National Columnist

Whether we believe it, Peyton Manning has SB XLVIII weather issue

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The hipsters and cool folks will call this a narrative -- and they'll be right, because "narrative" is another word for story, and this will be the story of Super Bowl XLVIII: Peyton Manning vs. the weather forecast.

Yes, it's also going to be Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos vs. the Seattle Seahawks, and I don't mean to belittle the Seahawks in the slightest by leaving them out of the narrative. In fact, by the time you're finished with this story, you'll see just how complimentary this narrative -- Peyton vs. the forecast -- is to Seattle. Hell, by the time you reach the end of this paragraph you'll see it, because I'm saying the weather forecast is immaterial to the Seahawks. Warm weather, cold. Rain, snow. Whatever. The Seahawks are the USPS of Super Bowl XLVIII, because with a defense and rushing attack and head coach like the Seahawks have, neither rain nor snow nor sleet ... etc.

The Seahawks are built to be effective regardless of the weather.

The Broncos, meanwhile, are built to be effective in good weather. Ironic, given their location in one of the coldest, snowiest cities in the NFL, but that's the way it is. Their rushing attack is average (15th in the league in yards per game). Their defense is slightly below average (19th in yards allowed, 22nd in points). Their coach is good, not great. Why are the Broncos in the Super Bowl? Peyton. Duh. When the weather's right he's arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, and his team wins almost 70 percent of the time.

But if the weather's wrong? If it's 32 degrees or colder at kickoff?

Well, there's a narrative about that.

And by "narrative" I don't mean story, because story has a connotation of falsehood. And this narrative is built on facts, or rather, one fact: When the temperature is 32 degrees or colder at kickoff, Peyton Manning's career record is 4-7. That's a 36.4 winning percentage. In all other games -- meaning, warmer games -- his winning percentage is 69.3 percent (174-77). He played most of his career at Indianapolis, in a dome. Hence the enormous disparity between games in 32 degrees or colder (11) and all other games (151).

Manning's completion percentage in the cold is roughly 5 percentage points lower than his career rate, and his passing yardage is close to 50 yards per game below average. Granted, 11 games isn't an enormous sample size, but it's enough for me to take seriously. Three or four games? That would be statistically insignificant. That would be a fluke. Eleven games? With seven losses? That seems relevant, insightful, even foreboding for Super Bowl XLVIII.

So here's where I tell you the forecast for Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 2) at East Rutherford, N.J.: high of 37 degrees, low of 25. I can't tell you just how cold it will be at kickoff, but given that kickoff is set for 6:25 p.m. -- about an hour after the sun goes down -- I can tell you it's not going to be 37 degrees. It'll be close to 32, and it will be falling, and did I mention the 25 percent chance of snow for Super Bowl Sunday? (The weather for Super Bowl XLVIII is a major story, regardless of the teams involved, because of the fan experience; there's a website devoted just to the weather that day at the stadium. I got my figures from there.)

Peyton Manning claims not to care about the weather talk, the "narrative" as he so fashionably called it. After throwing for 397 yards and four touchdowns in the Broncos' 51-28 victory Dec. 8 against the Titans -- when the high temperature was 18 degrees -- Manning cared enough to lash out: "Whoever wrote that narrative can shove that one where the sun don't shine."

Asked further about it after that game Dec. 8, Manning said, "I won't try to answer it because I didn't give it any validation in the first place."

One game later, he gave the "narrative" some "validation" when the Broncos played again at home, again in the cold -- 37 degrees at kickoff -- and Manning had one of his two or three worst games of the season in a 27-20 loss to the Chargers.

Understand, even one of Manning's worst games during a season as good as 2013 is pretty damn good. He was 27 for 41 for 284 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His 92.4 passer rating was his second lowest of the season. His passing yardage was his third-lowest. The Broncos lost, one of three losses in 18 games thus far and their only loss at home.

It was cold that day.

It was also cold in Manning's worst game of the season, his only truly bad game. That came Nov. 24 when it was 22 degrees at kickoff and Manning threw for 150 yards with a 52.8 percent completion rate and a 70.4 passer rating -- season-low numbers across the board. Also, the Broncos lost.

Also, it was against New England -- the same team Manning torched Sunday for 400 yards, a 74.4 percent completion rate and a 118.4 passer rating. The difference? The Broncos were at home, yes. But also it was sunny and close to 65 degrees at kickoff. Perfect weather. And Manning was downright perfect.

The weather won't be perfect on Super Sunday. You can cough narrative cough all you want, but the facts are clear: In the cold, Manning isn't at his best. Take a Super Bowl team, take its most important player and increase the odds that he won't be at his best? That's significant. It's not rock-solid intelligence -- the Titans game showed Manning can be devastating in the cold, although it was at home and also the Titans' top-15 NFL defense isn't as nearly formidable as the Seahawks' No. 1 defense -- but it's problematic if you're a Broncos fan. Or should be.

Because the weather won't -- or shouldn't -- bother the Seahawks. Quarterback Russell Wilson is capable of throwing for great numbers, but the Seahawks don't need that to win. They have the NFL's top defense, its No. 4-ranked ground game and one of the best coaches in the league in Pete Carroll. And they have a versatile offense that saw bruising tailback Marshawn Lynch run for 1,257 yards while Wilson added 539.

So now, we wait. Two weeks is a lot of time, and you can rest assured the weather forecast for Sunday will be -- and should be -- a major storyline as the game draws closer. After he arrives in New York in a week, Peyton Manning will be asked about it every day. Maybe he'll do like he did after that Titans game and invite someone in the media to shove the question "where the sun don't shine."

What is it with this guy, anyway? It's always something about the weather.

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