This year's playoff picture is just about finalized. There is a wide array of teams and styles, with some relying on defense and others a strong passing game. However, a Super Bowl berth may ultimately depend on how a team performs in cold-weather situations.
It appears the road to the Super Bowl could go through places like Green Bay and New England. Both of these areas boast some harsh winter weather. Snow, wind and bitter cold can have a major impact on an offense.
The Baltimore Ravens want to win football games by running the ball and playing defense. This type of football is effective in all weather conditions. However, it is the running style of Ray Rice that ultimately helps the Ravens find success in the cold weather.
Rice's low center of gravity and balance allow him to cut through the defense seamlessly. Backs that tend to raise their pad level struggle in cooler/snowy conditions. It usually takes these backs more steps to make a lateral move.
Baltimore's recent playoff success also plays a role in their cold weather play. They have played deep into the season and experienced some of the worst weather conditions.
Arian Foster is a very underrated player who is among the best running backs in the league. His play down the stretch allowed the Texans to secure their first playoff berth in team history. If the Texans want to make a big splash this season, they will need to win a road playoff game at some point.
In the early part of the season, the Houston Texans played with a lot of balance. However, the injuries to Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson made this team focus on running the ball. This more run-heavy style will actually benefit Houston in the long run.
Houston will need to play an outdoor game if they hope to earn a Super Bowl appearance. Windy or cold weather conditions call for a more run-heavy attack. The Texans have been playing that type of football for over a month.
The only concern is that Houston is a southern team, used to playing inside a retractable-roof stadium. This group doesn't have a lot of experience in cold-weather situations.
Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers want to win football games by dominating in the trenches. Their goal is to grind it out on the ground and play great defense. This style of play isn't flashy and can be effective in all weather conditions.
The 49ers defense is one of the tops in the NFL, and would benefit from poor conditions. This unit has only allowed one rushing touchdown the entire season. If weather conditions limit the effectiveness of the passing game, the 49ers will be in a great position to win.
Offensively, Frank Gore and the offensive line will be effective in every possible weather scenario. Lining up and pounding the football doesn't require perfect conditions.
Tim Tebow's effectiveness will not be affected by weather conditions. The Denver Broncos have tailored their offense around Tebow's ability to run the ball. This style doesn't require perfect conditions or finesse, it is about lining up and being physical.
If the Broncos need to rely on the passing game to win, the game is already over. Tebow isn't a very effective passer in good or bad conditions. The Broncos wouldn't throw a pass unless it was absolutely necessary.
However, the defense is what really makes this team built for the cold weather. Their ability to create pressure and hold up against the run makes it difficult for opposing offenses to find success.