Falcons, Patriots fly ahead of storm, schedule

They'll be throwing snowballs instead of footballs this weekend
in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but a major winter storm projected
to dump as much as a foot of snow on both cities should pass in
time for Sunday's two NFL conference championship games.

The storm caused the New England Patriots to fly to Pittsburgh a
day ahead of schedule Friday night to avoid expected travel delays
Saturday. The Patriots will miss a scheduled walkthrough, but coach
Bill Belichick said they also skipped it before last weekend's home
game against the Colts.

Philadelphia could get the worst of the snowstorm, which is
predicted to start early Saturday morning in western Pennsylvania
and gradually spread across the state. The National Weather Service
predicts 4 to 8 inches in both cities, but State College, Pa.-based
Accuweather is calling for 6 to 12 inches in Pittsburgh and as much
or more with blizzard-like conditions in Philadelphia.

To beat the storm, the Falcons will fly from Atlanta to
Philadelphia 4 hours ahead of schedule, leaving at 10 a.m. instead
of 2:30 p.m.

Once the snow clears out, a gametime temperature of 18 with a
minus-7 wind chill factor is predicted for the late afternoon
Falcons-Eagles NFC championship game in frigid Philadelphia.
Forecasters are calling for 16-degree temperatures and a wind chill
around 10 for the early evening Patriots-Steelers AFC championship
game in Pittsbur-r-r-r-gh.

And there's no dome in sight in either Pennsylvania city, where
the cold weather is nothing out of the ordinary for late January
and fans are accustomed to dealing with the unpredictable elements.

"It's evident it's one of our advantages," Eagles wide
receiver Freddie Mitchell said. "That's why we don't have a dome

The Falcons do as the only one of the four conference finalists
not from a cold-weather city. But they're downplaying the weather
factor, saying it hardly makes a difference once the game begins.

"It doesn't matter to us -- rain, snow, sleet," Falcons coach
Jim Mora said. "You just go play. We're not a team that worries
about those things. We don't have room in our brains for that type
of stuff."

Crews at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field and Philadelphia's Lincoln
Financial Field are expected to work around the clock to clear snow
and ice from the grandstands and parking lots once the storm
begins. Both playing fields will be covered.

"The weather, we're a little concerned about that," Steelers
chairman Dan Rooney said. "Saturday could be a little bit bad, but
I think it's going to be fine [Sunday]. Both teams are cold-weather
teams anyway. The field will be in excellent shape."

The Patriots -- no surprise here -- have won 15 of their last 17
games in temperatures of 35 or below, while the Steelers -- no
surprise here -- are 5-2 in the same kind of weather the last three

"If they were coming here from Miami, it might be different,"
but neither cold-weather team should have an edge, the Steelers'
Alan Faneca said Friday.

The Patriots won one of the NFL's best-known bad-weather playoff
games three years, beating Oakland in overtime in blizzard-type
conditions -- the "tuck rule" game when the Patriots kept the ball
on a late drive despite quarterback Tom Brady's apparent fumble.

Steelers rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will discard the
glove he's been wearing on his passing hand if the field is wet.
And Belichick said the weather does influence the pregame planning.

"I think you have to keep your eyes open and say, 'Well, OK, if
it is a terrible day out there, what are we going to do?' "
Belichick said. "We don't want to be putting in plays on Sunday