An expected lake-effect snowstorm could force the NFL to move Sunday’s Bills-Browns game from Orchard Park, New York to Washington or Detroit.
The league is monitoring the weather and has contingency plans in place in the event the snowstorm disrupts Sunday’s matinee. As of now, Cleveland is still expected to travel to fly into the Buffalo area on
League spokesman Michael Signora said the NFL has been in contact with both teams based on a forecast projecting one to three feet of snow falling through Saturday, with more in the forecast on Sunday. Among the contingencies would include moving the game to a neutral site, with Detroit and Washington potential options.
Buffalo Bills fans look on from snow covered seat prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Highmark Stadium on January 2, 2022 in Orchard Park
Detroit’s domed Ford Field (pictured) could place host to Sunday’s Bills-Browns game
Another option for the NFL would be to move Sunday’s Bills-Browns game to the Commanders’ stadium outside Washington in Landover, Maryland
With the storm not scheduled to hit until Thursday evening, the NFL would likely have to make a decision to relocate the game by no later than Friday to allow both teams to alter travel plans and to prepare the neutral site facility.
‘Our team is in communication with the NFL. They’ve been through it before, we’ve been through it before and handled it well,’ coach Sean McDermott said on Wednesday. ‘So full confidence in our team that’s working behind the scenes on that.’
Multiple feet of snow are expected this week in Western New York, where the Bills will host the Cleveland Browns in a Sunday matinee. Stretches of heavy lake-effect snow will be falling between Thursday and Sunday, according to Weather.com meteorologists, meaning the Highmark Stadium turf will likely be impacted.
The local Fox affiliate in Buffalo has described the storm as ‘potentially historic,’ with some meteorologists calling for as much as six feet in the region.
The Browns practiced outside Wednesday in anticipation of the snowstorm, albeit in snowless Berea, Ohio
Lake-effect snow is caused by cool air moving over the warmer Great Lakes before dropping its payload across the Northeast, typically in the form of golf ball-sized snowflakes.
The Bills had a home game moved because of a snowstorm in November 2014, when they defeated the New York Jets 38-3 in a game played at Detroit’s Ford Field. The game was also pushed back to Monday to take into account both teams traveling
Head coach Sean McDermott of the Buffalo Bills watches game action during the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at New Era Field on December 10, 2017 in Orchard Park
Snow covered seats before a game between the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts on December 10, 2017 at New Era Field in Orchard Park
The grounds crew in Orchard Park is obviously accustomed to clearing snow for Bills games, but the timing of the weather front could present its own problems. As of now, local weatherman Dan Russell is predicting the storm will be mostly over by Sunday’s 1pm kickoff, but things could get significantly more complicated logistically if the storm is still active in the area during the game.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said he’s focused on the game, with team officials filling him in on the latest developments.
The National Weather Service has issued a lake-effect storm warning lasting through Saturday morning for southern Erie County, which includes the Bills home in Orchard Park. The storm is projected to bring wind gusts off Lake Erie as high as 35 mph, which will make travel conditions hazardous and lead to potential power outages.
The Bills had a home game moved because of a snowstorm in November 2014, when they defeated the New York Jets 38-3 in a game played at Detroit’s Ford Field. The game, originally scheduled for Sunday, was also pushed back to Monday to take into account both teams traveling.
Buffalo left for Detroit on the Friday, where the team spent the weekend practicing at the Lions facility. The Bills arranged for snowmobiles to pick up some players who were unable to dig their cars out of the snow in order to get them to the airport.
This time, the NFL will have difficulty pushing back the date of the game because Buffalo is already facing a short week, with the Bills already scheduled to play in Detroit on Thanksgiving.
Heavy snow falls during NFL game action between the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on December 10, 2017 in Orchard Park
The Browns are currently scheduled to fly to Buffalo on Saturday afternoon, but have travel contingency plans in place.
Like Buffalo, Cleveland has had its fair share of rough-weather games. And while players are concerned about the safety of everyone, the prospect of playing in a ‘snow bowl’ is appealing.
‘I would love it,’ said Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio. ‘But obviously people’s safety and the city of Buffalo. But it would be great. I grew up in California and didn’t see snow much. I was in college at Nevada, which gets snow.
‘You dream of a snow bowl, a game where you get tackled and make a snow angel, things like that. It might not be as glamorous as your dream.’
The Browns and Bills played a memorable snow game in Cleveland in 2007. Aiming for the goal line pylons in blizzard-level winds, Browns kicker Phil Dawson somehow made two field goals and the Bills snapped the ball into the end zone for a safety in Cleveland’s 8-0 win.
The Bills last played through a lake-effect storm in December 2017, when they defeated the Indianapolis Colts 13-7 in overtime in a game played in near white-out conditions. The storm didn’t hit until about an hour before kickoff.
‘It was surreal. You come in the tunnel the grass is green, when you come back out it’s two feet of snow,’ Bills safety Jordan Poyer said. ‘It was probably one of the most fun games I ever played in, so hopefully we’ll make some more memories this week.’
Coincidentally, the Colts’ quarterback in that 2017 game was Jacoby Brissett, who will start for the Browns on Sunday.
The Bills have played in the snow many times, most notably in 2017, when they beat the visiting Indianapolis Colts, 13-7, under 16.7 inches of snow – nine of which fell during the game. Coincidentally, the Colts’ quarterback in that 2017 game was Jacoby Brissett (left, right), who will start for the Browns on Sunday