With the Super Bowl just weeks away, eyes are on the forecast to see if weather will play a role in the final match-ups and impact those planning to tailgate around the final games of the season.
This upcoming Sunday features the NFL conference championship games. In the NFC, the Green Bay Packers will visit the Atlanta Falcons at 3:05 PM eastern. The game will be played in the Georgia Dome (the last NFL game to be played there since Atlanta gets a brand new stadium next season) so weather will not be a factor in the game itself.
At 6:40 PM, the AFC championship game will see the New England Patriots hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers in Foxboro, MA. This is the 16th appearance for the Steelers in an AFC championship, which is the most in NFL history. On the other side of the matchup, the Patriots will play in their 6th consecutive AFC championship game, becoming the 1st NFL team to accomplish that feat.
The general weather setup across the country Sunday will be one where the eastern two-thirds of the nation is milder than average, in some cases much warmer than what it should be this time of year. A rainstorm will be centered over Tennessee and will spread rain all the way from the Gulf coast and Florida northward into the Great Lakes. Remarkably for the climatologically coldest part of the year, the will be a complete lack of any ice or snow with this system. The immediate East coast looks dry.
To the west, another in a seemingly never-ending parade of Pacific storms will be slamming the left coast. Rain will fall in the lower elevations from British Columbia in Canada southward to central California. More mountain snow will fall in the higher elevations, including the Sierra Nevadas in California as their incredible snowpack continues to be built up. The Plains and Rocky Mountains should be dry.
In these football games, New England looks to be free of any precipitation. If the system found over Tennessee were to speed up some rain could sneak into Foxboro late but that does not seem likely. Temperatures look to be seasonably mild, with the start of the game likely near 40 degrees, which is 10 degrees above average for mid to late January. Winds look to be light. So, like the luck the Texans and Patriots experienced last weekend, Pittsburgh and New England should count their lucky stars that the weather is not expected to be a lot worse.
In Atlanta, tailgating activities look to be wet as a steady and at times heavy rain will fall. Temperatures will be mild, with reading in the 50s and 60s and it will be breezy as well. All in all, a miserable day to be outside but a day where the Falcons and Packers can consider themselves fortunate to be playing inside.
The conference championship games historically have seen just downright awful weather at times. Of course, being smack dab in the middle of winter helps to contribute to this. Two of the worst weather experienced for these games are:
January 4th, 1976:
In the 1975 AFC Championship (the NFL season is referred to when the regular season games are played, thus the ongoing playoffs are the 2016 NFL playoffs), John Madden and the Oakland Raiders took on Lynn Swann and the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers with the winners heading to Super Bowl X.
Played in Pittsburgh in brutal cold, the Raiders complained loudly about the frozen AstroTurf.
Head coach John Madden and owner Al Davis both vehemently aired their issues with the condition of the field. Davis went so far as to accuse the Steelers of freezing the field intentionally.
Madden didn’t go that far, but he did bring up just how difficult the field conditions made it to run plays to the outside. This is where the field was the iciest.
It may never be known whether or not the ice on the field was intentional. Many players, including Steelers star Lynn Swann, took a serious beating. Swann was taken out of the game after being knocked unconscious when his helmet was slammed onto a patch of ice.
The Steelers won 16-10. Maybe that explains why Madden and Davis were so upset.
January 10, 1982:
The 1981 AFC Conference championship game was played in frigid Cincinnati as the Bengals hosted the San Diego Chargers. Numerous cases on frostbite were treated in the stands with gametime actual temperatures being 9 below zero.
Obviously, the San Diego Chargers were in for a climate shock when the made the trip to Cincinnati. The game time temperature made this game the second coldest in NFL history. Even crazier was the -58 degree wind chill, which was the absolute worst in league history.
The Cincinnati Bengals beat the frozen Chargers handily to win 27-7 and take home the AFC Championship trophy. But for both teams and their fans, the opportunity to go inside and warm up may have been more important than the outcome of the game.