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Wild Card weather issues a harbinger for SB XLVIII

The SportsXchange

Weather was a running subplot on an NFL wildcard weekend which harkened to the famous, or infamous, Ice Bowl of 1967.

That issue looms large not only because of concerns that weather might unduly influence the outcome of an important game, but because it could be a harbinger of issues that impact the NFL's ultimate game, Super Bowl XLVIII in New York on February 2.

Forecasts for life-threatening cold in Green Bay for Sunday's game between the Packers and San Francisco 49ers were off by about 10 degrees and the high recorded in the northern Wisconsin Camelot was seven degrees. Expectations based on Friday's weather models were a high of five degrees below zero with the wind chill factor approaching 25-below.

Six games in NFL history have started with a temperature of zero or below.

The elements didn't bother the San Diego Chargers in Cincinnati, where quarterback Philip Rivers wore gloves but few other equipment modifications were made with temperatures over 40 degrees for the 1 p.m. ET kickoff at Paul Brown Stadium.

When the Chargers left San Diego, they were anticipating a freezing rain and highs in the 20s. It may not have concerned the feisty Rivers, who went into Cincinnati with a 9-2 record in games under 40 degrees anyway. While the mercury rose to 47 degrees by the second half, wet weather was a bigger bother to the Bengals, who turned the ball over four times and were eliminated from the playoffs.

In Green Bay, where the official kickoff temperature was 5 degrees and mittens and hot beverages were free pregame handouts, 49ers defensive end Justin Smith said there was no incentive for bravado in arctic conditions.

"You're not going to have an advantage by having no sleeves on," said Smith, a player known in the locker room for his cowboy-like toughness. "You're not going to scare the opponent. He might call you a dumb--- or something. There's no tough-guy stuff or anything. It's just go out there and see how you feel comfortable and go from there."

Sensible wardrobe decisions were secondary thoughts for well-bundled coaches.

"The ball is going to be harder and that's really the No. 1 obstacle," said 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who also identified field conditions -- the surface was choppy and slick -- as concerns above wind and temperature. He might have been surprised to see quarterback Colin Kaepernick take his warmup tosses 90 minutes before the game in shorts and a long-sleeve t-shirt and take the field at kickoff with no sleeves or gloves while counterpart Aaron Rodgers of the Packers went to ski-mask headgear and a compression turtleneck undershirt.

For the fabled Ice Bowl, played at Lambeau Field in 1967, the temperature was minus-13 at kickoff and is the coldest NFL game on record. The third-coldest was playoff game in January 1996 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts, when the kickoff was minus-6 and the quarterback was Jim Harbaugh.

Now the 49ers head coach, Harbaugh predicted issues for kickers and on special teams, but downplayed entering Sunday's game that the minus-20 wind chill would be a worry for quarterbacks and position players at Lambeau Field.

"I think the ball and the effect that that has on the game will be more seen by the kickers. The kickoffs won't fly as far, the punts won't fly as far, that's true. You'll probably see 10, maybe even 15 less yards on the kickoffs," Harbaugh said.

The opening game of the postseason was a shootout at cozy Lucas Oil Stadium. While more than eight inches of snow fell Saturday, it was 72 and dry at the indoor arena and the Chiefs and Colts singed the FieldTurf with 99 points and almost 1,100 total yards.

The nightcap in Philadelphia was impacted the chilly conditions.

"I don't think the ball traveled, whether from a kick standpoint or throwing standpoint, just because of the cold. It's always the same for both, so it's not an excuse," said Eagles coach Chip Kelly following Philadelphia's opening-round loss to the New Orleans Saints.

In mid-20-degree windless conditions, the dome-field Saints were not perfect with their precision passing game and quarterback Drew Brees threw two interceptions that might have avoided enemy hands at their usual indoor environment. Brees and Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who attended the same Texas high school 10 years apart, said the conditions were not a major factor in the outcome.

However, Eagles kicker Alex Henery's lone field goal miss, a 48-yarder, proved critical. His first kickoff was fielded at the 10 and Henery's last kickoff led to a 39-yard, penalty-aided return by Darren Sproles, who gained an extra 15 yards when Eagles cornerback Cary Williams was flagged for a horse-collar tackle.

"It's science, the ball is not going to travel as far when it's cold. It's one of those things we work with," Henery said. "The last kickoff I was happy with where it went. It was two yards deep, into the wind. ... It's one of those things that when the weather is cold, you either hit it great or if you don't hit it well, it's not going to travel far."

Brees and the Saints are bound for Seattle, where the divisional playoff game will kick off under rainy skies and 47-degree temperatures based on Sunday's forecast.

Based on weather.com forecasts Sunday, it could also approach 50 degrees in Denver and Foxborough, Mass, where the AFC divisional playoffs will be held.
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