trouble playing in wind, rain, snow, and freezing temperatures. When the Saints are taken outside though, in a hostile environment, against a good and/or highly motivated team, trouble usually follows. It's as if Drew Brees is the anti-Superman and Earth's sun extracts power from him. It's clear that the Saints aren't solar powered.
Let's take a look at the numbers. The Saints play eight road games every regular season and these games vary from indoors to outdoors depending on the team they are playing, of course. I looked at the Saints since the Payton/Brees union began in 2006 and started a process of elimination. I eliminated all of the road games against domed opponents like Minnesota and St. Louis, as well as retractable enclosure opponents like Dallas and Arizona. I also eliminated Tampa and Carolina because of the complicated beast that is division play, as well as the Saints familiarity with those stadiums/opponents. This leaves us with road games in the purest sense for the Saints, outdoors with the sky above their heads and the crowd against their efforts. These are regular season numbers only.
2006 - 3-1, Wins at Green Bay, Cleveland, and the Giants. Loss at Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh was the only team here with a winning record.
2007 - 2-1, Wins at Seattle and San Francisco. Loss at Chicago.
Seattle was the only team with a winning record.
2008 - 1-3, Won at Kansas City. Losses at Washington, Denver, and Chicago.
Chicago was the only team with a winning record. (I did not count the London game against San Diego)
2009 - 4-0, Wins at Philadelphia, Buffalo, Miami, and Washington.
Philadelphia was the only team with a winning record.
2010 - 2-1, Wins at San Francisco and Cincinnati. Loss at Baltimore.
Baltimore was the only team with a winning record.
2011 - 2-1, Wins at Jacksonville and Tennessee. Loss at Green Bay.
Green Bay and Tennessee had winning records.
2012 - 1-3, Won at Oakland. Losses at Green Bay, Denver, and the Giants.
Green Bay, Denver, and the Giants all had winning records.
Alright, I understand this was the *asterisk season*, but the Saints two worst losses of that season came in these games.
I'm not accounting for 2013 seeing as how we can't yet quantify whether the Saints' outdoor opponents will ultimately have winning seasons. Alright, a 15-10 record here is not bad, but it doesn't really tell the true story.
To break things down even further, let's isolate the teams with winning records and eliminate the teams with losing records. The Saints are 3-7 outdoors on the road against teams with a winning record since 2006. The three wins came in Seattle in 2007, in Philly in 2009, and in Tennessee in 2011. The Tennessee win came down to the last play and although they had a winning record, they didn't qualify for the playoffs. The Philly win was very impressive but Kevin Kolb was the starting quarterback for the Eagles that afternoon. Yeah, Kevin Kolb. The '07 victory in Seattle was honestly the strongest outdoor road win of the Payton/Brees era. It came in a hostile environment, against a team two seasons removed from a Super Bowl, and it broke a 4 game losing streak to start that season.
This isn't really confidence inducing stuff here, people. The Saints are going to face winning teams in every game of the playoffs (well, not the 2010 Saints). As we are all alarmingly aware, the Saints are winless all-time on the road in the playoffs, and 0-3 under Payton/Brees. Please don't bring up Super Bowl XLIV in this discussion because, although it was outdoors, it was a neutral site game. Mike Ornstein won't be there to bribe someone to play "Stand Up and Get Crunk" when the Saints score a touchdown at a true road playoff game. Who Dat Nation won't be there to take over the town like that Super Sunday.
Many will bring up the "Road Warrior" path of most of the recent Super Bowl Champions, but the Saints haven't proven that they are made of the stuff necessary to take that path. Do you honestly believe these Saints can win one, much less three road games to make it to the Super Bowl, back at MetLife Stadium of all places? That's an awful lot to ask of a franchise that is well aware of these struggles and the mental hurdles that need to be cleared to overcome this.
The Saints don't need homefield advantage, they're talented enough to win on anyone's field come playoff time. This is the lie we tell ourselves as Saints fans. It's the actual truth about the Saints that cause us such agonizing grief over every single loss. These losses take us further away from the Superdome in January. The truth is that the Saints need homefield advantage more than any contender in the NFL. We've seen what happens with it, and what happens without it.
Other fans may think we're crazy and that we take each loss too hard. We've become spoiled, they might say. You've got a great record, they might add. But we're well aware that there's a team ahead of the Saints and the competition's gaining. For New Orleans, the road to the Super Bowl runs through the Superdome and any detour may prove disastrous. I believe in the Saints but it would be foolish to overlook the facts.
Here's to the Saints, here's to their competition losing, and here's to homefield advantage (fingers crossed).