NFC is Way Better for Quarterbacks who Struggle in Bad Weather
On the AFC having more "Tundra Tier" cities
America’s foremost NFL writer checking in, with dumb epiphanies only an insider’s outsider can provide. Weather has taken center stage early in these playoffs, due to sub zero temperatures in the Kansas City game and conditions horrible enough to postpone the Buffalo game. Much was made of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s past struggles in the cold, and he validated the narrative. Poor Tua looked uncomfortable at seven below in KC and was terrible throughout the 26-7 loss to the Chiefs.
There’s a conversation to be had about whether Tua’s a good enough quarterback for Miami to invest in and if suboptimal conditions merely expose core flaws, but let’s set that aside. Let’s just accept the premise that this player is good in good weather and far worse in bad weather. There are quarterbacks like this. Not everyone is impervious to conditions like Patrick Mahomes. Given that premise, I personally just find it interesting that playing poorly in terrible weather only truly crushes you in one conference: The AFC.
The familiar playoff presence of Green Bay and the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field has obscured this huge difference between the conferences. If I’m a bad quarterback in bad weather, it can be an occasional stumbling block in the NFC. If I’m a bad quarterback in bad weather in the AFC, though? It’s a distinct ceiling on my career.
Green Bay and Chicago are the coldest outdoor NFC cities, and they fit what I’d call my “Tundra Tier” of places that can reliably produce unholy frigid conditions. To qualify for Tundra Tier, you need to be at or colder than a low of 25 degrees in January. Obviously, this would apply to NFC cities Detroit and Minneapolis, but those franchises opted for the warm comfort of a domed stadium. The Packers could be hosting playoff games in the near future, but with the Bears, who knows when it will happen? The point is, it’s only two teams, so you’re unlikely in any given postseason to play on their home field, in awful conditions. Unless you literally are the quarterback for Green Bay or Chicago, you can be bad in cold weather as an NFC quarterback and still be a consistent Super Bowl threat.
In the AFC, though, there are seven tundra tier teams: Kansas City, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Boston, Pittsburgh and Denver. That’s a huge difference between the conferences and also why it’s not incidental that the AFC is experiencing weather issues this weekend. Again, when there are only two Tundra Teams in your conference, your playoff path is unlikely to incur some frostbite. The AFC requires that you sometimes freeze to achieve, though. These playoffs, four teams qualified for Tundra Tier, with two hosting playoff games.
It’s not like the AFC has a bunch of warmer cities to balance out this contrast in coldest cities, either. I have 10 AFC cities in the “Cold Tier,” outdoor stadium towns with January lows that sink south of 30 degrees. The NFC only has five such places (Green Bay, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York). Cue a beautiful infographic from subscriber Jon White:
So, if weather is truly Tua Tagovailoa’s Achilles heel, he’d best find a way to switch conferences. The same could be said for other quarterbacks who lack a cannon arm, a quality that scouts say is important for cold weather performance. Drew Brees, who spent most of his career in the NFC, and in a dome, had a nine year stretch of only playing in regular season games that were above 40 degrees. He had a couple playoff games in colder conditions, but nothing close to what we saw this weekend in Kansas City. The man had a 20 season career and effectively skipped this whole uncomfortable crucible that we regularly see AFC quarterbacks confront.
Peyton Manning, another all time great with less than a cannon arm, performed poorly when temperatures dropped below 40. Thankfully for Manning, he spent the great majority of his career playing home games in a dome. But, since he was an AFC guy, the playoff weather issues still dogged his reputation. Perhaps Brees never faced such questions because he never faced such conditions. And he never faced such conditions because he played in the warm conference.
The Conference Conditions issue is just something to keep in mind when discussing quarterback performance and what’s needed to win with a certain franchise. After Saturday night’s Tua flop, Benjamin Solak, a really smart NFL writer at The Ringer, jokingly photoshopped a Miami Dolphins jersey onto Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Maybe Cousins is the answer for Miami. He certainly seems more dependable than Tagovailoa. Cousins is also, after a career spent in the NFC, a guy who played only one game at below 30 degree conditions. When it happened, back in 2017, Cousins threw for 158 yards with 3 interceptions and no touchdowns.
I’m not saying that the Vikings should try to get Tagovailoa or that the Dolphins shouldn’t try to get Kirk Cousins. I’m just saying that Conference Conditions exist and I’m surprised more people don’t discuss the issue. The NFC is where cold sometimes visits. The AFC is where cold happens to live.
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