Temperatures in Denver are expected to start off in the upper 10s fahrenheit (-7 celsius) and are expected to fall throughout the game. Wind Chills could be as low as 0 fahrenheit (-18 celsius). But how will this cold weather affect Peyton Manning and the game?
Manning spent his entire career prior to this season playing his home games in the dome of Indianapolis. There was much talk before he signed with Denver that Manning would not go to a cold city.
The reasons for Manning not to go to a cold weather climate seems to make sense at first glance. Brian Burke at NFL Advanced Statistics ran logistic regressions that sought to isolate the effect weather had on games between 2002 and 2006. He controlled for how good each team was and a general home field advantage. Dome teams were the only team that did statistically significantly worse in colder weather. In a larger analysis of games from 2000-2011, dome teams won only 30% of their road games when the temperature was below 40 fahrenheit (+4 celsius), 20% below 30 fahrenheit (-1 celsius), and near 0% of their games below 20 fahrenheit. All of these are far less than the 40%+ games they win when the temperature is above 40 fahrenheit.
Moreover, the yards per attempt tend to fall for dome quarterbacks. Instead of averaging 6+ yards per attempt when the temperature is above 50, dome quarterbacks fall to near 5.5 yards in temperatures less than 30 and less than 5 when the temperature is less than 20. This drop is far greater than seen in other quarterbacks.
Manning, himself, is noted for an atrocious playoff record in games with the temperature below 40 degrees. He's 0-3 in these games and a combined 64 for 120 for 612 yards with one touchdown and seven interceptions. His passer rating was below 40 in two of those games.
So the case is settled, right? Manning is going to suck on Sunday. Probably not. These were all games on the road. Teams win only 40% of their road playoff games. Two of them were against the New England Patriots. Road teams in New England when Bill Belichick is at the helm have only won 17% of their games. Manning losing these games is not really surprising.
You get a completely different picture of Manning when you examine his cold games during the regular season. In 13 regular season games where the temperature was 21 to 40 degrees fahrenheit, Manning had a quarterback rating of 94.5. That's little different from his 95.7 quarterback rating in games overall. Manning's completion percentage in these games was 64.7 and he threw for an average of 8.0 yards per attempt. That's on par with the 65.2% completion percentage in all games and 7.6 yards per attempt. Did I mention that he had 23 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions in these cold games? In fact, even in the one game he played below 20 degrees, he still was 14 for 18 on pass attempts.
Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback, meanwhile, has been worse than Manning in the 11 cold weather regular season games he's played. His quarterback rating has been only 88.5 and his completion rate was only 54.4% - 10 points lower than Manning. He's also only averaged 6.9 yards per attempt in cold weather regular season games - one yard lower than Manning. When you compare Flacco's cold weather statistics to his overall statistics, there isn't much of a difference. His completion percentage in the cold is lower than his 60.5% overall regular season rate, but his quarterback rating is higher than his 86.3 overall. His yards per attempt overall are basically the same at 7.1 yards per completion.
Thus, it doesn't seem likely that Manning is at a great disadvantage compared to Flacco because of the cold weather. Manning's a better quarterback cold or warm. You could argue that Manning stinks in the playoffs and Flacco is awesome, but it's not because of the weather.
The other question you might ask is whether the Ravens being from a warmer climate than Denver might be hurt by the cold.
There's no statistically significant difference in the percentage of games colder climate teams win in cold or warm weather against teams from moderate climates (average temperature of 40 fahrenheit to 60 degrees in home city in December). Moderate weather teams on the road won only about 35% of their games when the temperature was below 40 fahrenheit from 2000-2011, as compared to 40% when the temperature was between 41 and 50 fahrenheit (10 celsius). Yet, that percentage rose back above 40% in games played below 20 degrees fahrenheit.
I should also point out that the conditions in Denver will not be that bad historically speaking. You may recall the Ice Bowl in 1967 or the Freezer Bowl in 1982. Both of those games featured temperatures near -10 fahrenheit (-23 celsius) or below and wind chills at around -40 fahrenheit. Heck, the 2007 NFC Championship was played with temperatures hovering around 0 fahrenheit.
So whether you're a Broncos fan, Raven fan, football fan, or a bookie, sit back and enjoy. The cold weather isn't likely going to impact the winner of the game.
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