There's a discernable gap between perception and reality of the New Orleans Saints as a road team, a gap that the Saints (9-2) wouldn't mind closing a bit on Monday night, when they play the Seahawks (10-1) in Seattle.
Perception: Because New Orleans has lost its three road playoff games since Sean Payton became coach in 2006, the Saints are a "dome" team whose game doesn't travel well and especially can be ineffective when the temperature plummets.
Reality: Since 2006, the Saints are 35-26 on the road in the regular season, 21-12 from November through January.
The former are numbers the Saints want to improve on; the latter, numbers every NFL team would deem acceptable. But they seem to be evidence that the Saints are far from pushovers when they exit the confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Even in the playoff losses, New Orleans hasn't been exactly helpless.
In the 39-14 loss in Chicago in the 2006 NFC championship game, the Saints trailed 16-14 before the Bears pulled away. In the 41-36 loss in Seattle in a 2011 wild card game, the Saints led 17-7 in the second quarter. And in the 36-32 defeat in San Francisco in an NFC divisional game in 2012, New Orleans led 24-23 and 32-29 in the fourth quarter.
"Let's just take this year in the NFL, for example," quarterback Drew Brees said. "The Patriots, where'd their three losses come? On the road. Denver, where did their two losses come? On the road. Seattle, where'd their one loss come? On the road.
"You could take every team that is kind of at the top, and say, 'Where'd their losses come?' Most of the time, they came on the road. So if you asked all of them, 'Is there an advantage to playing at home?' Yes, absolutely. I think every great team, the teams that have perennially have won a lot of games, are doing a great job of winning games at home. There's something about being at home.
"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. If you look at our record over the last eight years, I believe we're second-most wins since '06 and the most since '09 on the road. So I guess the stats speak for themselves right there."
That hasn't prevented the perception from bubbling to the surface in advance of "Monday Night Football." Seattle has a 13-game home winning streak and weather conditions seemingly will be favorable to the home team. The forecast calls for a low of 32 degrees, 70 percent chance of rain (90 percent Sunday) and 10 mph wind.
"They'll say we're a 'dome' team, we're a home team," receiver Lance Moore said. "I feel like most teams should play better at home. And a dome team always should play better in the dome.
"We'll see what happens. We're not really worried about what happened in the past. We're worried about going out there and worried about this one opportunity."
This opportunity very well could determine the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the playoffs. And it will occur in front of a raucous crowd at CenturyLink Field, home of the "12th Man."
Seahawks fans helped CenturyLink set a Guinness World Record as the world's loudest outdoor sports stadium earlier this season. The mark was topped shortly thereafter in Kansas City. The Seahawks will attempt to set the new standard Monday night, against the Saints.
"It's a passionate fan base," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "Each trip we take somewhere else, there's something different about it. But right now, especially, throw on top of it that you've got a team that's really playing well, one of the top teams in the league, and that's something that you've seen take place during a period of time."
Said Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson: "I'm always kind of surprised by our environment. Even myself. I think for (the Saints), they won't be surprised. They'll know it's going to be a crazy crowd. They'll be prepared. Obviously, Drew is an experienced quarterback and the rest of their guys are experienced. Coach Payton is one of the best coaches in the National Football League. He'll have his guys ready.
"But it is a factor. It is real. It is a real factor. Obviously, New Orleans is one of those other places that's really loud like that, too. But there's no place like home. Playing here is a special moment. It's one of those things where it's like a once-in-a-lifetime type thing, you've got to make sure you go to CenturyLink and watch a game. It really is something special."
But it isn't likely to intimidate the Saints. Not considering their road success since 2006.
"Those are the games you love to play in," Moore said. "We love playing in the Dome but going somewhere like Seattle, especially the feeling you get after you win there. We won there in 2007. Hopefully, we can do that again this time."