Mailbag: Readers demand answers

ESPN.com's recent Power Rankings of the toughest NFL venues urged a few folks to drop notes into the AFC East mailbag. Some of them were printable.

Aaron in Los Angeles "can't begin to tell you how much of a moron" I am and that I "shouldn't be covering football" for ranking Lambeau Field ninth on my ballot. He can understand how I have Gillette Stadium, Heinz Field and Lucas Oil Stadium all higher than Lambeau, but certainly not Arrowhead Stadium, Qwest Field, Soldier Field or Lincoln Financial Field.

That just goes to show how subjective taste can be. The examples Aaron gave for what is acceptable or unacceptable illustrate how people can emphasize different criteria when formulating an opinion. Based on the response from readers and writers the past couple of days, the most questionable stadiums I rated highly were the ones Aaron finds OK. ESPNBoston.com writer Mike Reiss asked New England Patriots fans about Gillette Stadium, and 69 percent of them disagreed it's a tough place to play. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky didn't list Lucas Oil Stadium on his ballot at all.

Meanwhile, former players Mark Schlereth and Marcellus Wiley said there was no doubt Arrowhead Stadium is the toughest place to play. Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Kirk Morrison agreed with Arrowhead and also listed Oakland Coliseum, Heinz Field, Soldier Field and Qwest Field ahead of Green Bay in a piece on the AFC South blog. Indianapolis Colts linebacker Gary Brackett, entering his ninth NFL season, didn't mention Lambeau anywhere in his top 10.

Jon in Watertown, Wisc., wrote (in all caps) that I couldn't rank Lambeau ninth "with a straight face" because he's a Packers season-ticket holder who has been on the field, and he couldn't hear himself think down there. Jon also points out "Lambeau Field in December is like none other."

I know it's quite loud at Lambeau Field, but it's loud in a lot of stadiums. I would expect a season-ticket holder who loves the Packers to defend Lambeau Field as the best place on Earth. But let's not pretend Lambeau Field is the only place where noise is a factor and the only miserable NFL venue to visit in the winter.

NFC East blogger Dan Graziano had this to say about why he voted Ralph Wilson Stadium his toughest place to play:

"I personally did not factor in the home team in my choices because I think it's a variable. Right now, the toughest place is Gillette Stadium because the Patriots have been so great. But if the Pats stink for the next five years, no way that place makes the 2016 list. But that frigid old dump in Buffalo will still be a miserably unpleasant venue that players will hate to visit."

To which I reply, isn't weather a variable? If a stadium needs nasty weather to be considered a difficult place to play, then should there be a separate list for when conditions are moderate? I then would have to consider Sun Life Stadium in October or November to be a tough place to visit, too.

Steve in Minnesota and Brian in Fallbrook, Calif., took exception to my quote that appeared in the main Power Rankings story. In the article, I explained why I had trouble rating Lambeau higher than I did:

"I distinctly remember a mediocre Miami Dolphins squad traveling a long way to beat the Packers at Lambeau last season. The Packers have gotten lit up at home a few times the past three years despite having very good talent. I guess I couldn't get past that."

Steve pointed out the Packers were banged up in that Week 6 defeat to the Dolphins and that "was an easy call for a loss." So I guess Lambeau Field wasn't a tough enough place for a 7-9 team to escape with a victory. It must be about the teams on the field.

Brian combed through the records the past three years and couldn't find any games where the Packers have been "blown out at home" by more than 12 points. That's true. I didn't say the Packers were blown out. I said they were lit up. In 2009, Cincinnati scored 31 and Minnesota scored 38. In 2008, Carolina scored 35 and Dallas and Atlanta (with a rookie quarterback) scored 27.

Upon seeing where I listed Lambeau Field, readers obviously went back through my previous Power Rankings ballots because I received an unusual number of notes about polls we did months ago. Sergio in San Francisco was curious about why I ranked DeMarcus Ware ninth among linebackers. Chris in Merced, Calif., wanted to know why I had Darren McFadden 10th among running backs.

As I explained when we did the linebacker Power Rankings, I was in total disagreement with the concept. It's unfair to compare inside linebackers to 3-4 outside linebackers because in a 4-3 scheme, outside linebackers wouldn't be linebackers at all. They'd be hand-on-the-ground defensive ends. With that in mind, I gave considerable weight to players who would be linebackers regardless of the defense. That favored inside linebackers significantly. Besides, ESPN.com had previously rated the best pass-rushers. I rated Ware the best.

As for McFadden, I don't think 10th is out of line when you consider the players who were rated ahead of him. There are a lot of talented running backs. Four of our eight panelists didn't rate McFadden at all. I'm sure if he can put together another season like last year, then he'll be considered elite.