You’re not gonna believe this, but Bill Belichick doesn’t appear to care about the forecast for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game in Kansas City, Missouri.
“[I] love to play in a championship game,” the coach said on Wednesday. “Schedule it wherever you want. We’ll be there.”
“Give us a ball and a field and we’ll be there,” echoed Dont’a Hightower.
After initial forecasts called for temperatures in the single digits, the latest outlook for Sunday is a high of 21 and low of 16, with just a 10 percent chance of precipitation and winds at 5 to 10 mph. Not the potential record-breaker it could have been, but still frigid.
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There’ve been 11 games in New England franchise history -- including the postseason -- where the game-time temperature was 20 degrees or lower at kickoff, including six times in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
The Patriots are 5-1 in the six games involving Brady and Belichick -- 3-1 in the postseason. New England won at home against Tennessee in the 2003 divisional round, at Pittsburgh in the 2004 AFC Championship Game and at home against Baltimore in the 2014 divisional round.
Overall, Brady has been just OK in the four playoff games, his overall numbers hurt significantly by one outlier: a 2009 wild-card loss vs. the Ravens in which he threw three interceptions. In total, he’s completed 59 percent of his passes (91 for 154) and thrown for an average of 232 yards per game, to go along with eight touchdowns and four interceptions for a passer rating of 83 when the temperature is 20 or below in the postseason.
NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Kramer, the right guard for the Green Bay Packers in their legendary “Ice Bowl” win over the Dallas Cowboys in what’s believed to be the coldest game (13 below) in NFL history, said that Brady’s past experience in the bitter cold could be helpful come Sunday.
“I think it makes a big difference,” Kramer said, reached by phone from his home in Idaho. “It comforts and quiets your mind. There’s a not a fear of death, but there’s a concern about your health. Any concern distracts from your performance, I believe. Get your mind right, get your clothes right and do everything you can do to get rid of it.”
Kramer said that dressing properly for the conditions makes all of the difference. Though materials such as down jackets are too bulky for players to wear underneath their pads, Kramer said thinner thermal underwear did the job for him in the 1967 NFL Championship Game.
“I put on thermal underwear, cut them off at the knees and elbow,” he said. “Got a pair of brown cotton gloves and figured I was ready to go. I’d duck hunted in 25 below zero before.”
NBC10 Boston meteorologist Michael Page confirmed much of what Kramer said in regards to prepping for the cold temperatures, for which the wind chill and the frostbite which comes with it is the biggest cause for concern.
“I’m never going to tell someone that they shouldn’t be outside,” Page said. “If you’re not dressed appropriately, that’s when you start having issues.”
Page said that the weather system expected to affect New England on Sunday is the same one that will wreak havoc on the midwest Friday night into Saturday morning, which will leave behind cold air straight from Canada. Given the current forecast for Kansas City, skin left exposed for more than 30 minutes could be prone to frostbite, Page said.
Several Patriot players said on Wednesday they don’t plan on wearing long sleeves during Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, including linemen Shaq Mason and David Andrews.
“I’ve never worn sleeves in my life,” Andrews said.
Kansas City quarterback by Patrick Mahomes, a second-year player who appears to be the frontrunner to win NFL MVP honors, has played in one game in which temperatures fell below 20 -- the lone start of his rookie year vs. the Denver Broncos. He completed 22 of his 35 passes for 284 yards and an interception.
Kramer said the conditions could have slightly more of an impact on a player like Mahomes, who has a much smaller sample size of playing in the cold.
“That mental comfort I think is important,” Kramer said. “I think it has a much bigger effect on guys like that.”
In the four playoff games Brady & Belichick have played below 20 degrees, three quarterbacks -- the late Steve McNair, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco twice -- combined to complete 61 percent of their passes (64 for 105) and averaged 190 yards per game, throwing seven touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 77.6 passer rating.
Belichick reminded everyone last week that the Patriots were playing the Chargers, not the weather when temperatures were at 26 degrees for the 1:05 p.m. kickoff.
“We’re getting ready for the Chiefs,” Belichick said on Wednesday.
“I think it’s getting warmer,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid pointed out during his conference call on Wednesday. “It literally is, by a couple degrees, so I’m not not telling you the truth here. But it’s still probably going to be a little brisk, but we do the same stuff.”
By even acknowledging the forecast, Reid is lagging behind Belichick in their battle of wits for Sunday.
That won’t be why the Patriots ultimately advance to their ninth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era, nor will it have anything to do with the field conditions. We’re too far along in the season for teams to be overly affected by such factors.
Still, bundle up while you buckle up for Sunday.