So you may have heard it’s going to be cold in Green Bay this Sunday for the Packers-Cowboys game. In fact, we received a taste of that cold in Dallas on Thursday: The temperature was in the teens when we woke up and only crept into the low 30s by noon. The expected high temperature in Green Bay for Sunday is 21 degrees.
Okay, so it was 8 degrees and snowing heavily in Green Bay on Thursday. That will all be gone by game time. Theoretically.
But does the cold really matter? That’s a good question. The conventional wisdom is that Green Bay enjoys a clear home-field advantage at Lambeau because they play in temperatures like the ones expected Sunday at least a couple of times a year. If the Packers don’t get them at Lambeau, they sometimes catch them in Chicago, their arch-rival.
The Packers have lost postseason games at home in the past few years because they did three things poorly. These are three things the Cowboys do well.
Green Bay starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers has numbers to back that up. As a starter in sub-freezing temperatures (below 32 degrees), Rodgers is 15-4.
The Cowboys have experience playing in games less than 32 degrees, but the record, as you might expect, isn’t stellar. The Cowboys’ media guide lists 13 games played in temperatures of less than 32 degrees, and the Cowboys are 5-8. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, either.
The Cowboys have nearly as many wins in game-time temperatures under 20 degrees (two) as they do in game-time temperatures between 20 and 32 (three). Quarterback Tony Romo, who grew up in Burlington, Wisconsin, and theoretically knows how to play in the cold, is only 1-2 in games played in sub-freezing temperatures.
Much has been made of this being a matchup of 8-0 teams. The Packers are 8-0 at home; the Cowboys are 8-0 on the road. Well, the Packers won three of those home games in temperatures of less than 32 degrees, while the coldest temperature at kickoff for the Cowboys was 35 degrees, in Chicago.
On the surface this all sounds like the Cowboys need to buckle up and bundle up for a rough afternoon and take some solace in the fact that it won’t be “Hoth” cold in Green Bay as these two teams face each other in the postseason for the first time since the famed 1967 Ice Bowl (game time temperatures minus-13 degrees).
But the Packers have proven a bit vulnerable at home in the postseason of late. Since the 2007 season, the Packers are, surprisingly, 2-3 at home in the postseason. Not all of those games were played in sub-freezing temperatures, but the losses were to cold-weather teams like the New York Giants (twice) and to a warmer-weather team in San Francisco. In fact, the 49ers beat the Packers last season in a game played in single-digit temperatures. So what gives?
Well, as it turns out, the cold doesn’t matter. The same old football rules apply whether it’s sunny and 70 or overcast and 7. The Packers lost those games because they did three things poorly, and these are three things the Cowboys do well.
Run the football. The Cowboys have the second-best running attack in the league, and no one rushed for more yards than DeMarco Murray this season. In the Packers’ three playoff losses, they were outgained 369-299 on the ground. In fact, Green Bay attempted a combined 28 fewer rushing attempts than its opponents. The Giants and 49ers came in committed to the run, and it worked.
Turnovers. The Packers are a combined minus-3 in turnover ratio in those three losses. They coughed up the ball six times combined; though, to be fair, they didn’t commit a turnover against the 49ers. The Giants and 49ers combined for three turnovers, and in none of those three games did they commit more than one.
The Cowboys have forced at least one turnover in 16 straight games, are second in the NFL in turnovers forced (31) and are 10-0 when they force at least two turnovers. That will come in handy as no NFL team does a better job of protecting the football than Green Bay, with just 13 turnovers this season.
Time of possession. In their three home playoff losses, the Packers have lost the time of possession game by 15 minutes — 98:42 to 83:53. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers (32:34) did a better job of dominating the clock than the Cowboys (32:18) in 2014.
None of that guarantees a Cowboys win, of course. But blame a Cowboys loss on the cold? No. If it happens, blame it on the formula that has served them so well this season finally breaking down.