When it comes to December games in Buffalo, weather can easily become a big part of the equation. The forecast for this Sunday's game between the Bills and Browns is giving strong signs that weather could once again have an impact.
With a 60 percent chance of precipitation and temperatures in the mid-30's forecasters are predicting a rain-snow mix for much of Sunday's game with winds from 10-15 miles per hour. Depending on the severity of the winter weather they can often force teams to adopt contingency plans during a game.
"I think you always have a plan in place if something goes bad weather-wise and really the wind affects you more than maybe the cold or the snow does," said head coach Chan Gailey. "I mean, if it's sloppy snow and mounds of it, it creates a problem. Holding onto the ball is the biggest issue. For the most part, wind creates more of a problem than actually snow or rain or anything like that does."
Browns head coach Eric Mangini, who often has his team practice in the elements, revels in challenging weather conditions.
"I love this weather," he said. "The extreme cold, the wind, the snow, all those things, to be able to run the ball and stop the run, to be disciplined with a lot of distractions from a climate perspective, that's important. I'm looking for the guys to continue improve on all the stuff that we've talked about and then to be able to operate in these conditions at a high level."
Buffalo's last snow game was their season finale in 2009 when the Bills beat the Colts 30-7 at Ralph Wilson Stadium as Fred Jackson rushed for a career-high 212 yards.
"That was probably the best game last year in terms of how much fun we had out there and obviously we were winning big and that's always fun," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "I think playing here, the fans and the players, you kind of live for those bad weather games in a way."
The Bills and Browns have been part of challenging weather games before. Most recently was their 2007 matchup in Cleveland when a full-scale blizzard enveloped Cleveland Browns Stadium for their Dec. 16th game in Week 15 that season.
Driving winds and snow falling at several inches an hour compromised footing, vision and execution on the field.
"I remember not being able to see the sidelines to get defensive signals," said Chris Kelsay. "I remember not being able to get down in the three-point stance to get a take-off because the snow was piled up in your cleats. Guys were running across the field with shovels trying to clear the yard lines and the hashes. It was crazy. Never played in weather like that, not to that extreme."
"Not being able to see three feet in front of you was what I remember," said Fred Jackson. "There was many a time where the player I ran into on a run play was my own just because you couldn't see. That field it was hard to cut. You're running in four inches of snow trying to make a cut. It was virtually impossible."
Buffalo lost that game 8-0 as Cleveland kicker Phil Dawson hit a pair of field goals and Brian Moorman was forced to kick a snap that sailed over his head out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
"I didn't have much choice," said Moorman. "Footing was treacherous. If I would've tried to pick it up I may have fumbled it around and they might've gotten a touchdown. You didn't know for sure if you were going to be able to keep your footing period."
The weather this Sunday figures to be different. With temperatures forecast in the mid-30's the precipitation could be a rain-snow mix. In the eyes of many of the players rain followed by snow is worse.
"That year the game after the Browns game against the Giants was colder because we got the rain in the first half and then the freezing temperatures in the second half," said Kelsay. "With the wind we had that day there was a time where the rain was blowing straight into our face."
"The Giants game was worse than that Browns game," Kyle Williams confirmed. "It is what it is. We've got to try to use it to our advantage. I think good weather, bad weather it's probably going to turn out where they try to play field position and control the ball. We've got to just bear down and get ready for it."