Friday, January 8, 2016

An Extremely Cold Playoff Game On Tap

Wednesday, January 6, 2016
11:20 pm

Richard Sherman looking ferocious during week 13 vs the Vikings

I've been following several things lately: the return of rain to California, the thousands of earthquakes on the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island, and even the slight, slight weakening of the El Niño in the tropical Pacific. It looks as though the ocean temperatures reached their peak a few weeks back and have began to decrease. However, we are just starting to feel the influence of it here on the West Coast. 

But with the Seahawks coming off a massive road win in Arizona and Beast Mode finally back in the huddle (edit 8:52 pm 1/8: I just found out he's out unfortunately, we'll see how Michael can do) I've been following the Hawks - and their Sunday playoff game, extensively. Tragically, I won't be able to watch it; I'll be receiving training and orientation for teaching ski lessons up at Alpental, but I'll see if I can find a way to intermittently tune into Steve Raible's play-by-play and Warren Moon's color commentary nonetheless. 

Minnesota used to play in usually plays in the "Metrodome," an indoor stadium, but right now, a new indoor stadium for them is being built and they are playing outside at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. Come Sunday, I'm sure that most players (and all the fans) wished they were still playing inside. In case you haven't heard it by now, temperatures are forecast to be near 0 for the game, with windchills near 20 below. 

Credit: Ian Leonard, FOX 9 Minneapolis Chief Meteorologist

As the above picture shows, only six NFL games have ever made it below 0, and the last time such conditions occurred for the Vikings on their home turf was 43 years ago, when the Vikings still played outside in Metropolitan Stadium. By Sunday evening, that six could become a seven. We'll have to see just how cold we get.

ECMWF 500mb heights and sea-level pressure on 6 pm CST Sunday
Credit: Unisys Weather

The models are consistently showing a large mass of cold air moving down from the arctic into the Midwest. This is the famed "polar vortex." El Niños tend to keep any frigid air bottled up far north and often bring record warmth to the northern tier of the country, and that is what has happened this year, particularly east of the Rockies. This cold blast looks to be relatively short-lived, with temperatures rebounding to near-normal by the middle of next week.

I was reading the Seattle Times this morning, and I found a neato article by Matt Calkins where he talks about the effects of cold temperatures on the body and on the game of football. I suggest reading the whole article, but just to summarize, it doesn't sound like cold temperatures affect teams that much. During games with temperatures under 10 degrees, a quarterbacks completion percentage falls by roughly 2%, field goal accuracy drops by 1.7%, and punts are, on average, 3 yards shorter, as colder, drier air is denser and increases resistance on the football. The coldest game in NFL history, the "Ice Bowl," of 1967, featured temperatures of -13 degrees with a -48 degree windchill, yet Bart Starr, the hall-of-fame quarterback for the victorious Packers, went 14/24 for 191 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions for a 111.6 passer rating. These are very impressive numbers, particularly when you consider that the NFL, and particularly the Lombardi Packers, were a power running team and NOT a pass happy team like so many teams in the NFL today.

It would seem like this cold weather would put the Seahawks at a disadvantage. Even though we claim to be a running team, we haven't seemed like it this year, as we have the most prolific passing attack in franchise history. It would seem to me that passing would be more affected by cold weather than running. Moreover, Minnesota has more experience playing in these super cold games. Also, their sideline will be in the sun, while the Seahawks will have to endure being in the shade for the entire game, and that will make a difference. For what it's worth, the Seahawks have historically done pretty poorly in cold-weather games, and the Carroll-era Hawks are 0-2 when game temperatures are 20 degrees or lower.

Still, these guys are working so hard that it's hard to believe they will get too cold. Take a look at New Orleans Saints nose tackle Hollis Thomas during the 2007 NFC Championship game in Chicago. He doesn't look very cold.


Neither does Brandon Jacobs during the -4 degree NFC championship game a year later at Lambeau Field (with a windchill of -24 degrees, I might add).

Credit: NFL/David Stluka

The main thing I worry about is their extremities; will there be more dropped balls because the receiver's hands are colder and less responsive? Will the quarterbacks not be as precise with their passes? Possibly. Still, I have a hard time imagining anybody playing poorly because they find themselves shivering. Additionally, Minnesota-based WSI sports will be supplying the players with high-tech cold weather gear.

As for the fans? I wouldn't be surprised if the Minnesota hospitals are treating a few cases of mild frostbite on Monday.

Credit: National Viking Association

Go Hawks!

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