Cold, crowd add to Saints' challenges

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints got an assist from Mother Nature this week as they prepare for a challenging “Monday Night Football” game at the Seattle Seahawks. The weather has been colder than usual in the New Orleans area this week -- in the low 50s, with wind chills in the 40s, and some rain and wind mixed in for the Saints’ Tuesday practice session.

The Saints practiced outdoors both Tuesday and Thursday to help them get acclimated to some of the conditions they’ll face at Seattle, where the current forecast calls for temperatures in the 30s and possible rain or snow.

“Having that similar environment is helpful,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Getting the crowd noise work done is critical as well, because the communication and the ability to focus with all those other things going on is where you are challenged.”

Obviously the Saints (9-2) will be out of their element in both the weather conditions and in an environment known for having one of the loudest crowds and best home-field advantages in the NFL. And most important of all, Payton said, you “throw on top of” everything else how well Seattle (10-1) has been playing for the past two years. The Seahawks have been thriving on both sides of the ball regardless of conditions, but especially at home where they’ve won 13 straight games.

But while the Saints are making sure to be prepared for all those elements, they insist they aren’t stressing out over them.

Last week, Payton bristled at the notion the Saints have struggled on the road in recent years, saying that’s a typical stereotype of a dome team and that anyone asking “dumb questions” about the Saints’ road record “needs to do a little research on it.”

The research, however, is inconclusive. While the Saints do have the best regular-season road record in the NFL since 2009 (24-13), they’re 0-3 on the road in the playoffs during the Payton-Drew Brees era. And they’re 3-4 overall in outdoor games in December and January since 2009 when their starters have played.

This year, the Saints are 6-0 at home and 3-2 on the road, with a couple narrow victories over struggling teams included.

Of course the Saints aren’t a “bad” team on the road -- they’re just a lot more human compared to the routine blowouts they’ve unleashed on opponents inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Saints players, however, say that’s the case for all teams in the NFL.

“Let’s just take this year in the NFL, for example. The Patriots, where did their three losses come? On the road. Denver, where have their two losses come? On the road. Seattle, where did their one loss come? On the road. I mean, every team that is kinda at the top,” Brees said Thursday. “So if you asked all them, is there an advantage to playing at home? Yes, absolutely. … It is certainly more difficult to go on the road and win, especially in the type of environment that we’re going to. We understand those challenges. …

“But if you look at our record over the last eight years, I don’t know exactly what the stats are, but I believe we’re what, the second-most wins since ’06 and the most since ’09 on the road? So I guess the stats speak for themselves there.”

The Saints’ offense has had a few bad days in bad weather (games at Chicago from 2006-2008 and some rainy days at Tampa Bay come to mind). But generally the offense has still traveled well, even in cold weather. The Saints scored 36 points in their infamous 41-36 loss at Seattle in the 2010-11 playoffs, when the Seahawks “snuck in” to the playoffs with a 7-9 record. And a year later, the Saints lost another road playoff game in a shootout, 36-32, to the San Francisco 49ers.

As for their inconsistent performance on the road this year, Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said, “I don’t think we feel the need to explain it. You know, it is what it is. It’s hard to win, period, in the league. Especially on the road.”

“But at some point,” Jenkins continued, “you’re gonna have to get a crucial road win, and I think this is the week in which we’re gonna try to do that. Whether it be now or the playoffs, you’re gonna have to win the road. And I don’t think we doubt our ability to win on the road.

“If there’s a trend, I don’t think that translates into this game. We’re preparing to go beat a good team that has an outstanding home record, and that’s a challenge that presents itself. But that’s what this league is about.”