NFL Playoffs 2014: How Cold, Inclement Weather Will Impact the Postseason

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NFL Playoffs 2014: How Cold, Inclement Weather Will Impact the Postseason
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Do you love football enough to sit through a three-hour game in zero-degree weather? 

Well over 100,000 fans will step out into the cold for the love of the game in Green Bay, Philadelphia and Cincinnati starting Saturday as bitter cold temperatures and inclement weather sweep across the country.

Below is an overview of how the extraordinary conditions will impact the pro football postseason.

Note: Forecasts are all courtesy of Wunderground.com.

2014 NFL Playoffs Wild Card Weekend Schedule and Forecast
Saturday, Jan. 4 Time (ET) TV Forecast
Kansas City at Indianapolis 4:35 p.m. NBC Dome, 32 degrees outside
New Orleans at Philadelphia 8:10 p.m. NBC 27 degrees, clear
Sunday, Jan. 5 Time (EDT) TV Forecast
San Diego at Cincinnati 1:05 p.m. CBS 34 degrees, rain
San Francisco at Green Bay 4:40 p.m. Fox 0 degrees, partly cloudy

Source: Wunderground.com

 

Wild Card Playoff Games Threatened by Blackout

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

A combination of high ticket prices and the plunging temperatures nearly left folks watching at home out in the cold this weekend.

NFL ticket prices increase due to the magnitude of the playoffs and teams require season ticket holders to buy whole playoff ticket packages without a refund to guarantee a seat. The average ticket goes for $349 at the Packers' Lambeau Field. 

As of Thursday's, Jan. 2 deadline for ticket sales, the Packers, Colts and Bengals were still short of a sellout. Thanks to NFL broadcast rules, failure at the box office could cause the game to be blacked out on local television.

Fortunately, the deadline was extended, per CNN's Rachel Nichols:

Lambeau Field has sold out 319 consecutive games—many in that streak were played under freezing conditions. We've seen Packer fans in bikinis in 20 degree weather. They can handle the cold. Breaking the impressive streak during a playoff run would have been a pretty big shock for the Packers and the NFL.

Not to worry couch surfing cheeseheads. The Packers finally sold out their allotment Friday morning.

Both the Bengals and Colts also struggled to sell out their stadiums and needed the extension as well. The Colts sold off their last seats Friday as well. The Bengals were the last team to avoid the blackout, but the ticket office got the job done thanks to assists from Tide, Cover Girl, Bounty and Gillette, just ahead of Friday's 5 p.m. deadline.

Cold Is Here to Stay

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
MetLife Stadium will host Super Bowl XLVIII.

Expect the NFL playoff venues to stay chilly as next week's venues shift to Seattle, Denver, Foxborough and Charlotte.

Seattle's not exactly known for its sunny skies, while the AFC's top two seeds in Denver and New England present possible snowfall and cool climates, too.

The Panthers will welcome an opponent to Charlotte, where weather should still be a rather significant factor, with lows projected to be at 28 degrees at the time of this writing.

And East Rutherford, N.J., will be the city of choice for Super Bowl XLVIII. Expect the frigid conditions to continue on the NFL's grandest stage. Super Bowl officials have clearly prepared for the worst. Every seat at MetLife Stadium will reportedly come with gloves, hand warmers, ear muffs, lip balms, and facial tissues. 

Cold History in NFL Playoffs

 

Perhaps the most famous of all postseason epics featuring jaw-chattering, lip-chapping settings was the 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys.

The game is appropriately dubbed the "Ice Bowl" as it was 15 degrees below zero with a minus-48 windchill.

Vince Lombardi and Co. emerged victorious, 21-17, giving the renowned leader his third consecutive NFL title and cementing his status as one of the greatest coaches of all time against the ultimate adversary.

Two teams squaring off this weekend—the Cincinnati Bengals and visiting San Diego Chargers—met in the 1981 playoffs, where game conditions featured 35-mph winds, a temperature of nine degrees below zero and a minus-59 windchill.

Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot posted a photo from the Cincinnati Enquirer that captured the frigidness of the Freezer Bowl:

 

The Bengals won that game by a score of 27-7, advancing to Super Bowl XVI and losing to the San Francisco 49ers.

 

Teams Built to Weather the Storm

San Francisco 49ers

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

 

Championship teams are almost always able to run the ball and stop the run. This weekend in Green Bay, the Niners will find out whether they're legitimate contenders.

 

Led by running back Frank Gore, San Francisco ranks third in the NFL in rushing with 137 yards per game and has a front seven that stuffs opponents in the trenches, yielding just 95.9 yards on the ground per contest.

As was the case last year, QB Colin Kaepernick is the X-factor. Kaepernick has played better in the past month, but has yet to put his game to the test in the cold ever since NFL defenses evidently adjusted to him.

The Niners' made it to Super Bowl XLVII, but never had to play in the cold to get there. Getting past California native Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' high-powered offense may prove difficult on the Frozen Tundra.

However, Green Bay's defense is 24th in scoring and 25th in total yards allowed, making the task easier on Kaepernick.

Given how difficult it will be to throw the ball on Sunday, the Niners should get out of Wisconsin with a victory and press onward to at least the NFC title game for the third year in a row.

 

Denver Broncos

 

Peyton Manning gets to stay warm at home on Sunday thanks to a bye. Despite his record-setting season, Peyton's playoff demons are well known. No matter, because one of the most underrated elements of Denver's team is No. 1 running back Knowshon Moreno.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

After looking like a supreme bust to start his career, it seems Manning's presence has helped revitalize Moreno, culminating in this season's outstanding numbers (1,038 yards rushing, 548 yards receiving and 13 total touchdowns).

 

When Manning sputtered in Foxborough earlier this season, Moreno had a whopping 224 yards rushing against the New England Patriots. Those two teams could meet again in the AFC title game, causing Moreno to once again be the focal point against the Pats' decimated defensive front.

Let's not minimize what Manning has done, though. After all, he did set single-season records for touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477), having quite possibly the best single season by a quarterback in NFL history.

Mike Greenberg of ESPN believes it warrants a league MVP award:

 

Even at age 37 and with waning arm strength, that type of production won't wilt in the winter. The Broncos have a strong enough offense to hang with anyone, and Manning dismissed many critics by throwing for 397 yards and four touchdowns in the cold during a Week 14 win over the Tennessee Titans.

The torn ACL star pass-rusher Von Miller suffered in Week 16 hurts, but bad weather should only aid the Broncos' suspect secondary.

 

Seattle Seahawks

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

 

Lockdown cornerback Richard Sherman and the Legion of Boom secondary headline a championship-caliber defense waiting for an opponent in Seattle next week. Sherman signifies the swagger that makes the Seahawks so scary, with the game to back it up.

Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch is always a threat out of the backfield. The Saints are still smarting from his incredible run that busted up their 2010 playoff game. 

Second-year quarterback Russell Wilson can run it just as well as he can throw it—both in designed zone-read calls and when improvising on scrambles. That helps make up for a thin receiving corps led by names like Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin.

Wide receiver Percy Harvin became a possible X-factor after returning to practice on Thursday, Jan. 2, per the Seahawks' official Twitter account:

 

Harvin would add a whole new dimension to the offense. Having him get reps while the Seahawks are on a bye makes it all the more encouraging he'll be ready to roll for the Divisional Round.

Pity whoever has to trek to the notoriously loud CenturyLink Field, where Wilson has lost only once in two seasons as a starter. A spot in the conference championship is almost a sure thing in that context, with Seattle seeking a Super Bowl bid thereafter.

 

QB Queries: Who Will Succeed or Suffer in the Slop?

 

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Stock Up: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, Nick Foles

The odds seem long for the Patriots and Brady to make noise in the playoffs, given the meager arsenal of weapons at his disposal. But the cold weather may actually work in Tom Terrific's favor.

Brady doesn't have a strong defense backing him and also has a slew of inexperienced supporting cast members. However, as CBSSports.com's Pat Kirwan highlighted on Nov. 28, 2013, the Patriots legend has compiled a 10-2 postseason record in cold-weather games. That's hard to argue with.

As mentioned before, the sheer amount of weaponry Manning has in his arsenal, a strong backfield and a decent run defense should keep Denver in line for a tilt at home with New England for the AFC Championship.

Few fields are better to gain experience on in difficult weather than Green Bay's, so Rodgers—armed with his best rushing attack (Eddie Lacy and James Starks) in years—should be set, assuming his collarbone holds up.

 

Week 17's drive to win the NFC North was everything the Pack could have hoped for, but their defense, not Rodgers, will be their downfall. 

With how commanding of an advantage the Seahawks have on their home turf, Wilson has the big hands, decision-making and athleticism to still be a threat in the cold.

Rivers is 0-2 in the playoffs in the cold, per Kirwan, but the Chargers are hot and balanced on offense, giving their quarterback a chance to shine on the big stage.

Foles' follies are few and far between (27 touchdown passes to just two interceptions), and he won a blizzard-ridden battle in Philadelphia in which things like this were happening:

The Eagles beat the Detroit Lions, 34-20, in Week 14 and racked up 299 yards rushing. If its defense were better, Philly would be more of a serious threat to weather the storm.

 

Stock Down: Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck*, Alex Smith*, Cam Newton, Drew Brees

 

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

A lack of arm talent and discretion with the football have Dalton as the chief concern among the current playoff quarterbacks. Cincinnati has an excellent defense and respectable skill players, but Dalton is a big question mark.

Dalton threw four interceptions in Week 17. Although the Bengals still won, he can't do that if he expects to improve his 0-2 career playoff record when his team faces San Diego on Sunday.

The progress Kaepernick made down the stretch this year all came in either warm-weather conditions or in a dome. While he did play in the Super Bowl last season and had previous, convincing testimony, he still lacks experience and possesses a gunslinger's mentality that could hurt him and the Niners.

 

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Stars for Luck and Smith signify the fact that they both play in the Lucas Oil Stadium dome on Wild Card Weekend, so neither may have to deal with the elements. Nevertheless, their targets in the passing game are subpar and their defenses aren't good enough to back them up.

The two NFC South signal-callers on this list also don't have strong backfields to complement them. True, Newton generates his own threat as a runner, but he doesn't have the prowess Brees does from the pocket.

Brees has experience and a Super Bowl ring. What he also has is a poor career record (3-7) when the weather is 40 degrees or lower at kickoff, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Bob Brookover.

Away from the Superdome, the Saints don't seem super (3-5 this season) or otherwise capable of grinding out enough games in the outdoors en route to a Lombardi Trophy. 

 

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