Will an Arctic chill play into the weather-worn hands of the Green Bay Packers?
The forecast calls for bitter cold Sunday afternoon when the Packers play host to San Francisco in the first round of the NFL playoffs, but that doesn't necessarily mean Green Bay will have an advantage on the famed Frozen Tundra.
According to Packers.com, Green Bay is 3-4 in games played at Lambeau Field when the temperature at kickoff is 6 degrees or lower. Sunday's forecast is staggeringly cold -- a high of minus-3 and a low of minus-19.
On Dec. 31, 1967, Green Bay beat Dallas in the coldest NFL game on record, the "Ice Bowl," when the temperature dipped to minus-13 and the windchill reached minus-48. The Packers also beat the Los Angeles Raiders in 1993 when the mercury showed zero degrees and Carolina in the 1996 NFC championship game at 3 degrees.
The Packers lost at home to the New York Giants in the 2007 NFC championship game (minus-1 degree), to Detroit in 1990 (2 degrees), to Houston in 2008 (3), and Chicago in 1976 (6).
The second-coldest game on record, according to NFL.com, was the 1981 AFC championship game when San Diego played at Cincinnati (one of this weekend's four matchups). The temperature showed minus-9 at kickoff, but the windchill dipped to minus-59.
Each year since 1990, when the NFL began its 12-team postseason format, at least four teams have made the playoffs after missing them the year before. This season five teams have done so -- Carolina, San Diego, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Kansas City.
The Bengals were 4-0 at home this season against four Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks -- Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, New England's Tom Brady and Baltimore's Joe Flacco. Those players combined for three touchdown passes, seven intercepted passes, and a passer rating of 56.7.
Cincinnati scored six defensive touchdowns at home. No wonder the Bengals were undefeated at Paul Brown Stadium, winning games by an average score of 34-17.
San Diego's three most impressive wins this season came on the road -- at Philadelphia, Kansas City and Denver.
Had Philadelphia's Nick Foles not been snubbed for the Pro Bowl, that game would feature three graduates of Westlake High in Austin, Texas -- New Orleans' Drew Brees, and Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker are the others -- all of whom wear No. 9.
The late Steve Sabol of NFL Films used to say Indianapolis' defense was like the floor of the Sistine Chapel -- no one knew whether it was beautiful, because nobody looked at it. Peyton Manning's offense was always the star of the show.
But the Colts have been sharp on defense lately. In a 23-7 victory at Kansas City two weeks ago, they held the Chiefs to their season low in scoring -- Kansas City had been averaging 28.5 points a game -- and limited them to one conversion on eight third downs.
When Philadelphia plays host to New Orleans on Saturday night, it will mark the first time a team has been featured by the same network (NBC) in prime time for three weeks in a row. The Eagles are coming off back-to-back prime-time victories over Chicago and Dallas, with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth calling both.
The NFL is going to take a look this off-season about the practice of division winners hosting playoff games, no matter what their record. For the seventh year in a row, at least one team with an inferior record than its opponent will play at home in the first round. There are two such games this weekend -- San Francisco (12-4) at Green Bay (8-7-1), and New Orleans (11-5) at Philadelphia (10-6).
NFL referees have worn pedometers in games that show, on average, they run about six miles over the course of four quarters. With all these fast-paced, hurry-up offenses, could it be that officials are just gassed and more prone to making mistakes at the end of games?
No question, NFL officiating needs to be a full-time job.
You might not know the name Andy Mulumba. He's the Packers linebacker replacing injured star Clay Matthews against the 49ers. Mulumba's family fled the Congo when he was 12 and relocated to Canada. He didn't play organized football until he was 17.
Had Kansas City's Ryan Succop made a 41-yard field-goal attempt against San Diego at the end of regulation Sunday, it would be Pittsburgh in the playoffs and not the Chargers. But Succop was wide right by inches.
The Chiefs have reason to be nervous about their kicking game in the playoffs, and more because of their history than because of Succop. Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star points out the Chiefs are 3-13 in the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl after the 1969 season, with their kickers making just 12 of 25 field-goal attempts.
Since their last playoff win -- Jan. 16, 1994 -- the Chiefs are 0-6 in the postseason with their kickers making only three of nine tries.
There's something about the Packers that brings out the best in 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In his victorious playoff debut last January, he ran for 181 yards, more than any quarterback in any game in league history. And in a season-opening victory over Green Bay in September, he threw for a career-best 412 yards and three touchdowns.
Saints Coach Sean Payton was born and raised in Newtown Square, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia, so this playoff game is a homecoming for him.
"There are a lot of friends and family back there," Payton said. "The first pro football game was at the Vet. The first baseball game was at the Vet. The first college game was Army-Navy. The Flyers winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, all of those things were a part of my childhood and so the sports fans are amazing there, very passionate and a real die-hard fan base. That presents challenges when you play, especially in the playoffs."
New Orleans is 1-5 on the road since Oct. 13 and has a sketchy postseason history away from the Superdome. The Saints are 0-5 in road playoff games under coaches Payton (0-3), Jim Haslett (0-1) and Jim Mora (0-1).
Then again, the Saints have a Super Bowl ring from a neutral-site game in Miami. And they wouldn't trade that for anything.
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