It's going to be cold in Minneapolis when the Seahawks face the Vikings in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Very cold. Possibly zero-degrees-with-a-wind-chill-factor-in-the-negative-20s cold. The Seahawks know this, they've talked about it, and they're preparing for what could be one of the coldest games in NFL history.
What the Seahawks aren't planning on doing, however, is letting the extreme cold affect the way they play the game.
"We're doing the things that we normally do," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of this week's preparation. "We're well aware of what we're going towards and heading towards, and everybody's prepared. It's not going to be an issue for us going forward."
Of course, not letting the weather affect the way play doesn't mean the Seahawks aren't preparing for what are expected to be single-digit (if not worse) temperatures. Players will bundle up to varying degrees, there will be warm jackets, heaters and heated benches on the sideline, and everyone is aware that a cold ball and cold hands calls for an increased emphasis on ball security.
"I think it's the handling of the ball probably, over a long period of time," Carroll said when asked what weather can affect the most. "It's the handling of the ball. It always seems to make the coaches feel like it's going to be a more vulnerable situation, that because of feel and touch and that kind of stuff. Certainly, it does affect the travel of the ball in the kicking game. It doesn't go as far… There's a sensitivity, you're more vulnerable, whether you're handing it off or tossing it, or however you're doing it. Of course, throwing and catching is a big deal too."
But spending all week worrying about the cold doesn't do anyone much good because, as middle linebacker Bobby Wagner put it, "You can't replicate zero degrees."
"That's cold," Wagner said. "That's freezing. You're never going to get used to it. You can't replicate zero degrees. It's going to be cold. If you're going to be out there in the cold, you might as well get a W."
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the Seahawks plan on playing like they normally do, but even if the weather were to affect the passing game, they feel like they're well equipped for a battle in the trenches.
"We're kind of built for it," said Bevell, who knows a thing or two about playing in the cold having played quarterback at Wisconsin, then coached in the NFC North as the offensive coordinator of the Vikings. "We're a running team, running philosophy, so we know that handing the ball to the running back 25, 30 times is exactly how we want to play the game. You can still throw the ball in that, you just have to protect the ball, be smart with it and that's what we plan on doing."
And as brutally cold as it might be Sunday, players will be well taken care of when they're not on the field or during breaks in action.
"You've got the heaters on the sideline," said cornerback Richard Sherman, who said his coldest game up to date came in Pullman when he played at Stanford. "It's not as bad as it used to be. You've got heaters, heated seats, you play for 20 minutes, you get off the field. You play for 20 minutes, you get off the field. It's not a huge deal."
Right tackle Garry Gilliam also downplayed the significance of the cold, noting, "I played in the Big 10, all of our games were cold. If you're blocking, you're not thinking, 'Oh my god, it's cold!' You just do your block. When you're on the sideline it's a little bit colder, but you sit by a heater or put a jacket on or something. We'll be fine."
If both teams are able to take care of the ball, the biggest impact the weather might have is on the kicking game. No matter what teams try to do to prepare for the weather, there's no getting around the fact that the ball just doesn't travel as far in cold air. That means long field goals are more difficult and punts and kickoff won't travel as far. For two teams that have been strong on special teams all season, that phase of the game could be even more significant on Sunday.
"It's going to affect the game, especially the kicking game," cornerback DeShawn Shead said. "In the playoffs it's all about field position, and when it's that cold the ball doesn't travel as far. So we're going to have to adjust some of our techniques, some of our drops on special teams, our leverages on punts."
So yes, the weather can be a factor, but the Seahawks won't let it be an issue this week, because as Carroll often likes to say, his team isn't going to worry about things it can't control, especially things that will affect both teams equally.
"We're just going to go play football and do the things that we know how to do, and try to do them really well, regardless of what the conditions are," Carroll said. "Whether it hits way low temperatures or it doesn't."