Just as the New England Patriots appear to be firing on all cylinders both offensively and defensively, now they must travel to Seattle to face not only the 11 Seahawks on the field, but the "12th man" in the stands.
CenturyLink Field is known for being one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, and this will be a new challenge for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who missed the team's first game there in 2008 because he was out with a knee injury.
Brady is used to shutting up loud fans in various stadiums with his performance on the field, and he would like to add another accomplishment to his resume Sunday when the Seahawks host the Patriots.
"That's the fun part of being on the road," Brady said. "There's nothing better than being on the road, like in Buffalo a few weeks ago, and there were more of our fans at the end than their fans. We've done it in Pittsburgh. We've done that in some very loud environments.
"This place will be really loud. Deion (Branch) said in opening warm-ups, I think just the way the stadium is built, I think there's a lot of energy and a lot of sound, and certainly on the field there is."
Crowd noise is something the Patriots can handle. Quarterbacks with big, strong arms and dangerous weapons at their disposal can, however, be a problem, and it doesn't appear Seattle has the firepower to trade bullets with Brady.
Peyton Manning almost pulled it off last weekend in Foxboro, but he's a in a class by himself. Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has had a fine year and appears to be gaining confidence, especially after his controversial Hail Mary touchdown pass beat the Green Bay Packers several weeks ago on "Monday Night Football," but the real bread and butter of Seattle's offense is running back Marshawn Lynch.
Where Lynch excels most is gaining yards after initial contact, so fundamental tackling will be a top priority this week (as if it isn't every week).
As far as the Patriots are concerned, crowd noise won't be an issue if they do what they do best, which is stop opposing running backs and allow Brady to set the tone offensively. The key, once again, might be attacking the underbelly of Seattle's defense with a heavy dose of Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker, especially when you consider the size of Seattle cornerbacks Brandon Browner (6-foot-4) and Richard Sherman (6-3), who are taller than most of New England's wide receivers.
"These guys are long, they're big, they're extremely long -- 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 corners. You just don't see those very often," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
"To see them on one team, they're just hard to get away from. They're big, they're physical, they take up a lot of space. A lot of guys just aren't used to working against that sized player, a 220-pound corner. There's not a lot of them out there. I think that's a challenge, because it's a little bit unique. When you're throwing the ball outside on a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 corner, it's a little bit different deal getting it over him, or trying to run some high-low combinations out there. It's just a much bigger guy."
The answer might be to try keeping Seattle's defense closer to the line of scrimmage with a heavy dose of Stevan Ridley, who's quickly become one of the league's top rushers. Ridley is still untested over the course of a full season, but he has excelled in back-to-back weeks, giving opposing defenses another weapon to have to deal with during preparation.
"We just have to continue to do it," Brady said. "It's only been five weeks, and we're certainly doing great in the running game, but it really means nothing if we don't do it this week."
Many observers think this year's offense might be better than that of the 2007 team, which set records and overcame obstacles over the course of the season, but in order to earn such high praise, this year's group must be able to overcome the conditions out west.
Whether it's running no-huddle or simply running the ball more, the Patriots must find something that works and keeps the crowd noise to a minimum.
"(I've) been real impressed looking at Seattle here the last couple days," Belichick said. "I think Pete (Carroll) has done a really good job putting together a football team. They're young and they're good. Of course, they got in the playoffs in (2010) and beat New Orleans, and that was a big win for them. I think they've just continued to get better individually and collectively each year. We have a big challenge ahead of us."