By JOHN WAWROW
AP Sports Writer
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The NFL is monitoring the weather and has contingency plans in place in the event a lake-effect snowstorm set to hit the Buffalo region disrupts the Bills’ home game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed from Berea, Ohio.
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