At the start of their game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles were a disaster. As snow fell all around them at Lincoln Financial Field, they couldn’t seem to find their footing. Their high-octane offense sputtered. They looked a dome team from the South trying to find its way through unfamiliar elements.
It certainly didn’t bode well for their dreams of playing in Super Bowl XLVIII in the Meadowlands in New Jersey – the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl in the history of the league.
Then a funny thing happened: As eight inches of snow fell on Philadelphia, the Eagles unleashed an avalanche on the Lions, burying them with 299 rushing yards and 28 fourth-quarter points in a 34-20 win. They proved they have the ingredients to win in the cold and bad weather, including a strong running game, an ability to adapt when the quarterback is “off”, a solid physical defense and a history of playing or practicing in the cold.
So if they somehow sneak out of the NFC and make it to the Super Bowl, they’ll be all right if the weather gets crazy on Super Sunday (Feb. 2, 2014).
But there are some current NFL contenders that would be much better off if the Super Bowl was played in the sun:
Indianapolis Colts (8-6) – They haven’t been the same since the loss of Reggie Wayne anyway, but they are a team that relies heavily on their quarterback. They like to score points, they’re comfortable in shootouts and their game is finesse. Their defense is terrible at stopping the run – something they’d need to do in the snow – and they’ve been searching for a running back since they lost Ahmad Bradshaw for the season. Trent Richardson isn’t the answer. In fact, they might not have one at that position at all.
Miami Dolphins (7-6) – They may be extreme longshots to get through the minefield of the AFC, but they might be the team least suited for a New York Super Sunday. They have a middling defense, a weak offensive line and a rushing attack that (behind Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas) is nearly non-existent. It is impressive that they won in Pittsburgh on Sunday, where there was light snow and windchills in the teens. But that seems more like an aberration and a sign of how awful the Steelers really are.
Detroit Lions (7-6) – Just look at what happened to them on Sunday in Philly. Their game is so reliant on Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, but they melted in the snow. Stafford threw for 148 yards and Johnson caught three passes for 49 yards. Now the reality is they’re so good that it might take a blizzard to take them out of the game. But if they’re out, the Lions can’t run the ball well enough to win. And their supposedly strong, physical defense got absolutely manhandled by Philly. That should’ve been their biggest ally in the snow.
Dallas Cowboys (7-6) – They go as far as Tony Romo lets them go, and he’s shaky enough in big situations as it is. The elements only figure to make him shakier, despite having to play games in the oft-frigid NFC East. It would help if the Dallas defense wasn’t statistically the worst in football and if they weren’t such a remarkably pass-heavy team. DeMarco Murray can be dangerous – and he was good in the cold Monday night in Chicago – but he’s too inconsistent to be relied upon in a big spot.
New Orleans Saints (10-3) – They’re 7-0 at home and 3-3 on the road, which is alarming enough – though to be fair their road losses are in Seattle, New England and … wait, in New Jersey against the Jets? Really? The problem with the Saints is nobody relies more on their two most dangerous elements: Their passing game and their incredibly loud home stadium. Teams just can’t win in the Superdome the last few years and the Saints throw for 302.9 yards per game (second in the NFL) and run for just 91.4 (25th). A bad-weather game of any kind will likely kill their chances long before they get to the Super Bowl. It’s why they so desperately need to avoid a trip to Seattle for the NFC championship game.
Arizona Cardinals (8-5) - They play a tough, physical brand of defense, which should help them in bad weather situations, and they also create a lot of turnovers. But they don’t have an imposing running game and they’re 2-4 on the road. Between their struggles away from home and the fact that they make their home in the dessert, they’re not likely to thrive in the white stuff.
Denver Broncos (11-2) – First, let’s be honest. They might be the best team in the AFC regardless of where it’s played, but there will always be a nagging wonder about Peyton Manning’s ability to handle the cold weather. He seemingly dismissed that with 359 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday in a rout in 15-degree weather. Of course, that was at home against the Titans, so who knows what happens in a big game? But Manning can play and the Broncos can run. Their defense is a bit of an unknown only because of the number of blowouts and shootouts they’ve been involved in have skewed the stats. They play and practice in the cold, though, so they’re better suited for it than any of Manning’s Colts teams were.
By Ralph Vacchiano