By Jeff Labrecque
Updated January 31, 2014 at 09:02 PM EST
Peyton Manning
Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

You can practically hear the collective sighs of relief from NFL headquarters on Park Avenue as the weather forecast for Sunday’s Super Bowl is relatively balmy compared to the bitter polar vortex that has consumed New York and New Jersey for much of January. The first outdoor cold-weather-city Super Bowl has always been planned under a worst-case scenario that included snow, howling wind gusts, and freezing temperatures. Now the National Weather Service reports that the game-time temperature should be in the mid-40s with modest winds and only a 20-30 percent chance of precipitation, before slipping into the 30s and possibly flirting with the freezing mark at night. That’s typical playoff football weather in places like Chicago and Green Bay, but unprecedented for the Super Bowl, which is typically held indoors or in a more temperate locale, like Florida or Arizona. Still, the NFL has to feel like it dodged a snowball that the major storyline for its marquis event won’t be the mercury in MetLife Stadium’s thermometers.

There are good reasons that the NFL typically sets its championship game someplace warm. Not only is the Super Bowl a week-long celebration that brings people — die-hard fans and corporate hob-nobbers — from around the world together, but from a competitive point of view, the league wants a level playing field where the elements do not seriously impact either team’s strategy. Obviously, football is a game that prides itself on enduring the worst that Mother Nature can dish out; San Francisco defeated Green Bay last month in near-zero conditions. Football is meant to be played in the harshest conditions, and for all the logistical problems involved, the idea of a Super Bowl being played in a blizzard is a cool concept. But since the Broncos and Seahawks advanced to the Super Bowl, much of the media’s speculation has been on Peyton Manning and whether his passes can cut through the wind, cold, and possible snow that people associate with January in East Rutherford. (Manning hates to hear it mentioned, but his career record when the temperature is 32-or-below is a sad 4-7.)

But even with the hopes of a slight reprieve with the weather, the NFL still must have some practical concerns. Though the Super Bowl is always a sell-out, the potential for frigid temperatures has tamped down the secondary ticket market as potential buyers have weighed whether they really want to be sitting in the chilly elements for $2,500 or watching the game in the warmth of their own homes for free. Throw in the extensive security scans that delay fans’ entrance into the stadium, and spectators can count on a good six hours of East Rutherford’s chilly charm from start to finish. (Note to out-of-towners: it’s a long cab ride to Times Square if you get cold feet. Also, good luck getting a cab in East Rutherford.)

Playing conditions aside, the NFL could face a scenario where the Lombardi Trophy is presented to a less-than-packed house if chilled-to-the-bone spectators exit early once the game’s outcome seems determined. Face-painters from Seattle and Denver aren’t likely to miss their team’s crowning glory, but many others without a rooting interest who are at the game primarily for business might not be as resolute. League commissioner Roger Goodell has promised to watch the game from an outside stadium seat, but other millionaires might be tempted to watch from their warm limos once the mercury drops.

A lot is riding on the outcome. If this Super Bowl is a classic that benefits from — or is untainted by — the chill, other cold-weather cities, like Washington and Denver, will quickly get in line to host their own Super Bowl. But should the game turn sloppy due to the wintry elements, or should frigid fans head for the exits before the game is done, the NFL will have to listen as people point out it was 81 degrees in Miami, 61 in San Diego, and 63 in Glendale, Ariz.